Yesterday, in Part 1, I talked about some the intellectual benefits of our Spring Break Study abroad program.
Today, I want to talk about what I perceive as the personal benefits of this sort of trip. It actually surprised me after my first Study Abroad trip to Berlin how close the students became to each other and I became to them. It’s hard to spend 9 full days with folks and not develop a real knowledge and affection for them.
The interesting thing about Study Abroad program is the number of contact hours the professor has with the students during the trip. In a regular course, one has approximately 45 contact hours with kids (3 hours/week for 15 weeks or so). Although we met several times before we left for Prague, I think it’s reasonable to say that over the 10 days we were there, we spent on average about 8 hours/day together.
80 > 45.
FORTUNATELY for them, I was not lecturing them the whole time. HA! But yes, I did try to engage in learning moments throughout the days, including the last day at 4:30 am discussing entitativity and being a group outsider. In the dark van heading to the airport with a bunch of sleepy kids, we decided that was enough theoretical discussion and academic learning for one day.
We also had cultural events to help students understand life in Czech Republic including a tour of the Jewish Quarter, the Museum of Communism, and an extremely challenging exhibit at the DOX Museum of Contemporary Art. One of my proudest moments of the students is how they struggled to make sense of that exhibit (focusing on mental illness, corrupt politicians, and discrimination) to come an understanding that was both enlightening, sad, and hopeful.
I also tried to engage in mentoring as much as possible with the students including What They Wanted To Do when They Grow Up and advice on Grad Schools and double majors and minors. We are a big U. I think it’s part of my responsibility to give assvice to every student I come into close contact with.
But the fun parts were the personal stories: Which student absolutely had to have a snack every 3 hours, who asked the best questions to all the organizations, the number of students with infectious laughs, contagious smiles, and wicked sense of humors, who has the chutzpah to explore all over the city, and who hates mushrooms (A LOT of students; that is weird).
Though they were still for the most part, ahem, “undergraduates,” I was told by two separate folks that these were the best American students they had ever encountered. The first complement came from the University of Economics presentation, in which the students were clearly very engaged and had extremely interesting questions. The second was from our guide and supporter, Petr Zidek, who was responsible for much of positive experiences. (And is in the picture just above this) Here is his tour guide site and you should hire him for a guided tour or two when you go. Also, the students loved him. Petr also said that we were the best group of students he’s guided: easy going and responsible, even when they were searching for more snacks.
The other weird part? One of our students ran into a undergrad business major from Saginaw State University who knew my PhD student, Iza Szmanska. Even weirder was walking through Old Town Square and hearing my name called out. I immediately thought it would be too egocentric to think that someone was calling for me, but I turned around and saw two UNC Charlotte I/O Grads coming up to me. I knew Heather and Milly were in Prague, but I didn’t expect to run into them at 10 am on a Saturday morning in the middle of the Old Town Square! It’s a small freaking world, people.
So, what else did we figure out? Well, first, Prague likes to use its heaters. I’m pretty that our hotel staff thinks that they way Americans walk into a building is by saying BLAAAARGH and ripping off their coats. At one organization, everyone took off as much as they could without getting down to their skivvies, we were so dang overheated. Second, Czech beer is really good and is, in all honesty, cheaper than water. The wine? Not so much. Third, goulash is basically beef stew and they could stand to add a few veggies to the mix. I’m just saying that at one point, I started fantasizing about green beans. Or even just some steamed broccoli. There were discussions about broccoli among the students and me.
It was a great trip. It’s really weird to be back here and to not be with the students all the time, talking about how I interpreted much of what was being said into theories of groups, communication, and diversity, listening to gossip, and occasionally advising them on hangovers (see comment about “undergraduates” above).
And because my students ALL took selfies at every event we went to, here I am at T-Mobile, trying to look somewhat cool.