Union College News Archives

News story archive

Navigation Menu

Student Travel Abroad: Boon or Boondoggle?

Posted on Oct 26, 1997

Travel is a favorite activity of American students abroad. Some experts estimate that travel occupies as much as 25 percent of a student's semester or summer of study on foreign soil. Is it time well spent?

In the course of teaching in a summer-abroad program in Innsbruck, Austria, I had cause to wonder. A fellow anthropologist and I required our students to keep detailed journals of their experiences. When I first read them at midterm, I was startled at the shallowness of the students' engagement with the people and places they visited. There was little sign they were learning much about any European culture, and their observations seemed mostly naive and simplistic.

Yet the students believed they were learning more from travel than they were from their academic courses. It was not easy to accept the notion that my efforts in the classroom meant less to them than their random, often chaotic, weekend sojourns. In the end, however, I came to understand why they felt that way — and even, in large measure, to agree.

At the end of classes each Thursday afternoon, the students set out from Innsbruck with their backpacks and Eurail passes. Herd instinct predominated: Their primary destinations were almost always places other students recommended and those featured in their guidebooks, especially Let's Go Europe. The most popular destinations were Venice, Florence and Rome; Vienna and Salzburg; Munich and Berlin; Budapest and Prague. They also went to resorts on the Italian and French Riviera and to Interlaken in the Swiss Alps.

The students rarely stayed long in one place and averaged between two and three cities per weekend, despite their professors' admonitions to slow down and get to know the places they visited. As one student put it, expressing the sentiments of many: “I want to be able to go home and say that I saw as much as I could in the time I was here.” They also wanted to get maximum value from their Eurail passes, for which they each had paid about $500.

As a result of this pattern, students spent an average of 19 hours per 72-hour weekend sitting on trains and another three hours waiting in stations. Sometimes students chose where to go next simply by determining where the next train was heading.

Traveling mostly in groups of four or five at the outset, the students spent more of their time interacting with one another than in observing their surroundings. Their conversations, even when standing before great European art, architecture or scenery, were often about people, places and events back home rather than where they were.

Like tourists everywhere, they took lots of photos — on average 16 per weekend, mostly of themselves and their companions posed in famous places. When I asked why a postcard wouldn't be as good, one student said: “A photo is proof you've been there. You took it, and it's got you and your friends in it.”

By late afternoon, students typically returned to their hotel or hostel to nap. After eating dinner — often at American-style or franchise restaurants — virtually all spent the evenings drinking and fraternizing in bars. Often they stayed out until midnight or later and went to bed drunk or exhausted. One young woman characterized her companions as “young students who come to Europe to spend their parents' money by getting drunk in as many different cities as possible.”

As the summer progressed students adopted more sensible travel patterns, map-hopping less and traveling in smaller groups. Even so, they did not learn as much about European cultures as their professors hoped. A colleague suggested that “Europe was for the students a big shopping mall in which to hang out, not a place to challenge one's cultural categories.”

That strikes me as too harsh. There was evidence that, for all the foolishness associated with it, travel did have a significant positive impact on the students.

Two kinds of changes emerged in most student journals. A large majority of the students believed that traveling extensively through Europe without the supervision of parents or other adults increased their self-confidence. Many also said they became more adaptable, better able to cope with the inevitable problems that arise when traveling.

Also interesting was not just how the students had changed but why. Traveling is rarely predictable, and clearly students learned much from having to cope with surprises and unexpected predicaments: missing a train connection, getting lost, arriving in a town only to discover there is no available accommodation. Because the students traveled in so many different countries and moved so frequently, challenges multiplied. When the travel took them across national borders, they were forced to confront a succession of new social systems, languages and customs in a single weekend. Women students faced the additional problem of dealing with unwanted sexual advances from local men.

What if they hadn't ventured out with their backpacks and Eurail cards? Once students got to know their way around Innsbruck, their lives settled into predictable routines; in fact, students considered Innsbruck to be their “home” and the university dorm their sanctuary. In contrast, travel exposed them to cultural variation and required them to adapt and function in a new environment almost daily.

One indication emerged loud and clear from student journals: University-sponsored and organized study trips are no substitute for independent travel. Moreover, students should be encouraged to travel in small numbers, as it increases their likelihood of interacting with local people and forces them to confront individually the challenge of getting information and solving daily problems. It should also be recognized, though, that students who are abroad for the first time often feel the need to travel in larger groups until they are secure enough about their ability to negotiate their way.

Whatever the size of the group, independent travel in a foreign culture is a catalyst for personal growth and should be encouraged. The words of one student speak for many: “Coming to Europe was a huge experience for me, bigger than anything I've ever done before. I'll never be the same because of it.”

George Gmelch is the chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y.

Read More

For the Record

Posted on Oct 24, 1997

Robert Olberg, professor of biology, recently gave a plenary
lecture titled “Insect Solutions to a Visual Problem: Detection and Interception of
Moving Objects” at the fifth International Conference on Invertebrate Neurochemistry
and Neurophysiology (ICINN) in Eilat, Israel.

Charlotte Eyerman, assistant professor of Art History, has
published an essay “Drawing on the Grand Tradition: Lithographers in Baron Gros'
Studio, 1816-1835” (translated into German) in the book, Bilder der Macht, Macht
der Bilder: Zeitgeschichte in Darstellungen des 19 Jahrhunderts
, edited by S. Germer
and M. Zimmermann, Munich, 1997.

Dianne M. McMullen, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Assistant
Professor of Music History for 1997-98, was a guest scholar last summer at the Herzog
August Bibliothek in Wolfenbettel, Germany, where she continued research on Renaissance
dance songs. In addition, she performed solo organ concerts at four churches with
important tracker instruments: the Hauptkirche Beatae Mariae Virginis in Wolfenbettel, St.
Martin Kirche in Guttingen,the Dreifaltigkeitskirche in Berlin, and the Dom zum Heiligen
Kreuz in Nordhausen.

Margaret Wadehra, director of the Languages and Writing Center,
gave a presentation recently at the National Writing Centers Association Conference.
Wadehra, Bruce Pegg from Colgate, and Barbara Brady from Clarkson, spoke on
“Energizing Ourselves: Organizing a Consortium of Regional Writing Centers.”
Wadehra has been active in the Upstate New York Writing Centers Consortium since its
formation in 1994. UNYWCC's annual conference is at Union Nov. 9.

George Butterstein, Florence B. Sherwood Professor of Life
Sciences, has published a paper, “Prolonged inhibition of normal ovarian cycles in
the rat and cynomologous monkeys following a single subcutaneous injection of
Danazol” in the journal Human Reproduction. Danazol is a drug taken by women
for treatment of endometriosis, or growth of uterine cells outside the uterus. Co-authors
are David Mann and Kenneth Gould of the Yerkes Primate Center, Emory University; and V.
Daniel Castracane of Texas Tech Health Services, Amarillo. Union students Amy Damarjion,
Marijo Madonia, Gina Prokosch, Beth Taylor and Sarah Wilcox contributed to the research.

John Garver, associate professor of geology, has been elected a
fellow of the Geological Society of America. Garver is a co-author of an article
“Geology and mineral occurrences of the Taseko-Bridge River area” which appeared
in British Columbia Geological Survey. Five co-authors, headed by Paul Schiarizza,
spent from 1985 to 1993 studying this economically important area. Mines in the area were
staked during the BC Gold Rush of 1896. Since then, the area has been among the top
producers of gold in Canada; the government has established regional mapping projects to
spur further mineral development. Garver also is author of a paper, “Geologic tests
of hypotheses for large coastwise displacements – a critique illustrated by the Baja
BC Columbia controversy” in American Journal of Science. The debate, which
focuses on whether very large pieces of North American crust have slid along the
continental margin or formed in essentially the same place, has been a “hot
topic” in the scientific community, being featured recently in Science and Science

Bruce Connolly, Gail Golderman, Annette LeClair and Jean Sheviak
of Schaffer Library are designers of the Schaffer Library Web page that Library Hi Tech
named one of the “Best Library Related Sites.” Connolly, reference librarian;
and Golderman, electronic media librarian, have written an article about the site for the
periodical. Golderman has primary responsibility for maintenance and development of the
site: http://www.union.edu/PUBLIC/LIBRARY/index.html

Timothy Olsen, visiting assistant professor of music, and Hilary
professor of music, have both received ASCAP awards this year. The American
Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers are given to assist and encourage writers of
serious music. An independent panel determines awards based on the writer's catalog
of original compositions as well as recent performances.

Sheridan Biggs, executive in residence in GMI, has been elected a
trustee of the Church Pension Group, which provides retirement and other insurance
services related to the Episcopal Church throughout the U.S.

Donald Rodbell, assistant professor of geology, is co-author of a
paper (with Forman, S.L., Pierson, J., and Lynn, W. C.) titled “The stratigraphy and
chronology of Mississippi Valley loess in western Tennessee” in the September issue
of Geological Society of America Bulletin (v. 109, p. 1134-1148). Also, he was one
of 10 panelists to decide on funding of research proposals to the National Earthquake
Hazard Reduction Program (U.S. Geologic Survey and NSF) in Seattle Wash., in June.

Mary Carroll, assistant professor of chemistry, and Tom
Florence B. Sherwood Professor of Physical Sciences, published an article,
“The Evolution of a Lab Syllabus in Quantitative Analysis” in The Chemical
an electronic journal published by Springer.

Read More

Across Campus

Posted on Oct 24, 1997

Wendy Cross of Malta came for her admissions interview on Tuesday
with more than a smile.

She had a cake and on it she had written the inscription that appears
over the Kappa Alpha gate at the south entrance of Jackson's Garden:

“Climb high, Climb far; Your goal the sky, Your aim the star”

The prospective student has a small baking business, explained Dan
Lundquist, vice president of admissions and financial aid, who had cited the inscription
in a letter to prospective students earlier this year.

“I was impressed that someone actually read the letter, thought
about it and was moved to bake a cake,” he said. “I can tell that we're
really arriving.”


Anton Chekhov's The Seagull opens in the Yulman
Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m.

The production will also run Oct. 30, 31, Nov. 1, 5-8, all at 8 p.m.

Directed by Prof. Sara Chazen, the new adaptation of Chekhov's
classic is a drama of unrequited love, about theater, art and nature. When Chekhov wrote
the play, he was preoccupied with the meaning of art and the function of the aspiring

Scene design is by Charles Steckler. Lighting design is by John Miller.
Costume design is by Lynda Salsbury.

For more information, call the Yulman Theater Box Office at ext. 6545.


The President and Trustees are hosting a celebration of the
successful conclusion of the Bicentennial Campaign on Friday, Oct. 24, at 9 p.m. in the
Reamer Campus Center. Members of the Union community are invited to celebrate the effort
that brought $151 million in donations to the College.


Union College Health Services is offering a flu vaccine clinic on
Wednesday, Nov. 12, from 3 to 5 p.m. in Hale House. Fee for the vaccine is $10. No
appointment is necessary.

Read More

Comptroller McCall to Speak Oct. 29

Posted on Oct 24, 1997

New York State Comptroller H. Carl McCall will discuss “The State of New York's Economy” on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 4:30 p.m. at Union College's Nott Memorial.

His talk, sponsored by Union's Graduate Management Institute, is
the 1997 Kenneth B. Sharpe Lecture.

McCall was elected to his first full-term as Comptroller of the State of
New York in November 1994.

As chief fiscal officer of the State, he is responsible for governmental
financial oversight and pension fund management. McCall audits the spending practices of
the State and public authorities, and 1,6oo cities, counties, towns and villages across
New York State. As sole trustee of 880,000-member State and Local Retirement Systems,
McCall is responsible for investing a $75 billion pension fund.

From 1985 to 1993, he served as vice-president of Citicorp/Citibank.

From 1991 to 1993, he served as president of the New York
City Board of Education, where he set policy for the largest school system in the nation.

He served three terms as a New York State Senator representing the upper
Manhattan district of New York City; as an ambassador to the United Nations; as a
commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and as the commissioner of
the New York State Division of Human Rights.

Read More

Hockey Players Get Tips From Dancers

Posted on Oct 24, 1997

Amid a chorus of chuckles and groans, members of the Union hockey team on Tuesday did what few had ever been asked to do: point their toes and look graceful.

The occasion was a workshop by Edward Villella, former star of the New York City Ballet and founding artistic director of the Miami City Ballet. The 61-year-old ballet icon spoke while two of his company's dancers – Paige Fulleton and Arnold
Quintane — performed a series of movements to show that dance and athletics are
actually quite similar, with only a difference in execution.

Finally, it was the hockey players' turn on stage as they showed
the dancers some of their stretches and strength drills. Junior captain Mark Szucs
demonstrated a spinning drill to the applause of his teammates. Moments later Quintane did
a series of spinning leaps — in ballet style – that looked remarkably similar.
The dancer's version drew an even louder response.

Though ballet and sport use similar movements, there are more strictures
on the dancer, Villella explained. “Our job is to make the difficult look easy,”
he said. adding that dancers must project theatricality, period, style, human behavior,
manners, and relationships.

Villella was in town for his company's production of
“Supermegatroid” at Proctor's Theater. He also conducted a class for Union
dancers. Villella has had a long association with Union. He holds an honorary degree,
which he received in 1991, the year his son graduated from Union. He also visits yearly to
award the Edward Villella Fellowship to a Union dancer for an internship with the Miami
City Ballet, made possible with support from Charles Lothridge '44.

Read More