October 28, 2017
By: Alison LaLond Wyant, Associate Dean for Teaching & Learning

In the majority of our locations, including all of our center-based programs, students now enroll in Cornerstone Courses, learning experiences designed to ground students’ learning in the local context and to give students an academic lens for their time abroad.

Dr. Richard Maguire on a Walking Tour of LondonImagine a walking tour of London. Huddled with your classmates for a corner lecture in Soho, your favorite professor is so enthused to spot fresh work by a famous street artist that he takes out his own camera phone to capture a photo. You’re at ease to ask difficult questions about gentrification. “What harm does the cupcake shop do?” for example. You’re open to the responses of your classmates. You reflect on how you might appropriately frame a similar question at the pub later in the day. You get the idea to write your next paper about who draws the lines both around the canon of the art world and around the boundaries of a neighborhood.

Like that class in London, each Cornerstone Course engages students in learning beyond the traditional classroom environment. The content varies - from History to Intercultural Communication to Writing to Sociology, but dynamic pedagogy is a defining feature. Walking tours, lessons on site, and discussions with local experts dominate. In Athens, Barcelona, and Rome, these courses also include a primer in the local language.

Imagine trying out your new, limited Greek vocabulary at a cafe near your apartment in Athens. You wouldn’t have summoned the courage if it weren’t for your class assignment. Yet, all of a sudden, you’re in the most enlightening conversation you’ve had since you arrived just a few weeks before - in English because your skills are limited and your new acquaintance is gracious. Your instructor praises your work and pushes you to rethink the content and context of your conversation. What marks of culture were at play? How might you approach a similar conversation in the future?

Within the out-and-about framework of the courses, Cornerstone instructors give students an academic lens through which to explore their host city and/or country. As a visiting administrator, it was a joy to overhear a student tell her friend that their lunch from a local chain restaurant made her think about what they’d discussed in Sociology. Since the Cornerstones include out of class time by design, we set students up to think differently about the streets they walk, the people they meet, and the conversations they have in their day-to-day lives in their host cities.

Students who incorporate an internship into their study abroad experiences have long considered that practical education as the foundation of their experience. We agree. There aren’t many better ways to integrate into a community than participating in the morning commute or the water cooler conversation of the locals. Our internship courses beautifully exemplify our interest in engaging students locally, so those courses now serve as the Cornerstones for those students.

Of course, the Cornerstone Courses aren’t the only classes getting students out of their classes and into their communities. They’re not the only courses using the city as a teacher either. However, in implementing this model, we’ve amplified our priorities. We’re more confident than ever that our students are encountering the best of what education abroad can offer, and we’re showcasing that learning as the foundation of their experience.