In his latest editorial in The Concordian, Sean Plemmons argued that studying abroad in English-speaking countries does not constitute a true study-abroad experience. He provides as support his own one-week experience in England. I take issue with his assessment. As an expert in Irish Studies, one who has lived in Ireland and has made her scholarly focus the Irish culture and its artistic expression, I proposed and developed what is now the Galway Semester Abroad. I continue to serve as the Academic Advisor for this program. Unlike Sean, I will not attempt to speak for all the study abroad programs in English speaking countries. The tendency to assume that all are the same smacks of ignorance and stereotyping, which are enemies of cultural understanding and true education.
As Executive Secretary for the international association for Irish Studies, I know well the 900+ worldwide scholars and what they can offer our students. When I selected the National University of Ireland-Galway as our partner, I did so because it boasts some of the top contemporary scholars in Irish Studies. Concordia students who have attended NUIG return impressed not only by what they have culturally experienced, but also by the intellectual power of their professors. While the form of study abroad differs, a combination of lecture and tutorials with most assessment saved for final essays and exams (far from easy), these students must also take 5 courses to the 4 taken at Concordia College. Sometimes we seem to equate busyness with excellence at Concordia College, but what we should ask is what is being learned. And doesn’t some of that learning take place beyond the classroom? Isn’t that why we have increasingly focused on integrative, experiential forms of learning? So why not use breaks during a semester to travel to other places while abroad? I would think that is a good thing to do. Often that short travel means our students in Ireland do end up going where English is not the first language. So, I would argue that Galway students get an excellent cultural and educational experience that provides for multiple encounters.
Perhaps Sean thinks the purpose of an editorial is merely to get a rise out of people; if so, he has accomplished that purpose. But, if journalists are to do their homework, the research and thinking necessary to inform their writing, as this former journalist still believes, then his editorial is just a spouted uninformed opinion, one that anyone can write using various media today. Here at Concordia, indeed in higher academia, I would hope we set the bar a bit higher. After all, we are hoping that the educational experience helps us all responsibly engage in the world.
Professor of English, Film & Global Studies