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Opportunities to study abroad during IAP continue to grow

Global Classroom Fund assists faculty innovation and provides unique global experiences for students.
Literary London student Billy Torres enjoys a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Literary London student Billy Torres enjoys a performance at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Photo courtesy of Billy Torres.

MIT’s Global Education Office, in collaboration with campus faculty, academic departments, and office partners, continues to expand program offerings for students interested in studying abroad during Independent Activities Period (IAP) in January. These three- to four-week sessions have increasingly become an attractive study-abroad option for students who desire an international academic experience but prefer to not spend too much time away from campus or internship opportunities.

Now in its 11th year, IAP in Madrid has grown to include three options: Global Literature taught in English by Professor Margery Resnick, Spanish III taught this year by lecturer Mariana San Martin, and Advanced Spanish Conversation and Composition taught by senior lecturer Margarita Ribas Groeger.

All three courses provide MIT credit. Students gain cultural immersion and experiential learning through homestay accommodations and the opportunity to have Madrid as their global classroom. The Global Education Office staff guide students who need financial assistance for these programs through the scholarships application process.

IAP in Madrid has expanded over the years thanks to funding from the Victor and William Fung Foundation and the Institute. The Fung Foundation funding also enabled a new seed fund, the MIT Global Classroom Fund, which started last year. This seed fund is helping to create new international academic opportunities for MIT undergraduate students by allowing faculty to innovate teaching and learning engagement throughout the world. A collaboration between the Global Education Office and the MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), the Global Classroom Fund offers awards for up to $15,000 per year for faculty and lead instructors to develop new courses and modules or take existing courses/course modules to international locations.

Literary London, launched this January, was a successful initiation of the Global Classroom Fund premise and charts the way for future faculty to engage in international classroom programming. This newest IAP course was developed and led by literature Professor Diana Henderson. Through Literary London, Henderson brought 15 students to England to explore the locations, histories, and artistic institutions that have made London a world cultural hub. Students experienced guided readings, theater performances, walking tours, museums, and visits to sites associated with major British authors and their works. Students who participated in Literary London received HASS-H credit and the course counted for the Literature major or minor.

Students are enthusiastic about their IAP study abroad experiences, which not only promote fresh insights on course materials but also spark students’ personal and intellectual growth. “Spending IAP in Spain was an experience that allowed me to learn a lot about myself,” observes sophomore Briana Rose McRae, who participated in the Global Literature course, part of IAP in Madrid. “I was very nervous right before the trip, as I was traveling into the unknown. However, I was surprised by my own ability to adapt so quickly to a new place, culture, and language.” Advanced Spanish course junior Iva Gramatiko adds, “Nothing could replicate a long-term stay in a country in terms of learning a language, and I was lucky to have that opportunity this IAP. After this experience, I’m more confident in my Spanish-speaking abilities, as well as my ability to interact with people in their home countries.”

The Literary London students also found their IAP trip transformative as they delved first-hand into the worlds of Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, and other famous writers. “This was my first time ever watching a Shakespearean play live and I had the fortune of experiencing it at the famous Royal Shakespeare Company,” recalls junior Billy Torres. “It was the single most important turning point in my journey to appreciating Shakespeare.” “The benefits of this program are endless, especially for anyone who loves literature, theatre, or travel. I got a chance to exercise the more artistic part of my brain, and learn how to explore,” notes junior Kacie Bawiec. “Study abroad is one of my favorite things I have done at MIT up until this point. I hope as many students as possible get to experience the freedom and joy that comes with learning how to travel, how to explore, and how to problem solve, all with the safety net and structure of one of the best literature classes at MIT.”

For faculty, the IAP study abroad programs provide a vehicle to experiment with new pedagogical approaches. “Of the curricular innovations I have designed and brought to fruition, IAP courses in Madrid have been among the most rewarding — both to me as a professor whose field is Hispanic culture and to the now more than 500 undergraduates who have participated in this adventure,” says Margery Resnick, associate professor of literature. “Giving MIT undergraduates the opportunity to immerse themselves in Spanish life while acquiring linguistic, cultural, literary and historical knowledge, is exhilarating. The joy of teaching this class to a group of MIT students who savor every moment in Spain is immeasurable.” 

“The IAP-Madrid program has been a valuable addition to the Spanish curriculum in Global Studies and Languages,” notes Emma Teng, head of Global Languages and Literature and professor of Asian Civilizations. “Due to student demand, we expanded the program to include a second Spanish-language class, Spanish Conversation, which has proved to be enormously popular. Students and instructors alike report that the experience in Spain, especially the extracurricular activities and local tours, are extremely enriching. Students have an opportunity to practice their language skills in situ and to gain invaluable cultural immersion experiences. Additionally, they return with renewed enthusiasm for Spanish and are able to enroll in higher-level courses, participate in internships abroad, and even complete a Spanish minor.”

Henderson also found the experience of teaching abroad to be inspiring. “The group spirit and camaraderie among this diverse group — ranging from first-year to seniors, with different backgrounds and artistic interests — was extraordinary and precious,” she reflects. “Learning about how much a city changes, how much is lost, was also really valuable for MIT students, who often don't pay much attention to the historical dimensions of knowledge, and who gets to write the histories as well. Thinking about their own role in telling the stories and remembering the past made the work of humanities scholarship more visible and vital. Being able to choose their own authors to ‘map,’ with a good deal of freedom in how they interpreted the assignment, worked well with MIT's spirit of hands-on and project-based learning, and allowed each student to share a different area of expertise with the group — so we all learned much more than any one person could have managed alone.”

The Global Education Office is pleased with the positive response from students and faculty and looks forward to future collaborations. “Feedback from students and faculty tells us that these programs create very powerful student learning through experience and significantly increase students’ global fluency. That is hugely motivating for us in the Global Education Office,” states Malgorzata Hedderick, associate dean of Global Education. “We have had great partners in faculty, academic departments, MISTI and others for the development of these programs and we hope to be able to continue this positive growth momentum.”

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