President Steven Poskanzer

All the World’s a Classroom

By President Steven Poskanzer

In 1990 political science professor Roy Grow and his spouse, Mary Lewis Grow, were in their last week leading an Off-Campus Studies program in China when the phone in their Beijing apartment rang. Mary Lewis picked up and found herself connected with Chang Pochun ’35, who was living in the capital and—by sheer luck—had discovered that 41 Carleton students were in town.

Pochun, who was a university professor in China, hadn’t been back to Northfield since graduation. During the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976, university classes were routinely disrupted and, at one point, the Red Guards raided Pochun’s house and he was forced to do physical labor, loading and unloading trucks carrying coal and limestone. In the wake of the ordeal, he found that he’d lost all of his Carleton mementos.

Overjoyed to be unexpectedly reunited with people from his alma mater on their last night in the country, Pochun met with Grow and his students, who were thrilled to hear stories from both Carleton’s and China’s past.

Carleton has long worked to attract international students like Pochun, who was born and raised in Beijing, while simultaneously and systematically increasing its commitment to providing all students access to deep, meaningful learning experiences abroad. This year, Off-Campus Studies (OCS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. During those years, Carleton faculty members, students, and staff members have explored all corners of the globe, built lifelong memories and connections, and profoundly enriched and expanded their educational experiences in Northfield.

The national average for undergraduate participation in off-campus programs in 2016 and 2017 was 11 percent. In comparison, participation rates in Carleton’s OCS over the past decade has averaged 70 percent, which is a point of institutional pride. We endeavor to provide students with experiences to help them transcend daily campus life and reflect on their own roles and responsibilities in an ever more complex and diverse world. We also seek to build a lasting bridge between offsite experiential activities and on-campus learning. In other words, “global issues” are not things that happen “elsewhere.” They are what we teach, what we learn, and how we live.

Today’s undergraduates are more likely than ever to work abroad, live abroad, and have neighbors and friends from different cultures and countries. According to a recent campus survey, in fact, 50 percent of the student body believes that living or working abroad will be an “essential” or “very important” part of their future. And because Carleton has a duty to prepare its students adequately for this future, we are always working to develop ways to innovate, integrate, and deepen the study of global issues and intercultural perspectives across the curriculum.

If you’re an alum from the 1970s, there’s a good chance you participated in some of Carleton’s first study-abroad programs—from Biology in Costa Rica to Religious Studies in Beirut. And you’ll likely remember that, even then, OCS was forward-looking and emphasized that the study-abroad experience does not and should not begin and end with travel. Ideally, students are prepared before they go, and continue to study and reflect upon their experiences when they return home. Truly transformative experiences have motivated some Carls to want to improve and engage with the world in ways they could not have imagined beforehand.

There’s a profound difference between going abroad to another English-speaking nation as part of a cohort of already familiar faces and an immersive experience in which a young adult literally experiences what it’s like to be “the other.” We aspire to the latter for Carleton students, because the deeper the immersion, the greater the opportunity for learning. In such a setting, a student must, by necessity, develop a deep respect for and genuine ability to navigate—if not also embrace—the culture, language, and political realities of a new place.

As we celebrate the profound ways OCS has enriched the Carleton experience over the past half century and consider ways to further enhance its impact, we would love to hear your stories about studying abroad. Just drop us a line at voice@carleton.edu and, if you have a photo, send that along as well.

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