Taking It Global

By Montgomery, Soncerey L.; Vasser, Uchenna P. | Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Spring-Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

Taking It Global


Montgomery, Soncerey L., Vasser, Uchenna P., Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council


In a May 2010 commencement speech to George Washington University graduates, first lady Michelle Obama challenged graduates to "take it global." She encouraged graduates to continue their personal and professional growth by traveling abroad. She further asserted that if we expand our geographical boundaries, we are strengthened both as individuals and as a nation. The underlying message is that diverse cultural connections enhance the quality of students' lives, and study abroad programs are critical and unique channels through which students can be prepared for global understanding and interaction.

While travel abroad has been a part of affluent American culture since our country was founded, the purpose of travel abroad as it has informed study abroad programs in the past few decades and as it was expressed by Michelle Obama, is still relatively new. The European Grand Tour, which was incorporated into American education as the Junior Year Abroad in the early and middle decades of the twentieth century, has evolved from an exercise in personal sophistication to a commitment to internationalism. International education recognizes that much of students' education should occur beyond the walls of the classroom and that their worldviews are shaped by their experiences. Students are thus encouraged to participate in an array of traditional and non-traditional learning that includes travel along with other social, academic, and cultural activities. Unlike the old European Grand Tour, these experiential learning opportunities are designed to challenge students' assumptions and certainties, resulting in a more engaged and meaningful experience that makes undergraduate education globally relevant and significant. This new kind of study abroad requires a more rigorous preparation for travel so that students have the background and skills they need to strengthen their relations with diverse populations from different cultural, social, and economic backgrounds.

Given these new functions of study abroad, Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) designed a summer Spanish Language Immersion Program (SLIP) in Mexico that provides an enriched educational experience and encourages foreign-language scholarship for undergraduate honors students in this Historically Black University. Designed to be affordable at a cost of $3,300 for the student (including tuition, fees, class registration, airfare, and housing), SLIP has provided a five-week immersion experience in Queretaro, Mexico, every summer since 2002. Honors students live with host families, take courses at El Centro Intercultural de Queretaro, participate in cultural activities and excursions, and engage in volunteer service projects. A joint effort of the WSSU Honors Program and the Department of English and Foreign Languages, the SLIP program advances the university's mission to internationalize the campus through rigorous academic courses, robust experiential learning opportunities, and meaningful cultural enrichment activities.

In preparation for the program, participants must complete a language assessment at WSSU and demonstrate proficiency at the Intermediate Level (see ACTFL Guidelines.) The Spanish-Proficiency Assessment is designed to evaluate student proficiency in listening, writing, reading, and speaking skills. At El Centro Intercultural de Queretaro, students enroll in language and culture courses to earn up to seven credit hours. All courses are taught in Spanish and routinely include Advanced Spanish Conversation, Hispanic Civilization, Advanced Spanish Composition, Special Topics/Readings in Hispanic Civilization, and Junior Honors Colloquium. Junior Honors Colloquium is a mandatory one-credit course that allows students to pursue special projects and has a service learning component that requires students to volunteer at various charitable organizations in Queretaro.

The design of the program supports the "5Cs" articulated by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages: communication, culture, connections, community, and comparisons. …

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