Before Jane Gervasio ’88, PharmD ’95 designed a study abroad course focusing on the Mediterranean diet, pharmacy students at Butler often struggled to fit travel experiences into their schedules. In such a structured curriculum, heading abroad usually meant getting set back. But Gervasio, a Pharmacy Practice Professor, created a program that both fit into and resonated with the coursework.
Now in its sixth year, the 10-day trip takes about 15 students to Florence, Italy, to learn all things food. Immersed in the culture of the Tuscany region, students experience the history behind the cuisine. They focus most on the food’s potential for promoting wellness, from organic farming in Pienza, to a centuries-old pharmacy in Santa Maria, to cooking classes in Florence.
“We look at the health of the diet,” she says, “but we also look at the health of the culture.”
During the 2018–2019 academic year, more Butler students traveled abroad than ever before. Jill McKinney, Director of Study Abroad, says that’s at least in part because more faculty are designing their own programs, providing students with a wider selection of opportunities.
About 40 percent of Butler students travel abroad by the time they graduate, making the University ninth in the nation for undergraduate participation. Many students still choose to take semester-long trips through third-party institutes (read about Grace Hart’s experiences on the facing page), but now custom trips with Butler faculty have created more programs that fit into fall, winter, and spring breaks.
Over the last decade, the number of faculty-led programs has exploded from four to 30. McKinney says Butler faculty tend to design creative courses that appeal to both students and parents—studying engineering in Ireland, Spanish in Spain, or the Mediterranean diet in Italy.
Faculty-led programs take the best of on-campus teaching—think small class sizes and strong relationships—and transport it to a fresh, relevant location. Students can experience new cultures with the comforting bridge of familiar faces. Butler faculty also fill some of the gaps when it comes to how coursework abroad might connect to the community back home.
McKinney attributes much of the success of Butler’s study abroad programs to the University’s leaders, whose support of global education trickles down to faculty and students. Provost Kathryn Morris has created grants that provide faculty with seed money to complete the travel and research necessary to set up their own courses. Plus, the most recent strategic plans have been built on the fact that today’s students are graduating into a globalized world—a world that demands the ability to work and thrive across cultures.
From the Top of a Glacier
Grace Hart ’20 stared out at the white ice. She couldn’t see where it ended, but she noticed a blue tinge marking the Icelandic glacier’s age. It had lived a long life.
According to the guide who’d just led Hart’s hike to the top of the slope, that would probably change within the next 200 years.
Living in the Midwest, Hart had only ever heard news stories of the ice caps melting. Now, as part of her study abroad trip in spring 2019, she was seeing it happen live.
During the semester-long program through the School for International Training (SIT), Hart traveled around Greenland and Iceland to study topics related to climate change: what’s happening, how it affects people, and what we can do to help. She’d first read about the trip as a first-year Environmental Studies major. She had always wanted to go to Iceland, and the topic was right in line with her interests.
Calie Florek, Study Abroad Advisor at Butler, says SIT offers some of her favorite study abroad opportunities. Hart was the first Butler student to go to Iceland with SIT, but all of the school’s programs emphasize engaging with local communities. Through experiences such as internships, research projects, and home stays, SIT students really dive into a culture and learn about its people in ways not all study abroad programs offer.
When Hart first came to see Florek, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. After a rigorous fall semester, she decided to apply to the Iceland program in hopes of shaking things up.
The trip began in February, just missing the time of year when the sun never rises. The group started in Reykjavík, Iceland, studying climate modeling and glaciology before heading to Nuuk, Greenland. For two weeks, they learned about the country’s culture. Hart studied how climate research often excludes native people, and she loved learning the value of including diverse voices in those conversations.
For most of the semester, Hart followed a set program, but the last five weeks were dedicated to independent study. Hart chose to focus on food security, asking how an issue so prominent in Indianapolis might play out in a different climate.
Hart first learned about the subject through her classes and internships at Butler, where she spent a semester working on the campus farm.
She found that food security in Iceland isn’t really an economic issue: It’s a land issue. People there have started demanding foods that just can’t grow in the frigid climate, forcing residents to import most of what they eat. Her research offered some solutions, focusing mainly on shifting tastes back to what the land can support.
Hart believes her study could inspire change. She would like to return to Iceland and build a community outreach program, which she hopes would get Icelanders talking about their food in new ways, while giving her the chance to learn even more about the culture.