October 4, 2011 — University of Virginia students seeking to study, live or work abroad can take advantage of a series of free weekly seminars tailored to help demystify and enrich the experience.
CORE, or Cultural Orientation, Reflection and Engagement, is offered by the International Studies Office, in collaboration with the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts & Sciences and the interdisciplinary Global Development Studies Program.
The seminars were first offered last spring and filled up quickly. This year's participants can look forward to some new offerings.
Project coordinator Catarina Krizancic said she and Marina Markot, the associate director of education abroad programs, took advantage of feedback from the spring series to enrich the seminars.
"We have changed the format to make the seminars more interactive and really worked hard to find incredible instructors," Krizancic said.
Also new this year: Students who take three of the four seminars will receive a certificate, and an innovative online course has been added to the spring schedule that will enable students to communicate regularly with instructors to implement what was learned during the fall seminars.
Krizancic said a new, separate course, "Making Culture Visible While Studying Abroad," is an important component that will enable students to take full advantage of their time studying in another country. The course carries one credit and requires a small fee.
"Last summer, I had some students in rural Latin America," Krizancic said. "Most people in the villages would spend four or five hours a day in church and that was completely bewildering to my students. They were not doing what our students do in an hour on a Sunday. They were sharing meals, having political meetings and making decisions on how to run the village."
Krizancic said the online course will enable students to journal about these types of observations and get real-time feedback from professors, who can help students understand how people in different parts of world organize their time and space. "Realizing how different communities treat time gets to a deep understanding of cultural values," she said.
"Ideally, students participating in the spring course will have taken the fall seminars so their instructors can use them as a reference point," she said.
Registration for the seminars and course is open. The first seminar, an introduction to cross-cultural miscommunication, takes place Oct. 18. The second, "Making and Unmaking Stereotypes," takes place Oct. 25. The Nov. 1 seminar examines how the experience of cultural differences can be transformative. A new seminar, a presentation on cross-cultural self in everyday life, concludes the series on Nov. 8.
The seminars will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. in Monroe Hall, room 130, except for the Oct. 25 seminar, which will be held in Minor Hall, room 125
Clare Terni, a graduate anthropology student, will lead the seminar on cultural differences. One of the issues students will tackle is how their sense of morality may clash with that of the host culture.
"You might encounter things that violate your sense of right and wrong. You also may not have realized how strongly you felt about a particular issue until you are confronted with different ideas about gender roles or notions of ethnic difference," she said. "So you have to decide if you are going to change your mind about these things or if you are going to stick with your own sense of morality. Then you have to live with the consequences of that choice while you are in the host culture."
The seminars are an excellent way for students to do more than think about what to pack when getting ready to live in a new country, Terni said.
"If you are prepared to look at study abroad as something that might affect you in many unexpected ways, you might be more open to those effects and you'll learn more about your host culture and, possibly, about yourself," she said. "I think that all of the seminars will help students avoid that 'packing the experience away’ tendency that can happen when you come home. The experience will become more a part of who you are, and will therefore orient you toward new possibilities in your life."