Reimagine the World When You Study Abroad

Toward a Global Imagination

Through its diverse programs and offerings, Syracuse Abroad seeks to help students immerse themselves in new cultures and expand their worldview.

View of old town market square in Wroclaw
Old town market square in Wroclaw, Poland

In 1959, Syracuse University staked an early claim on the international study scene and opened its first center in Florence. Today, Syracuse Abroad offers more than 100 programs in 60 countries and operates eight abroad centers with full-time staff. According to the 2013-14 Open Doors data from the National Institute of International Education, 45 percent of Syracuse students studied abroad—the 19th highest participation rate nationwide.

In its early years, Syracuse Abroad focused on language and culture studies. Today’s programs offer international experience in virtually every discipline—and the cultivation of a global imagination is common to all.

Santiago: Fluency in a Young Democracy

In Syracuse Abroad’s Santiago program, “our goal is to have students speak Spanish around the clock,” says center director Mauricio Paredes, a Chilean historian. “One reason for choosing this location—aside from the political stability—is that only 4 percent of the Chilean population speaks English.”

Students live with host families and take all classes in Spanish, either at the center or local universities. Amanda Quinn ’14 assumed she’d easily adjust to immersion in Santiago. She’d grown up in Colombia, Australia, Japan, and the Netherlands. “But Santiago was the first time I had to navigate a foreign country as an adult. The language was a challenge, especially the colloquialisms. But the people were great,” says Quinn, noting she was a walk-on for her university’s volleyball team. “It was total immersion.”

Amanda Quinn poses in front of a mountain landscape
Amanda Quinn ’14 at the top of Alto del Naranjo, in the Andes near Santiago.

During the program’s Signature Seminar, students toured Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. The three countries had recently achieved democracy, but were still healing from oppressive dictatorships. Quinn, a Spanish and cultural anthropology major with a minor in biology, took a keen interest in Chile’s struggle to identify and return the remains of the desaparecidos—citizens who had disappeared under Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. Remains had been recovered for fewer than half of the 3,200 who had disappeared. Quinn wrote her honors thesis on the role of forensic anthropology in providing evidence of political crimes and bringing closure to families.

At the end of their Santiago semester, Quinn and her classmates discovered that Paredes was one of the thousands imprisoned and tortured under Pinochet. “After we returned to Syracuse, our group of 15 students would reunite over empanadas and talk about life in the United States, where little things no longer bothered us as much,” Quinn says. “In Chile, we had been exposed to a ‘higher truth.’ We had a new perspective on the world.”

London: Gateway to a Global Mindset

Each semester, more than 200 students flock to Syracuse Abroad’s London Center, which has a faculty of 70 and staff of 20. “English is the native tongue, and we come from a common culture, yet students in London face constant cultural adjustments,” says Troy Gordon, center director. “Their notion of British life is often based on Downton Abbey, 007, or Harry Potter. Those stereotypes fade within 24 hours. In today’s London, the soundscape is so diverse that it’s a challenge to find a proper British accent.”

In acclimating to London, students detect what’s different and adapt accordingly. “They notice, for example, that it’s a really polite culture, but not on the tube [subway],” Gordon says. “They acquire cultural intelligence, not just knowledge of British culture. They develop the transferable skills of recognizing their own cultural framework and adapting to any new cultural environment.”

Jose Moreno Jr. poses in front of the London skyline and Big Ben clock
For Jose Moreno Jr. ’14, London was an awakening—to a passion for travel.

In London, faculty-guided field trips are designed within a global context and invite students to consider their responsibilities as global citizens. London, Paris, and Berlin, for example, are explored through a lens of architecture, creative industries, or sustainability. Instead of a field trip to the Georgian spa town of Bath—“rich, romantic, and very Jane Austen,” according to Gordon—students are introduced to nearby Bristol, a thriving port town and one of Europe’s most exciting eco-cities.

However, in the short-term Syracuse Abroad program, Jane Austen in Context, a visit to Bath is mandatory. Austen spent several years in Bath and set two of her novels there. “When we visit the sites featured in Austen’s books,” English professor Michael Goode says, “we find them almost as she describes, because the local tourism industry is so invested in preserving the myth. But part of our curriculum is understanding that Bath was also touristy in Austen’s era. We use this insight to study the artifices of the Bath tourism industry, past and present. When we lift the veil and deromanticize Austen in this way, some students find it a bit disappointing. But my point in teaching literature is to help students become critical readers—to notice, for example, that Austen criticizes the artificiality of the aristocracy and embraces feminist issues yet largely overlooks labor issues. During our travels, we ask students to engage that same critical eye: to separate the myth from reality.”

Central Europe: Helping the Past Find Its Voice

Syracuse Abroad’s first theme-based program transports students to Central European regions still struggling with Holocaust-related issues of identity, reconciliation, and memorialization. “We introduce them to a part of the world most don’t see, and explore a topic with historic relevance,” Himley says. “We ask big questions and invite students to become part of the solution. Programs like this are changing the face of SU Abroad.”

In their Signature Seminar, Central Europe students spend a month visiting nine cities in four countries, including some of the areas most scarred by the Holocaust. “Many of these places were very multicultural before the war, but their Jewish heritage was lost,” says program director Hana Cervinkova, a cultural anthropologist. “There is a lot of silence about the past.”

Katelyn Olsen poses in front of the landscape in Wroclaw, Poland
As a participant in the Central Europe program, Katelyn Olsen ’16 appreciated the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust and examine issues related to it, such as reconciliation.

Because the process of reconciliation is ongoing, students are encouraged to participate in its resolution. “Our goal is to eliminate that sense of distant observation and introduce the idea of agency—the belief that students can be part of the conversation and the solution,” Cervinkova says.

To encourage conversation and bring sensitive subjects to light, “we sometimes stage deliberate encounters with local citizens,” says historian Juliet Golden, who co-teaches the Signature Seminar. “Students talk with people in towns with terrible histories, with no Jews, and no memorialization of Jews. But we also visit exemplary memorials, such as the Polin Museum of Jewish History in Warsaw.”

For students and faculty, the Central Europe program can become emotional. “I cry in some of these places. It’s impossible not to,” says Cervinkova, a Czech native. “I only go because of the students. We explore this together, intellectually and emotionally. And because of these personal connections and transformations, students come to see education as something real. It’s not just a diploma, it’s how you view the world.” 

Katelyn Olsen ’16, who had grappled with the magnitude of the Holocaust since sixth grade, appreciated the opportunity to contribute to the conversation. As a biology major, many of her classes were lecture-based. “In a biology lab,” she says, “you can’t really debate the number of protons in hydrogen.” When Olsen returned to Syracuse, she added a second major in political science. “I missed the way those discussions abroad made me think,” she says. “Biology is very linear. Political science is about people, and people are a wild card.”

The Big Picture

Janelle Linton ’15 discovered the joy of travel in high school, when her New York City basketball team competed in Puerto Rico and in states as distant as Oregon. In college, she resolved to continue to travel—with an academic agenda.

At the end of her sophomore year, Linton found the perfect opportunity in a traveling seminar that compared health systems in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, and Morocco. She scrambled to find funding—her HEOP scholarship didn’t cover summer study—but her perseverance paid off. “Standing outside the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva,” she says, “I knew I wanted to study public health.”

Janelle Linton does a yoga pose in front of the South African landscape

Linton went on to spend a semester in South Africa, in a program offered by Student International Travel and funded by her HEOP scholarship. That trip opened her eyes to the critical role of NGOs in health care delivery and led her to New York University, where she is earning a master’s degree in global health. During her first semester at NYU, she spent two weeks at an international emergency preparedness conference in Israel. “I don’t believe in limiting myself,” Linton says. “There’s too much to learn out there.”

That’s what Jennifer Zuccarelli ’03 discovered through her study abroad experience in London. Zuccarelli enjoyed the international experience so much that she now calls London home as the chief media spokeswoman and communications director for JP Morgan Chase there. She credits studying in London a few months after 9/11 with awakening her to the world around her. She began to follow international news and made an effort to get to know people who weren’t American. “Studying abroad put me in the mindset that led to my career today,” she says. “I’m sure I’m not the first to say that SU Abroad changed my life.”

For Jose Moreno Jr. ’14, London was also an awakening—to a passion for travel. “I discovered there is no better feeling than getting off a plane in a new place,” he says. During his semester abroad, Moreno took field trips to Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Prague, Budapest, and Vienna. “I developed that SU Abroad, where-am-I-going-next mentality. An hour ago, I booked a weekend flight to Paris,” says Moreno, a production assistant for WWE. “My network is broadcast to 180 countries. I hope that means there’s global travel in my future.”

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Denise Owen Harrigan

This story was first published on December 14, 2017 and last updated on . It also appeared as “Toward a Global Imagination” in the Spring 2016 issue of Syracuse University Magazine.


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