12/05/2014 Peter Durantine

To Study Abroad, With Intent and Purpose

An abiding interest in Asian languages and foreign affairs draws a history major to South Korea and China.

A music major and pianist travels to Austria to explore musicology.

And an economics and environmental studies major returns to his native Brazil to research rainforest conservation.

These students are among hundreds at Franklin & Marshall College who choose to leave campus each academic year for destinations around the world, where they seek to delve more deeply into their distinctive academic interests and experience correlative research first-hand.


  • When not immersed in their studies, students in the F&M in Costa Rica program take time to explore areas of the country and enjoy spectacular views such as this of San Luis, from Monteverde. Image Credit: Goretti Prieto Botana
  • With their guide in the Monteverde cloud forest, junior Shane Brown, sophomore Sara Albrecht-Soto, senior Kim Hilfrank, sophomore Halley Gradus, senior Jingyi Fang, and senior Philip Johnson are exposed to another aspect of that region's culture -- the environment and natural surroundings. Image Credit: Goretti Prieto Botana
  • Students and faculty lunch at a local farm with the owner Doñas Hermida Porras. Picture are junior Angela Simpson, seniors Jingyi Fang and Philip Johnson, junior Johnny Andrade and Robert Ruíz, senior Kim Hilfrank, junior Akida Greene, senior Hannah Nallo, sophomores Halley Gradus and Sara Albrecht-Soto, junior Julia Fleisch, Associate Professor of Spanish Sofia Ruiz-Alfaro, and Spanish Language Writing Center Director Goretti Prieto Botano. Image Credit: Goretti Prieto Botana
  • Trying her hand at traditional pottery, made with sand from the neck of an Iguana, junior Julia Fleisch gets tips from the local artisan. Image Credit: Goretti Prieto Botano
  • In her journey across China, where she encountered a diverse range of people, senior Jaclyn Kahn (fourth from left in white scarf) and fellow classmates meet Uighur students in the Old City section of Kashgar, China's westernmost city. Image Credit: Jaclyn Kahn
  • Kahn's travels in Korea brought her to the Joint Security Area, a portion of the Demilitarized Zone, on the border between North and South Korea. The students also met with a North Korean defector. Image Credit: Jaclyn Kahn
  • While working on his research in the Amazon, junior Felipe Storch de Oliveira stays in an "eco-lodge," where log trucks often passed. He says locals told him the logs came from certified cutting areas in the rainforest. "That region is well managed by the government, a rarity in the Amazon," says the economics and environmental studies major. Image Credit: Felipe Storch de Oliveira
  • Storch de Oliveira, having just returned from one of his early morning walks in the rainforest, wears long sleeves to protect him from the cold morning mist that shrouds the Amazon. Image Credit: Felipe Storch de Oliveira
  • Her favorite composer, Johannes Brahms, drew junior Bess Liu to his gravesite in Austria, part of the cultural immersion in musicology that compelled her to embark on the study abroad program in Vienna. Image Credit: Bess Liu
  • The piano in the Baroque Performance Hall in Vienna's Palais Corbelli, where Liu performed several music arrangements with a number of other students. Image Credit: Bess Liu
  • Students venture to the Assumption Cathedral in the western Russian city of Vladimir, where Assistant Professor of Russian and Russian Studies Jon Stone led students in the summer of 2012. Image Credit: Jon Stone
  • Stone says cultural exploration is a cornerstone of the F&M in Russia program. Here, the Bronze Horseman monument in Senate Square in St. Petersburg, Russia, with the old Senate building in the background, is a marker to the country's history and culture. Image Credit: Jon Stone

One of F&M's academic priorities is to help students select study-abroad programs based on their intent and purpose in a particular field of interest, said Rachel Helwig, assistant dean for International & Off-Campus Study in the Office of International Programs.

"These students have well-developed goals for their time off campus," she said.

Junior Bess Liu exemplifies this individualized approach.

"I was inspired by a music history class I took and I wanted to go further in this area," she said. Liu received the Paul A. Mueller Jr. Summer Award, one of several College travel awards, to participate in the Vienna program that focuses on music history and performance.

"As a student in musicology, going to Vienna is like a pilgrimage," the music major said.

While in Austria, Liu took classes focusing on classical musicians -- including her favorite, German composer and pianist Johannes Brahms -- performed in small ensembles with students from different colleges around the United States, and learned about Austrian culture and society.

"I even had a chance to play on Brahms' piano in his house," Liu said.

She said the experience, which included forays into literature, history and philosophy, taught her to view music in a cultural context. To better understand German composer Richard Wagner, for example, Liu read some of the works of German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Fredrick Nietzsche.

"It gave me a better idea of what musicology is about," Liu said.

Faculty-Led Study

The College offers more than 200 pre-approved programs in 60 countries and six continents. Students have their choice of programs, including several led by F&M faculty. Those programs are known for being academically robust and are tailored to the professor's expertise. F&M also partners with other institutions or agencies to offer programs. Then there are independent studies that steep students in another culture.

For six weeks last summer, Goretti Prieto Botana, director of the Spanish Language Writing Center, and Associate Professor of Spanish Sofia Ruiz-Alfaro jointly led the F&M in Costa Rica program. They accompanied 12 of their students to the small town of Monteverde, home of the world-renowned cloud forest, and immersed them in the language and culture of the region.

"It's small, it's remote, and they are immediately engulfed in that dynamic," Botano said. "First they have to learn the vocabulary. Then we put them in a situation where they have to speak the language and learn."

Students took two courses with Botano and Ruiz-Alfaro, lived with local families, and explored the rugged terrain. F&M in Costa Rica teaches students to thrive in challenging situations where they must use the language and understand the views of the people they meet, the professors said.

"I saw the students grow," said Ruiz-Alfaro. "In six weeks, I saw them change. They felt much more comfortable with themselves and the language."

Assistant Professor of Russian and Russian Studies Jon Stone leads a similar program called F&M in Russia. The first week of the four-week experience is spent on campus and centers on learning about the country's history, politics and culture. The subsequent three weeks are spent in country.

In summer 2015, Stone plans to take students to Moscow and St. Petersburg, traveling by train between the cities with excursions to the historical towns of Suzdal and Vladimir.

"It's going to give them a different picture of contemporary Russian life," Stone said. "One of the program's primary goals is the immersion into the country's culture, customs and history."   

Independent Study Abroad

Felipe Storch de Oliveira received F&M's John Kryder Evans Scholar Summer Study & Travel Award, reserved for students who seek to study independently abroad for projects that reflect ethical or social concerns. The junior environmental studies major is writing a paper on Amazon rainforest conservation and the pro-conservation rubber tapper movement. Rubber tappers are farmers who extract sap from rubber trees in an ecologically benign process.

"People can live off the forest without destroying it," Storch de Oliveira said.

He traveled to Acre, the Brazilian state that was home to environmentalist Chico Mendes, the leader of the rubber tapper movement who was murdered in 1988 because of his efforts to protect the rainforest from decimation by developers.

"I grew up hearing stories about him," said Storch de Oliveira, whose research got a boost from members of Mendes' family granting him access to journals that described how the rubber tapper movement evolved. "That was very helpful to be with his family."

Senior Jaclyn Kahn also received an Evans award, traveling to Korea in the summer of her sophomore year to participate in a Korea American Student Conference on building better bilateral relations (she returned to that nation last summer as an F&M Marshall Fellow). In fall of her junior year, she traveled to China for the "Globalization Then and Now: Xi'an and the Silk Road" program, organized by the Alliance for Global Education, an F&M partner organization.

A history major and international studies minor, Kahn pursued programs tied to her interests in Asian foreign affairs and languages. In Korea, she traveled with a cohort of 25 Korean students and 25 American students. Then, with a smaller group of 11 other students, she made her way across northern China by bus and train, meeting with and learning from members of several ethnicities and cultures.

"China likes to present itself as a homogenous nation, but it is so diverse and there are so many different types of people," Kahn said. "It was the most amazing experience of my life."

That is the ultimate purpose of studying abroad, Ruiz-Alfaro said. It is a life experience that informs and enlightens.

"The beauty of going abroad is you put yourself in different situations and you learn about other people and their point of view." 

  • Image Credit: Dana Mancias
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