What is the most surprising thing a student learns from a Butler University study-abroad trip?
Current Senior Danielle Wallace’s answer speaks for everyone she knows who has ever taken this journey.
“Recognizing my own capabilities,” she said.
Wallace’s learning curve began on her first day in Rome in a scenario Butler faculty members often repeat.
“Our professor said, ‘You’ve all got maps and each other, so see you later!’ and we had to find our own way. I started recognizing that I could figure things out and became more self-sufficient than I might have discovered I could be if I’d stayed in the United States.”
Rebecca Pokrandt ’15 said studying abroad gave her courage, too.
“I never would have had the confidence to apply for a Fulbright scholarship in Croatia if I hadn’t done GALA.”
GALA, short for Global Adventures in the Liberal Arts, is the cornerstone of Butler’s Center for Global Education in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. GALA allows students to take primarily core classes in several locations abroad during the same semester. They travel with a resident Butler faculty member who also teaches a course; other faculty members join the group for two- to three-week teaching stints.
There’s no other program like it in the country.
According to Open Doors 2015, a study of the Institute for International Education, only one in 10 undergraduate students in the United States studies abroad. Yet, an extraordinary one-third of Butler undergrads study abroad each year.
It’s a statistic that has held true for years. So what does Butler do to make study abroad so popular among its students, their parents, and its professors?
A BIG DRAW TO BUTLER
Wallace already knew she wanted to study abroad when she did her first college search.
“The fact that Butler had such an outstanding program was definitely a draw for me,” she said. “I’d be able to take actual classes for credit and visit lots of countries instead of just one. No other university offers that.”
In GALA, students can take a full load of sophomore, core-credit classes while traveling through several countries within a region of the world. GALA trips have visited sites in Europe, East Asia, Latin America, and South Africa.
Like Wallace, Alyssa Setnar ’16 knew she wanted to study abroad. However, with the coursework of a five-year, dual-degree program ahead of her, many advised her to forego travel.
“I just didn’t take that as an answer, and Butler made it work,” Setnar said. Butler Associate Professor Ania Spyra has led two GALA trips. She is a nativeof Upper Silesia Poland and has studied in Stockholm and Quebec, lived in England and Romania, and traveled in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
She led her second GALA trip in spring2015 to Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Ireland.
“A GALA trip is an intense experience,” said Spyra. “It’s very different from the general study-abroad programs offered elsewhere, where students go attend a university in another country. There, they become just another person in the classroom. With GALA, they have a professor with them at all times, they’re with other Butler students—they’re seeing foreign places but traveling in the ‘Butler bubble.’”
Robin Turner led a GALA trip to South Africa in spring 2016. An Associate Professor of Political Science at Butler, she also is a visiting research associate at the University of the Witswatersrand in Johannesburg.
“It’s been a privilege to watch students grow as they venture far outside the ‘Butler bubble,’” Turner said. “For me and for them, spending 13 weeks with a small group of people is an immense learning opportunity. The students did a great job of building and maintaining a cohesive group in which they cared for each other and themselves, addressing conflicts as they arose.”
The bubble—or comfort zone—may give parents a reason to relax a little, but it certainly doesn’t keep students from fully experiencing a culture and its people. Spyra told of a haunting visit to a Belfast dairy.
“We took a tour through Dublin, where our guide was a local historian telling us about revolutionary Ireland fighting to gain its independence from England. Then we drove to Derry and Belfast, and our two guides had fought in the Northern Ireland conflict: one on the Catholic side and one on the Protestant. They now give these tours and work toward reconciliation. What they shared with us had a big impact on the students.”
In South Africa, Turner said, she took students well beyond their comfort zones.
“Some of the experiences were difficult or uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s not easy to be a hyper-visible white American in a black South African community—who lacks fluency in the dominant language—or to encounter signs of immense wealth and deep poverty in the same day.”
However unfamiliar, though, students view intimate encounters like these as invaluable.
“The adventures and life experience are very necessary in order to write as comprehensively as I’d like to,” said Wallace, a Creative Writing major. “No matter how wonderful the classes are, certain things you just can’t learn until you’re out there seeing and doing them yourself.”
Pokrandt already is applying those adventures as an elementary school teacher.
“I really try to give my class a global sense of a topic. For instance, we talked about the Syrian refugee crisis in terms of it being the world’s concern, not just an American problem.”
She recalled her own jarring perspective shift in Paris.
“I was the only American in the room when the news of the Boston Marathon bombing came on, and no one else seemed to care,” she said. “It made me realize how desensitized we can be when we see news about other countries. It was eye-opening.”
CHANGING PROFESSOR PERSPECTIVES
Professors who travel with students have some eye-opening experiences of their own.
“Spending lots and lots of time with students outside the classroom space has helped me to better understand their lives—their differing perspectives, backgrounds, struggles, and strengths—and I hope this will make me a better teacher,” Turner said.
Grading students at the end of the semester is the toughest thing for Spyra.
“By then, I know who they are and who is getting the kind of experience I want them to get. They have time to talk to us (professors) at any time, so we get close.”
Maddy Fry ’18 corroborated Spyra’s statement.
“The most surprising part of the trip for me was the relationships you build with professors. You’re with them almost all of the time, in and outside the classroom. They get to know you on an even more personal level than usual, and it remains when you get back on campus. It’s really special,” Fry said.
FROM STUDENT TO PROGRAM ADVOCATE
Study-abroad students become vocal advocates of the Butler GALA program. Many tout the ability to see more than one country on a trip they didn’t have to plan themselves or the chance to go somewhere besides Europe.
“Not too many students can say that they’ve been to Africa. It felt mysterious and exciting, so I knew I had to apply for this trip,” said Fry.
Extensive planning by the University is a plus for both students and families.
“I tell people that ‘phenomenal’ doesn’t even begin to describe how Butler planned the trip. Everything we needed was done for us: who to contact in the city, where we’d be staying, a detailed itinerary before we left—all really helpful to share with our families and friends,” she said.
Students found that earning credit abroad for the same tuition they’d pay on campus was a big selling point for parents, too.
“You have to take these classes anyway, and at what other time in your life are you going to get these experiences at this cost?” said Pokrandt.
Almost no trip goes off without a hitch, but GALA students learn to handle every new situation.
“There have been highs and lows and everything in between, but it isn’t something I would trade for anything. I have learned so much, whether it be academically or just about myself, in the short time I’ve been here–much more than I expected,” said Fry.The Center for Global Education offers 110 study-abroad programs in more than 70 countries. Find a current list of approved programs and Study Abroad FAQs at www.butler.edu/global-education.