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ISSUE 117 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/5/2003

Close encounters: Interim courses emphasize cross-cultural learning

By Maren Daniel
Staff Writer

Friday, December 5, 2003

As the holiday season begins and finals approach, those planning to leave for trips are preparing themselves for the cultural differences they will encounter.

St. Olaf is making a "new push" this year, according to Pat Quade, director of international and off-campus studies, to train faculty leading off-campus and abroad programs to integrate cross-cultural learning into their programs.

"Students need to know the cultural background of the site they’re in," said Quade. "You could study economics in Japan, sit in a hotel room and never learn the culture. We’re trying to help faculty design their courses so that whether they’re in the desert of New Mexico or Beijing, they can get students immersed in the culture."

Quade said that the program is called cross-cultural learning because its goal is to get students to learn about another culture and also reflect on their own.

This push to increase cross-cultural learning comes two years after St. Olaf received recognition for its study-abroad program. The Institute for International Education ranked St. Olaf as number one among bachelor’s degree-granting institutions for sending the most students abroad in 2001-02. Quade said that St. Olaf has ranked first for several years.

According to Quade, the largest number of St. Olaf students study off-campus during Interim. Seven hundred and forty-four of more than 900 students who study off-campus this school year (domestically as well as abroad) will do so during Interim.

Efforts made by the off-campus studies office to aid faculty in designing courses that involve cross-cultural learning include an outside consultant who offers information about learning theories and available resources. There is also "someone in this office who works carefully with each faculty member," said Quade.

Religion Professor Eric Lund, who is leading a trip to South Africa this , said that the study-abroad offices’ efforts will show up in January.

"We have been encouraged to be conscious of various learning objectives," he said. "This has made me think more carefully about the kind of writing that I will have my students do while in South Africa."

Lund, who began educating his students about cultural differences in October, has always prepared his students for cultural differences before leaving for South Africa. This year, he covered the history of South Africa, along with the ethnic, religious, and linguistic diversity within the country.

A speaker from South Africa has already met with his group to answer questions. Lund also showed a film about race relations and another putting Christianity in the context of African thought and religion.

The push for cross-cultural learning is not limited to abroad programs. Quade hopes that students studying off-campus domestically will learn about cultural differences within the country. Faculty leading these courses receive the same training as those taking students abroad.

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