Thursday, July 29, 2010

Explore Your World

Study Abroad is one of the best opportunities you’ll have to learn about a different country, explore a specialized topic – and learn about yourself. Traveling outside of the United States gives you a broader perspective on life, and helps you understand more of the world around you: how we’re all alike, but also how the world views things differently.

A group of 11 Art and Design students, led by Dr. James Bryan, recently had the privilege of traveling abroad to England to experience “British Art, Architecture, and Design,” firsthand. I asked Dr. Bryan a few questions about the group’s experiences, and here’s what he had to say:

What structures or buildings do students tend to like best when they take this trip?
The students frequently commented on how much they enjoyed many of the different museums and historic sites we visited, but I think there were two kinds of things that most impressed them. One was climbing to the tops of tall buildings, at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, St. Mary's Church in Oxford, and Salisbury Cathedral , to see panoramic views of the surrounding areas. The other was visiting the many lavish gardens such as at Stourhead, Blenheim Palace, and Wilton House. I didn't expect the students to like that as much as they did, but the English are really excellent gardeners (it's a national obsession of theirs), and pretty much everything was in bloom, so it was really very beautiful and pleasant. Both towertops and gardens got lots of oohs and ahhs from us.

What is your favorite place to visit when you're in London?
That's a tough one. I'm a museum junkie, and there are lots of great ones there - massive places like the British Museum, the National Gallery, and the Victoria and Albert, and the Tate Gallery, but also smaller ones with excellent collections like the Wallace and the Courtauld. A lot of the masterpieces that we teach about in the freshman art history survey are on display there, as are many of the pieces of furniture and household objects I cover in design history classes, so it's always nice to get to see something "live and in person" that you normally only see in a book or PowerPoint. So I really can't say. There's more to see there than you can do in a week.

What is the most important things students learn with you during study abroad?
Besides the obvious increased understanding of the topic of the class itself - the history of British art, architecture, and design - I think some of the most important things students begin to realize on the trip is that the whole world isn't just like home, and not everyone does things just the way we do. That's something you can rationally grasp without going overseas, but you don't really understand how true it is until you experience it for yourself. Even in the United Kingdom, a country that speaks the same language that we do and shares so much history with us, many things are different and people have some different expectations out of life. Coming into contact with that gets you to thinking about many of the things you take for granted in your own life, and can be a real opportunity for growth.

What's your recommendation for best meal on the cheap in London?
Well, "cheap" is a relative concept when you're talking about London, but lately the exchange rate seems to be shifting to make those British prices a little better for American visitors. You can get pretty cheap eats at neighborhood diners, there was a decent one just down the block from our hostel, and the food can be pretty good and fairly affordable at some pubs too. Also, all the big museums have cafes that serve really nice upscale salads, sandwiches, and things like that for reasonable prices.

What would you say to a student who was considering study abroad?
I would encourage every student who possibly can to participate in at least one study abroad class. It's great fun and you learn much more than you ever expected, and your college years will be one of the best chances you'll ever have to visit other cultures and learn from them. Also, the world is becoming more and more interconnected, the economy is becoming more and more globalized, and international experience is going to be more and more important for professionals in the future, so I would really urge students to study overseas if they can.

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