Introduction

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This collection grows out of a 2014 conference panel at the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism (NASSR), in which 5 of our 6 authors shared their varied experiences leading study-abroad courses and field schools to various parts of England and France. These experiences ranged from do-it-yourself plans to full partnerships with third-party organizers, with a similar range of flexibility and cost. Taken together, 5 areas shape the concerns of the 5 chapters: models of study and the logistics of running them; models of leadership; types of assignments and excursions; forms of collaborative teaching and learning; and the value of international education for humanities-based learning. This volume will provide practical and experience-based information about study-abroad programs as well as critical reflection about methods and motives.

Introduction

R. Paul Yoder, Colette Colligan, and Michelle Levy
University of Arkansas – Little Rock, Simon Fraser University, Simon Fraser University


1.        This special issue of Romantic Circles Pedagogies began as a panel at the NASSR conference of 2014, held in Washington, DC. It was organized by R. Paul Yoder, who was inspired by the problems he had gathering information about study-abroad trips while planning for his first such trip in 2012. His department chair had encouraged him to lead a group of students to England, but the study-abroad office at the University of Arkansas – Little Rock was not very helpful, though they gave him carte blanche to plan the trip. The one requirement was to keep the price within an acceptable range of his university’s middle and lower-middle class students. Beyond that, he was told to do what he wanted.

2.        He ruled out relying on a guided tour, partly because of the expense and partly because he wanted to retain “creative control” over the trip. Still, even with the Internet, information was difficult to find. Nonetheless, he persevered and the trip went very well. He discussed his experiences on the NASSR email listserv and the Facebook Romanticism Scholars page, after which Tom Schmid contacted him. Tom was planning his first study-abroad trip and wanted to hear more about Paul’s experience. At that point, there was a realization that if the two of them were having trouble finding information on study-abroad trips, then others must be having similar trouble as well. The NASSR panel on Romantic-period study-abroad programs came together not long thereafter.

3.        This initial NASSR panel offered a range and diversity of study-abroad experiences. There was Paul’s do-it-yourself experience. Then, in sharp contrast to the shoe-string budget tour Paul had organized, there was Tom’s experience of hiring an outside agency to plan and execute the trip, as required by his university. Also on the panel was Paul’s old friend, Ghislaine McDayter at Bucknell University, who had considerable experience leading similar, third-party provider organized trips to Bath and to London. Finally, the call for papers yielded the submission from Colette Colligan and Michelle Levy from Simon Fraser University who were planning their first full-semester “field study” trips to Paris/Tours and London/the Lake District, respectively. The diversity of the panel was thus in experience, format, and destination: from Ghislaine, who regularly led study-abroad trips to Europe; to Paul and Tom, who had led one trip to the Lake District each (albeit very different ones); to Michelle and Colette, who were still in the planning stages of their first trips (in the summer of 2016, Colette led her first study-abroad trip to France; Michelle’s trip to England is scheduled for the summer of 2017).

4.        This formal group was augmented at NASSR by the presence of Jeff Cowton, the curator of the Wordsworth Trust, which includes Dove Cottage (the poet’s residence from 1799 to 1808), the museum, and the library/archive held in the Jerwood Centre. His aim was to share his experience with the educational programs that have been offered by the Trust over the years and to publicize and expand their outreach to students from North America. Jeff attended the NASSR conference largely for this panel, and his contributions to the discussion were crucial. During the session, we shared practical logistical information and discussed various models for study abroad, as well as questions of student expectations, assignments, activities, and the experience of culture shock. We also thought critically as a group about the value of study abroad generally and how travel to the Lake District and Europe offered unique pedagogical opportunities for students of Romanticism in particular.

5.        After the conference, Paul began to think of ways to share what we had all learned, and he was not alone. Colette and Michelle contacted him about co-editing a special number of the Romantic Circles Pedagogy Series, and they suggested adding Nick Mason, who regularly led groups from Brigham Young University to the UK, to the group. That was a good suggestion, as Nick is experienced leading general education trips and can contribute to understandings of the current state of study-abroad programming. We—Colette, Michelle, and Paul—thus became the editors of this special issue, and authors of this introduction. The three of us are delighted that our conversation about the distinctive educational experience of study-abroad trips and field schools to the Lake District has continued in this essay forum.

6.        Our aim for this issue is to provide pedagogical support for instructors through sharing our planning, practical experience, and expertise running study-abroad trips and field schools, particularly in the Lake District. In these essays, we share stories and anecdotes from the field, syllabi, and itineraries that have been tested, teaching methods that have been gleaned from immersion in the environment, best practices for fieldwork that have been put to use, student surveys that speak to the study-abroad experience, and research as it applies to experience on the ground. These essays also begin to lay the groundwork for a more critically informed understanding of the pedagogical strategies and ambitions for study abroad. Indeed, as we moved from transforming conference papers into publishable essays, we grappled with terminology. Most of us prefer and use the phrase “study abroad,” the more capacious term that refers to any educational opportunities being pursued outside of the student’s home country. This term encompasses general education courses (such as those led by Nick) as well as more specialized, literature-based courses (such as those focused on Wordsworth and run by Tom and Paul). A few of us use the term field school (Colette and Michelle; Ghislaine), which seems appropriate to the longer lengths of the programs we lead. At the same time, the use of the term field school, and the related discussions of fieldwork, seek to situate humanities-based inquiry within scholarly traditions and practices usually associated with other disciplines such as archeology, geography, history, as well as the natural sciences. In their essays, Colette and Michelle, and Ghislaine, suggest modes of cultural engagement and critical inquiry for our students that might define and shape literature-based fieldwork, that may be appropriate to certain study-abroad programs.

7.        Taken together, the essays in this issue explore five interrelated themes: (a) models of study-abroad trips and field schools and the logistics of running them; (b) models of leadership; (c) types of assignments and excursions; (d) forms of collaborative teaching and learning; and (e) the critical value of study abroad and international education for humanities-based learning, particularly the literature of the Romantic period.

8.        (a) Models of study-abroad trips and field schools, and the logistics of running them: We present a diverse array of approaches to study abroad and field schools, involving a broad range of students, from different disciplines, at different levels, from colleges and universities across North America, as well as a wide range of programs. All of the study-abroad trips and field schools discussed in this issue of Romantic Circles Pedagogies involved extensive planning, yet clear differences emerge in regard to the budget, the degree of external support (such as from university administrators and third-party providers), the academic requirements of the program, and the length of the time spent abroad. Clearly, there is no one size fits all when it comes to study abroad, customized as it must be to suit institutional, academic, and instructional needs.

9.        In the following essays, we find models of very short trips (ten days, Tom; eleven days, Paul, with optional add-on days in London) to more extensive ones, ranging from six weeks (Michelle; Ghislaine) to eight weeks (Colette). Most of these trips have one or two home bases (Colette, Michelle, Nick, Ghislaine), but Paul’s trip had students staying in three to four different locations over a period of eleven to thirteen days. The kinds of educational programs vary as well: from one to three credit courses to general education courses offered to non-literature students. Two of the study-abroad programs involve third-party providers (Ghislaine; Tom), and the nature of their involvement is discussed at length by Tom; several of the programs involve considerable engagement with university administrators (Colette and Michelle; Nick), whereas Paul was very much on his own in the development and implementation of the trip. Costs range considerably as well: Paul’s eleven-day trip cost $1,345, compared to Tom’s, of similar duration, which cost $2,700 (neither figure includes airfare or tuition). Trips of longer duration can cost many thousands of dollars, excluding airfare and tuition. The table presented in Appendix A summarizes the major differences between the programs discussed in these essays and the range of options study-abroad trips present to instructors considering leading them.

10.        Some of the essays also provide information about practical matters calibrated to the study-abroad model. Accommodations, excursions, and food are the essential elements of trip planning, though travelling with a group of students requires travel arrangements on a scale few of us are used to managing. Of course, with a range of student budgets comes an extensive range of possibilities, from communal meal cooking (a feature of both Colette and Paul’s trips, where students were keen to save money and to cook and eat together) to high tea at a London hotel or a meal at the upscale Pheasant Inn at Bassenthwaite (frequented by Coleridge and Southey). As Ghislaine’s essay demonstrates, the question of how much autonomy to give to students arises directly in relation to questions of eating. Should students be allowed to eat every meal at cheap, American outposts like McDonalds or encouraged to try more authentic, local fare?

11.        Different models of study abroad present different logistical challenges and pedagogical opportunities, as our essays discuss. Trains, possibly even planes, will be missed; guest speakers will not show up; guides will be difficult to hear; personal possessions will be lost; someone might become injured or ill. Sleep patterns are usually interrupted as a result of transatlantic travel, and students will need varying periods of time to adjust, which can be hard to accommodate on a short ten-day trip. Many students are also dependent on their electronic devices and may find it hard to adapt to a world without 24/7 connectivity. They may be homesick; interpersonal issues can arise. These essays speak to the importance of organization in the planning and running of study-abroad trips in all their variety, but also to the need to prepare directors and students for the inevitable discomforts and mishaps, with the recognition that these very setbacks can forge the strongest bonds between members of a group and create the most enduring memories.

12.         (b) Different models of leadership: Study-abroad leaders will invariably find themselves considering the leadership role they will assume. Study abroad can challenge how instructors usually relate with students, but can also provide new opportunities for reconsidering their leadership styles, both in the field and back home. A different skill set is called upon than that usually required for the university classroom. Good organization is important for any teaching environment, but flexibility, adaptability, compassion, navigational skills, and even first-aid training become essential skills for study abroad. The essays in this special issue approach this leadership call in different ways, providing useful models for how instructors can present themselves while in the field. Often in discussions of study-abroad leadership, the parent model comes up because of the nurturing role taken on outside of the institutional environment, but this parent model of leadership is only one of several styles that have actually emerged among us.

13.        For Paul, one of the crucial elements of leading a field school is flexibility, of accepting that, from time to time, plans will change and expectations will be disappointed. Study-abroad leaders must be flexible in acknowledging that not all (and indeed probably not many) students are world travelers—that they will not all take our advice about what to pack, and that their disappointments and frustrations will not be our own. He builds this flexibility into his program, customizing the itinerary to student needs and inviting student input in planning meetings. In contrast to this more spontaneous, student-centered leadership style, there is the more structured leadership of Colette, Michelle, and Tom, who rely on highly structured itineraries and assignments as leadership supports in a highly unstable learning environment. At the end of Colette’s field school in France, one student joked that she no longer knew how to plan her life without her twenty-five page syllabus. Speaking of his experience working with a third-party organizer, Tom notes that one of the great advantages of working with them is “superior organization and peace of mind.” Peace of mind is worth its weight in gold when on call 24/7 to deal with the unexpected problems that will arise—from lost passports, to poorly chosen footwear, to heat waves, to poor group dynamics, to last-minute lesson plans. But with that peace of mind also comes a loss of autonomy and what Yoder identifies as distributed leadership, whereby students take ownership of planning for the trip. Also, for first-time instructors of field schools, Colette and Michelle, who are embarking on trips and designing assignments for the very first time, the experience is one of pedagogical experiment. Modeling that curiosity and that willingness to experiment and try new things is integrated into their leadership style.

14.         Just as there are many different types of travelers, so too are there many different kinds of leaders. Some leaders promote group activities and projects; others provide more space for privacy and autonomous work. Study abroad, as we have seen, come in different shapes and sizes. So too are they developed and run by individual faculty members whose personal approach to travel and teaching will inevitably shape the nature of the programs they organize. Leaders are of different ages and physical abilities, and our differences, like those of our students, must be accommodated.

15.        (c) Types of assignments and excursions: Alongside the wide range of study-abroad experiences represented in these essays and leadership styles, we find an equally diverse range of excursions and assignments described within the essays that follow. These discussions express excitement about the new pedagogical opportunities presented by study outside of the classroom and abroad. For many of us, the traditional forms of teaching and evaluating students do not provide the best means of emplacing students within their new environments and might even reinforce what is already known and how one goes about learning. Many of the lessons, excursions, and assignments require students to take a different approach to learning, where the object of study might be participation in ritual (such as high tea), or deliberate movement through space (such as on a fell walk), or guiding a class on a tour through a museum. Most study-abroad programs ask students to take on leadership roles, sharing with, guiding, and instructing others, thus breaking down some of the hierarchies present in most institutional educational contexts. More informal, spontaneous, and collaborative methods of teaching and evaluation are emphasized, though again there is no one size fits all—Paul’s Lake District trip has no formal assignments, whereas the field schools discussed by Colette and Michelle move toward the opposite end of the spectrum, discussed in detail in their essay. It is important to recognize that, as these essays describe, one of the most exciting elements of study abroad is that learning takes place outside of the classroom, beside a waterfall, climbing a mountain, reading an original manuscript, or sharing a meal together.

16.        (d) Forms of collaborative teaching and learning: Leading a student trip abroad or directing an international field school is not a one-person show, and never should it be approached as such. Our responsibility to our students is intensified while in the field, and our leadership is total while also at its most vulnerable. We are not just there for students’ academic and cultural education, but must also manage group dynamics and individual needs. A group agreement with students or Paul’s Rules of Tour can be an important pedagogical instrument for study abroad, as important as a reading list (see Appendices B and C). The essays in Study Abroad in the Lake District highlight the importance of working together and sharing knowledge in the design and delivery of study-abroad programs. From the early planning stages, it is necessarily a multi-party endeavor. It involves working with various units at one’s home university, particularly the division in charge of international education. This work may evolve into the development of partnerships with international institutions—whether universities, research centers, or residential colleges—–which typically require formal agreements and legal counsel. Not to be overlooked is the careful program planning that goes into course content, fieldwork, and student assignments, which benefit from collaboration with and input from colleagues as well as teaching and learning professionals, particularly given the money, mobility, and mayhem that are part of the study-abroad endeavor.

17.        Then there is the collaboration that happens in the field. As Tom writes, “having another set of experienced boots on the ground eases things tremendously.” We work with third-party providers to schedule and lead excursions; we liaise with guides and live with local hosts; we deliver course content alongside other experts and foreign scholars; and we co-learn and co-present with students. Family can also be integral for emotional and logistical support when distant from home and familiar university infrastructure. Furthermore, we find evidence of collaboration between students, and between students and instructors, to a great degree. In most study-abroad scenarios, we are bound together with our students and our students with each other, far more intensely than on campus, reflecting the immersive nature of the experience. The relationships formed during field schools provide new scope for collaborative teaching and learning, and they also compel us to work more fully with others within and outside of our institutions, both pre- and post-departure. Many of the essays thus promote a team-based model for study-abroad pedagogy and implore international education units working with faculty instructors to provide the institutional, legal, financial, and logistical support necessary to facilitate team building and thus the long-term sustainability of study-abroad trips and field schools.

18.        (e) The value of study abroad and international education: Many universities have international study-abroad programs across a range of academic fields—such as business, design, environmental science, and archaeology. Several of the essays in this special issue speak specifically to study-abroad trips and field schools centered in Britain and the Lake District, but they also initiate broader critical reflection about study-abroad programs and international education. Given the costs of such programs for students and their heavy administration requirements, it is important to think critically about what they add to university education. Often billed as “transformative” educational experiences that offer international “experience” through “immersion” and “engagement” out “in the field,” we believe that these claims must be carefully evaluated. Experience does not necessarily legitimize knowledge. The notion of international education and cultural experience carries the vestiges of elite travel and the European Grand Tour. The essays engage with these issues while also offering some concrete examples of the educational value of international study—whether that be the unmediated exposure to material and physical objects, the opportunity to connect literature and ideas to environment, new awareness and appreciation of cultural and interdisciplinary knowledge in the age of STEM, or the development of international perspective and intercultural competencies. The many student responses and educational outcomes described, we believe, supports the claims made in support of experiential learning beyond the campus. Many of Nick’s general education students report becoming devoted readers of poetry, and one student even reports that, as a result of a one-day visit to Grasmere, “I think Wordsworth has become a part of me—and that is an outcome I was not expecting.” Study abroad can be a stepping stone for our university’s larger international initiatives and goals, but we need to ask how and why these programs appeal to students, as Mason does, and report their feedback about how study abroad enriched their experience of higher education if we want these programs to receive the attention, support, and financial backing they deserve.

19.        We are delighted to share these essays with Romantic Circles and look forward to continuing the conversation about how study abroad can enrich the pedagogical possibilities within our field.