January 15, 2013


Volume 7, Issue 18 – January 15, 2013


How Facebook Can Ruin Study Abroad

With the retirement of Rich Bennet as Director of International Programs, I’ve asked Tom Nelson to chair an ad hoc committee to both select a new Director, and to look at our international programs and make some recommendations as to new initiatives we may wish to take on.  The committee met on Monday, and it looks like a good group.  Our international programs’ primary focus has been on developing relationships with universities abroad.  We have partners in China, Cameroon, Georgia (the ex-Soviet one), Germany, and several other places, and students come to SPSU from about 80 different countries.  Other efforts include bringing Fulbright scholars onto our campus (we had several here last year and more will be here this semester), and providing support for our own faculty if they are approved for a Fulbright or similar fellowship, of which we’ve now had several.

SPSU has also supported several study abroad initiatives.  Some of these are departmentally based—architecture students, for example, have gone to Germany, Italy, and Turkey and participated in multinational teams working on architectural projects.  The Business Administration department has organized several student trips to China, where the students have visited some of our partners.

Other study abroad experiences are course-based.  A really cool example is offered by our Honors Program, which organizes an annual “City as Text” travel course.  The purpose of the course is “to provide students with the opportunity to experience an intense examination of studying various aspects of one city not only in relationship with their field, but also in relationship with cultural issues for the city. Since this course will emphasize that no study of a subject exists in a vacuum, it will explore the ways in which the students’ individual programs of study are affected by the culture of the place in which they are being studied.”  If I’m remembering right, this year marks the fourth year it has been offered.

I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish in the international programs area, that we’ve been able to give our faculty some new opportunities for professional development, and that we’ve enriched our campus life through a more global perspective.

Still, we’ve only just begun.  One of the issues that came up at the meeting related to study abroad and our support (or lack thereof) for students wanting to study abroad and for faculty who might want to organize such efforts.  I’m sure we also have faculty who have some ideas of their own as to additional international efforts that we should consider taking on.  While our funding is always limited, we have reached the point where some new initiatives should be considered and that’s why I’ve asked the committee to propose some.  If you have ideas you’d like to share, please share them with Tom Nelson and he’ll bring them to the committee.

Speaking of study abroad, there was an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “How Facebook Can Ruin Study Abroad”.  The author, Robert Huesca, a professor of communication at Trinity University in San Antonio TX, describes a recent experience he had in Ouidah, Benin (in West Africa) and compares it to a previous study-abroad experience in Mexico in 1980.  The big difference?  Students today, naturally enough, bring their laptops, iPads, cell phones, and so on with them.  What’s gone is the sense of isolation and immersion in the other culture, since the students can keep up with their friends on Facebook or Skype.  In many ways, it’s like taking their homes with them when they travel.  So, while Ouidah is well off the grid, the American students were almost as plugged in as at home instead of interacting with the local culture.  This contrasted with his prior experience in Mexico City, where he wrote:  “Although stressful and, frankly, painful at the time, the periods of intense loneliness and homesickness I experienced in Mexico City contributed significantly to core and treasured sensibilities such as empathy, tolerance, perseverance, perspective, and gratitude. In the rush to protect our students and our universities through the adoption of digital technologies, we unwittingly have extinguished the necessary conditions for personal transformation that justify the expense, risk, and sacrifice of study abroad.

Hmm…Prof. Huesca has a point here.  Part of the appeal of study abroad is encountering a new way of life and a different way of thinking.  If you’re a tourist in France, but you only eat at McDonalds, only speak English, and hang out with other Americans, you’re certainly missing important elements of French culture.  If you don’t interact with the local culture and leave yourself open to be changed by it, what’s the point?

Mark Scheid, the President of the Institute for Study Abroad had a different perspective though.  He posted a reply to Huesca’s article, stating: “…one of the perplexing aspects of the field of study abroad is that a number of those who demonstrate these qualities believe they achieved them because of the “shock” of the foreign culture.  While they would no longer insist (as educators once did) that students can be taught to swim by being tossed without instruction into a cold ocean, or that “reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmatic” is best when “taught to the tune of a hickory stick,” they believe that the way to learn the lessons of study abroad is by what I call the “lobster in the pot” method:  toss them in and keep the lid on them.  For many of my colleagues, that was in fact the way they learned, and in my view they should be honored for what they learned, even though the methods they espouse are no longer countenanced by up-to-date providers of education-abroad experiences.

From my own perspective, a little culture shock is a good thing, especially after the fact.  When you go visit or study in an exotic place, the shock makes you begin to question some of your own complacencies.  Everyone needs a couple of weird food and “can you believe the bathrooms” stories, and how they ultimately adjusted to the new situation, and “you know what?  In the end it was pretty good.”  A bit of contact with home through technology can lower the energy of activation for study abroad, which is pretty high for most American students.  Students who want to can still immerse themselves in the local culture despite having the technology to avoid it, just as in the past students could avoid the culture even without the technology.  The world moves on, the oxen’s heads get smaller, but people are still the same.


Sports and Movies

On weekends, I like to relax with movies and sports, and this weekend was no exception.  On Saturday, my favorite soccer team Chelsea played Stoke City (not a great club, to be sure) and won 4-0.  While I liked the outcome, it was a very strange game, with one of Stoke’s players, Jon Walters, becoming perhaps the unluckiest man in sports ever.   The first half was pretty dull, but Chelsea threatened several times and just before the half, Cesar Azpilicueta picked up a nice pass and fired in a shot.  Walters tried to head it away and instead, popped it past his own goalie for an own goal (that’s when you score on yourself).  1-0 Chelsea.

Chelsea dominated much more in the second half, and the great Frank Lampard fired in a shot.  Walters rose to head it away again, and yep—you guessed it, headed it into his own goal a second time.  2-0 Chelsea.  A few minutes later, Lampard scored on a penalty kick, and a bit later, Hazard kicked on in making it 4-0.  In the closing seconds, Stoke City was awarded a penalty kick and to try to give the poor guy a chance to make up for the two own goals, they let Walters take it.  To wrap up the worst day ever, he blew the shot and kicked it over the crossbar.  I’ve watched a lot of soccer in my time, but I’ve never ever seen a debacle like this for a single player.

Don’t feel too bad, though.  Tuesday, Walters scored two more goals, but this time for his own team, helping Stoke City beat Crystal Palace to advance to the next round of the FA Cup Championship.  Interestingly enough, Frank Lampard was the Premier League’s top scorer for the week, with a total of seven goals.  Naturally, all the talk is that Chelsea won’t be renewing his contract and that he’ll be walking.  Figures.

Saturday afternoon, Jill and I watched an Indian movie called Hattrick (Hat Trick—get it?), which had been recommended to us by our own Khalid Siddiqi (Chair of Construction Management).  The movie consists of three interlocking stories all dealing with the sport of cricket: (1) A doctor who looks at patients as statistics has to deal with a former cricket player who’d rather die by putting off a necessary operation in order to watch the cricket world series; (2) An airport custodian who’s trying to gain British citizenship thinks he has insulted the official who will decide, because the official saw the custodian cheer for the Indian cricket team over the British team; and (3) The husband of a newlywed couple keeps watching cricket on TV, much to the annoyance of his wife.  Her friends counsel her to watch the game with him, and that she’ll enjoy it because the players are all handsome.  All is well, until one night, when they’re getting intimate, she shouts out the name of one of the cricket players.  The movie was pretty funny and all the plots wound up well, with a good song and dance number over the closing credits—an Indian reggae song about cricket, of all things.  For those who don’t know, people in India are just as mad about cricket as most Americans are about football.  Losing an test match is a national tragedy.

Sunday brought two big soccer games:  Manchester United vs. Liverpool (a good game, despite the fact that the evil ManU won it 2-1), and Manchester City vs. Arsenal.  The game began normally enough, but in the 9th minute, ManC’s Edin Dzeko was catching up with an excellent pass and would have scored an easy goal, except for the fact that Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny held him in a sort of bear hug and down to ground they went.  The referee went into his pocket and pulled out a red card, sending Koscielny out of the game and making Arsenal play with 10 men for the rest of the game.  Going straight to a red card is unusual, and the hometown crowd went crazy—spending the rest of the game cursing out the referee, who had also awarded ManC with a penalty kick (which they missed).  ManC pressed its advantage and the half ended with them ahead 2-0 (but it could have been much worse).

Arsenal came back in the second half and held tough, threatening to score on several occasions.  In the 75th minute, ManC’s Vincent Kompany tried to get the ball by tackling Jack Wilshere.  The ref ruled that he had let both feet leave the ground during the challenge (dangerous play), and went straight to the red card for the second time.  The replay showed that Kompany had actually gotten the ball first (which usually means no foul), and as to whether it was dangerous play, the London Telegraph reported: “Depending on who you consult, or even which camera angle you watch, Kompany went in one-footed or two-footed on Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, with studs showing or not showing, and either on the ground or off it.”  I hope that clears it up for you.  Manchester City went on to win the game, 2-0.  After all the weekend’s soccer weirdness, the standings wound up exactly where they were before, with Chelsea still in third place.

Later on Sunday, Jill, Mark, and I went to the movies to see Frankenweenie, which is the new Disney animated film by Tim Burton.  It’s a takeoff on the various horror movies from the 30’s, like Frankenstein, Dracula, and so on.  It’s the story of Vic Frankenstein, whose dog gets killed in a traffic accident after chasing a ball during a baseball game.   Vic is an inventive sort, and inspired by his new science teacher’s demonstration about the effect of electricity on the nervous system of a dead frog, he rigs up a contraption to use lightning to bring his dog back to life.  Naturally, trouble develops when some of the other kids find out what he’s done, and want to emulate it to win the upcoming science fair.  The movie is nicely animated and the story is funny and sweet.

After the movie, we decided to eat an early dinner at Chilis.  Just as we were going in, there was a small crowd by the section with the big TV’s and they were all going nuts—Atlanta had just scored a field goal to take the lead over Seattle.  One minute later, the game was over and Atlanta had pulled off a squeaker, making all the hometown fans go nuts. Just to show you how little I follow football, I wasn’t even aware that the NFC championship game was being held that day, and I wouldn’t have known the result except for walking into the restaurant or maybe seeing it on the news at 11 PM.

The moral of the stories?  To each, their own.


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s trivia challenge focused on the number “13”.  Our winner was Jacqueline Stephens from Construction Management, with a fabulous five correct.  Here are the answers:

  1. There were 13 of them before 1776.  American colonies that became states.
  2. It outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime.  13th Amendment to the Constitution
  3. It’s almost never there in a tall building.  A 13th floor
  4. Movie from 2000 about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  It starred Kevin Costner.  13 Days
  5. Compassion before a person sins; after a person has sinned; mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need; merciful, that humankind may not be distressed; gracious if humankind is already in distress; slow to anger; plenteous in mercy; truth; keeping mercy unto thousands; forgiving iniquity; forgiving transgression; forgiving sin; and pardoning.  The 13 Attributes of Mercy.


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

This week’s trivia challenge will focus on sports scandals.  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO zszafran@spsu.edu, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Cyclist that just confessed to Oprah.
  2. Top golfer caught in many affairs, the divorce cost $100 Million.
  3. Boxer who bit off more of Evander Holyfield than he could chew.
  4. Got her husband and two other men to break her competition’s leg with a police baton.
  5. Say it ain’t so.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to January 15, 2013

  1. Rich Cole says:

    Architecture will be adding Paris and Barcelona to the study-abroad list this summer. Pretty exciting!

Comments are closed.