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Study abroad: An experience of language and cultural immersion

Since WCSU introduced the first study-abroad trip to Spain in 2007, Dr. Galina Bakhtiarova has committed herself to the mission of offering Western students the opportunity to experience first-hand the language, culture and daily life of a foreign country.

“I strongly believe in the value and necessity for our students to go abroad,” observed Bakhtiarova, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the world languages and literature department. “It changes their perspective, not only on the outside world but also on our own country. They begin to make comparisons and see differences, and the ability to look on our own country from the perspective of studying and living abroad is probably the most valuable part of the experience.”

Bakhtiarova and Assistant Professor of Art David Skora will lead the summer 2012 tour that will introduce students to the artistic and cultural treasures of Spain, with visits to Madrid, Burgos, La Guardia, Bilbao and Barcelona. The core of the study program will be an intensive three-week session of personalized instruction in Spanish language and art, providing a total of six course credits, conducted in the Basque coastal city of San Sebastian. Visits to many of Spain’s leading museums will provide opportunities to view works spanning the centuries from Velazquez, Goya and El Greco to Picasso, Dali and Miro, while exposure to the Basque and Catalan regions of Spain will offer perspective on historical and contemporary issues of regional and national identity.

From the outset of the Spain study-abroad program, Bakhtiarova has stressed the importance of providing students with the experience of sharing daily life with host families during their studies in that country. Participants will reside at the homes of local families in San Sebastian during their three-week course session, sharing everything from evening meals and Sunday outings to discussions about society and politics.

“Learning another language and learning about another culture are inseparable,” Bakhtiarova said. “The placement of our students with families abroad offers the experience of sharing in the experience of their host family’s daily life. Cultural immersion has great value for the formation of our students, as citizens of our country and citizens of the world.”

 A new frontier in study abroad opened with the tour led by WCSU Adjunct Professor Patrizia Farina in late December and January that offered 11 WCSU students the opportunity to learn Italian and immerse themselves in the culture and history of Florence. There the students shared apartment quarters while attending language classes at the Florence University of the Arts housed in the Palazzi, buildings from the Renaissance period at the historical heart of the city. Tours in Florence and surrounding sites including Siena, Lucca, Pisa and San Gimignano provided a wealth of new experiences, from medieval and Renaissance architecture and Michelangelo’s sculpture of David to a culinary class and a hike along the Mediterranean coast in Liguria.

Bakhtiarova noted that WCSU study-abroad programs are designed to offer a personalized instructional experience. “We are very student-centered,” she said. “My goal as their professor is to take each student to the next level of his or her language proficiency.”

A primary objective in arrangement of WCSU study-abroad programs has been to make the tour and course package affordable for prospective student participants, she added. In this respect, she observed that private donations can provide significant benefit in offsetting some of the tuition and travel costs that students must meet, often at the expense of sacrificing earnings from jobs held to pay for their studies.

“It would be wonderful to have a scholarship fund that would allow students to study abroad,” Bakhtiarova said. “It is a special gift to offer an opportunity for students to take advantage of becoming immersed in and understanding another culture.”

Cover photo: Students hamming with Andalusian hand fans or abanicos, which are cultural icons from Southern Spain.
Above photo: Students visited a cathedral in Valencia, Spain.

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