It’s 9 a.m. on a chilly fall morning at Beloit. Tired students trudge toward the academic buildings from the warmth of their dorms, coffee mugs in hand, ready to attend a slate of lectures—even though classes have been canceled and no assignments are due.
Each November, a group of Beloit students who have studied, conducted research, and gathered countless experiences abroad take their turn behind the podium during a special day-long symposium focused on study abroad. Last fall marked the seventh annual International Symposium, which featured 45 students giving 43 presentations on topics from all areas of Beloit’s curriculum. Student peers, faculty members, staff, people from the community, and senior College administrators take their seats in the audience during these well-attended events.
Many of the presenters, fresh from a term or a year abroad, report that sharing their experiences this way helps them digest what they saw and did while abroad. By teaching their peers and mentors what they have learned, the speakers give back to the campus community and open up new conversations. The International Symposium also helps participants, as well as audience members, connect study abroad experiences to Beloit’s educational program.
|In her symposium presentation, Kyle
Lipinski’09 shared five of the most
important lessons she learned from
studying public health and medical
systems in Hong Kong, India, China,
South Africa, and the United States.
“My study abroad experience was definitely anything but typical,” laughs Kyle Lipinski’09. As a health and society major who spent two semesters abroad—one at Lingnan University in Hong Kong and the other studying public health in China, South Africa, and India—Lipinski had many opportunities to see, do, and learn. “My program on comparative public health opened my eyes to all kinds of things that I’d never thought about or learned about,” says Lipinski, who began to see how local contexts affect the success of public health programs. “Looking at international public health from the perspective of the people receiving the interventions helped me understand that curing someone’s disease doesn’t mean that he or she will be healthy in the long run.”
Returning to the United States, Lipinski shifted her focus to domestic public health concerns, interning the following summer with the Red Cliff Tribe in northern Wisconsin to design a cardiovascular health program. “When I left my study abroad program, I was really overwhelmed by the fact that there is so much going on besides just health. My internship over the summer restored my faith in public health and my ability to make change as an individual on a small level. I realized even small steps can be significant.”
Lipinski used the International Symposium to collect her thoughts and share a year’s worth of insights and stories that were sometimes difficult to relate in response to casual questions about her year overseas. “International Symposium gives you 20 minutes to talk about your experiences, and everyone who comes wants to listen,” she explains. “You’re an educational avenue for someone else.”
What was it like to make a presentation to an audience of both friends and strangers? “The president [of Beloit College] was at my symposium, which can be an intimidating thing,” she says. “However, you just need to remember that what you learned is valuable and people want to hear about it.”
|Chris Ruder’09 spent a year abroad and delivered two presentations at International Symposium on his experiences in England
Environmental studies major Chris Ruder’09 also spent a year abroad and delivered two presentations at last fall’s International Symposium. His morning talk discussed pressures on the Camphill Community Farm in England to modernize. “Presenting gave me a chance to reflect on my study abroad experience and try to articulate what I learned there,” Ruder says. In the afternoon, he discussed sustainable development and alternative communities in India, a topic related to the religious studies he has been pursuing.
Designing a talk for his peers was demanding yet rewarding. “There are so many other things that I could have discussed from my time in England or in India, but picking out what you and the audience are going to learn the most from is a valuable, challenging process,” he says.
Holly Pham’09 has been living an international education for the past three years. A native of Vietnam, Pham used the International Symposium to tell students in the United States about her homeland. Her talk discussed Vietnam’s integration into the global economy and grew out of summer internships in Vietnam with an American venture-capital fund and an organization of Vietnamese students studying in the United States. It also connected her major in economics and management with her background.
“Preparing a symposium presentation is a critical learning process,” she says. “To effectively communicate with others about your experiences and research and engage the audience takes a lot of effort. For me, those efforts included brainstorming with professors and a lot of idea-bouncing with friends.”
|Margaret Caneff’10 checks the audience reaction to her documentary film about the washerwomen of Dakar, Senegal, at last year’s International Symposium.
Modern languages major Margaret Caneff’10 studied in Senegal and has the film footage to prove it. Upon returning to the United States, she, like Lipinski, found that “there are only certain times and places that people care to listen to your experiences, because they can’t picture where you’ve been and what you’ve done. The International Symposium allows people who are coming back to share what they’ve learned.” Caneff showed a documentary she made with a Senegalese student. As part of Beloit College’s program in Senegal, the two used film to explore a local social issue. The result was Washerwomen of Dakar, Senegal, a film about women who leave their rural villages in search of better lives.
“I made something while I was abroad that I wanted to share with people here,” Caneff says. “I’d never made anything like that before. It was a totally different type of research than I’d ever done and really rewarding to see it through from start to finish.”
The International Symposium poses an additional challenge to Beloit students who pursue terms abroad. In a sense, it asks them to glean more from what they have learned by asking them to teach others.
Rachel Berzon’08 majored in history at Beloit College and studied in Barcelona her junior year. She currently works for the Office of Children’s Issues within the U.S. Department of State, in Washington, D.C.
How an International Symposium was Born at Beloit
By Elizabeth Brewer
Two months after joining Beloit College as director of International Education in 2002, I was making the rounds of various academic departments, trying to gauge the level of interest and engagement with international education and study abroad.
In a meeting with the chemistry department, we discussed the faculty members’ involvement in international education and different reasons study abroad made sense for their majors. Near the end of the meeting, one of the chemists, George Lisensky, raised this issue: As a faculty member, he said he usually knew what chemistry majors accomplished while abroad, but he had no idea what other students he taught were doing. Out of this observation grew the concept of an international symposium, a day in which returned study abroad students would become the teachers, sharing examples of what they had learned with the rest of the campus.
The idea was not entirely new. Beloit already had a longstanding spring Symposium Day devoted to student research. However, the educational merits of the spring symposium were clear—research is widely valued at colleges and universities as evidence of the merit of an educational program. A symposium devoted to the results of study abroad might not be that transparent. After all, how many study abroad students would be ready to present something beyond travelogues about their personal experiences?
In the following weeks, an ad hoc group of faculty members concerned with study abroad deliberated the risks and benefits of proposing an international symposium. Their proposal called for setting aside a day during International Education Week for presentations by students who had engaged in educational activities abroad, all of whom would need to be nominated and then mentored by faculty members as they prepared their presentations.
The purpose was to engage the wider campus community in international education—to go beyond the 45 percent of students who study abroad and the 10 percent of students who come to Beloit from another country. The group wanted faculty to gain a better understanding of how study abroad and on-campus academic work could connect by asking them to serve as mentors. Another goal was to integrate the perspectives of students who study abroad and of international students at Beloit into a campus-wide academic conversation and emphasize the importance the College places on all of these connections.
Organized into three concurring panel sessions, with each panel moderated by a faculty member, the first International Symposium resembled the kind of professional conference students could expect to attend in their future careers. This format continues today, with the number of presentations generally ranging from 40 to 60 in a given year. This means that more than 30 percent of students who study abroad give a campus-wide presentation about their experiences each November. George Lisensky, the chemistry professor who first expressed an interest in knowing more about students’ international experiences, organizes the annual event.
Beyond furthering the education of the student presenters, the International Symposium has served to teach other students, particularly those in their first and second year, about the potential of study abroad to transform learning. Students who are just embarking on their college education are impressed when they hear and see what others have accomplished while living in a completely new environment.
International Symposium presentations also influence the way in which faculty, administrators, and Beloit College’s trustees think about study abroad. Increasingly, faculty members serving as students’ mentors strive to help them create the strongest presentations possible. Moreover, some are changing the way they are teaching to include more assignments that can help prepare students to engage in meaningful study abroad as well as bring the experience into their senior-year work. Finally, the International Symposium has helped Beloit College raise its expectations for study abroad. As a result, the College has become more explicit about what it expects from study abroad applicants, as well as more adept at helping students identify study abroad opportunities appropriate to their interests, backgrounds, and academic studies.
Beloit’s International Symposium has been an effective, low-cost vehicle for bringing the lessons of study abroad home to campus. The presentations made by students have demonstrated the unique learning that takes place during study abroad, because that learning involves the whole student and embraces both traditional academic inquiry and inquiry taking place outside the classroom in host communities. In turn, the International Symposium has helped educate and involve the wider campus community in study abroad, furthering the internationalization of the campus and reaffirming the centrality of study abroad to Beloit College’s educational mission.
Elizabeth Brewer directs the Office of International Education at Beloit College. She has also taught and directed international programs at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Boston University and directed graduate student affairs at the New School for Social Research. From 1998-2002 she was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Slovak Republic.