“I’d been trying to go abroad since I was about 10,” says Dr. Christine Blouch, associate professor of English. As a teenager, she was set to go to Greece as an exchange student, but her host family had to drop out at the last minute. “Finally, my junior year in college, I got a scholarship to Luxembourg. I wasn’t exactly sure where it was, but I didn’t care. It doesn’t always matter where you go, just that you get somewhere.”
In her role as director of Bradley’s international programs, Blouch works to create opportunities so as many Bradley faculty and students as possible can “get somewhere.”
She believes that international travel gives people experiences that nothing else can. They see the differences and similarities in cultures. She says these academic travel programs are so transformative for individuals that they often become benchmark experiences in their lives.
Student Alan Pearcy enjoys a cappucino in a Viennese café.
The International Programs Office sponsors numerous travel abroad experiences throughout the year. Venues for recent faculty-led programs have included London, Seville, Cairo, Beijing, Slovenia, and Peoria’s sister city of Friedrichshafen in Germany, with new study abroad courses and programs in Dublin, Sydney, Paris, Barcelona, and Berlin.
Two other new programs, one in Vienna and one in Helsinki, represent in-depth collaboration between Bradley faculty and faculty at the host institutions, as well as unique opportunities for Bradley students to work with their peers abroad. Dr. Timothy Conley, associate professor of English, and Douglas Antola Crowe, assistant to the dean in the Foster College of Business Administration, working with Dr. Robert Scott, professor of economics, and Dr. Richard Gretz, assistant professor of economics, have developed truly collaborative study-abroad experiences at, respectively, the University of Vienna and Helsinki Polytechnic University.
“In very separate venues and with different program motivations, Tim and Doug have helped form similar kinds of programs that rely on context, that rely on collaboration at international universities,” Blouch says. “They have created the most genuinely collaborative programs certainly that Bradley University has ever seen and a kind of program that is very unusual at any university.” These short-term programs, in which classes are held cooperatively with Bradley’s counterparts abroad, allow the students to become immersed in the culture of their host country and provide a study abroad experience that they couldn’t have in any other way.
“The Vienna faculty mentioned that there is no other university from the United States that has a similar collaboration with the University of Vienna,” Conley says. “Many universities have agreements with them, but no one else does it with this elaborate collaboration.” This spring, Astrid Fellner, associate professor of English and American studies, and Klaus Heissenberger, instructor in English and American Studies, are teaching a course at the University of Vienna that is similar to one Conley is teaching at Bradley. They will be reading the same materials and discussing similar topics. So, when the Bradley students arrive in Vienna this coming May, all of the students will have had a similar seminar experience. This will allow them to be ready to work together on projects right away.
Dr. Tim Conley leads a discussion with students at the University of Vienna.
The University Senate just recently approved the seminar course Conley will be teaching at Bradley this spring. “Tim and Doug have led the creation of a whole new academic endeavor at Bradley,” Blouch says. One-hour seminars, taught in the spring semester, will now be ancillary to the study abroad trip in May. “This really makes for an integrated academic unit,” she says. “It’s no longer a two-week study program, but a whole study unit. With the preparation of the seminar, they can hit the ground running in May.”
The history and culture of Vienna is the topic Conley’s students are exploring this spring and one they will study further once they arrive in Vienna. Part of the course will be looking at how Vienna has been portrayed in popular culture to American audiences. When they arrive in Vienna, students can examine whether these portrayals are accurate. The course will also address topics such as the Holocaust, gender, race, and ethnic relationships. In Vienna students will take one of three classes: Writing About Travel, The Oral Communication Process, or Human Resource Management. The seminar will provide a backdrop for all three courses. Although these will be discrete courses, all of the students will meet together for their collaborations with Viennese students. At the end of the course, the American and Viennese students will make presentations based on their research collaborations to the American cultural attaché and officials from the University of Vienna.
Conley notes that when students go abroad they often encounter attitudes they may characterize as anti-American, which can be very difficult for them to understand. Additionally, many students can feel disconnected when they are in another country. With the level of interaction that takes place in the Vienna program, however, the students make many connections with their peers and they gain insight into cultural differences and attitudes. “In Vienna, we find that connections are made not on nationality but on backgrounds,” he says. “Austrian students from rural backgrounds may find they have more in common with American students who grew up on a farm than they do with students who grew up in Vienna. The national background, they find, is not always the most significant characteristic.”
Bradley students toured Vienna with students from the University of Vienna.
When the students returned to Bradley after taking part in the Viennese program last year, they were asked to write about the significance of their experience in Vienna and of their collaborations with the students there. Many wrote about how they appreciated the immersion in Austrian culture. Touring the city with Viennese students, they felt like they really got to know the culture and were not just among the many tourists who visit Vienna each summer.
Students also mentioned that they learned how to better understand and appreciate cultural and individual differences. Advertising major Alan Pearcy wrote: “the experience taught me how important it is for us all to not only understand one another in this world, but also to be thankful for the differences that make each of us and our backgrounds unique.” Public relations major Beth Alderson stated: “we all learned the importance of remembering individuality and respecting that every person has his or her own set of beliefs and values, and to me, this was the most significant part of the study abroad program.”
Conley stresses that this type of collaboration is only possible by developing long-term relationships with a university in another country. He has twice served as Fulbright Professor at the University of Vienna and has presented lectures at the annual conference of the Austrian Association for American Studies. Students from Vienna came to Illinois to take part in Conley’s travel course along the Mississippi River several years ago. Through these interactions, he has established strong relationships with the English Department and with faculty at the University of Vienna.
Doug Crowe, who has helped develop the program at Helsinki Polytechnic (Stadia), also emphasizes that collaborations such as this rely on strong relationships. “It’s a people thing,” he says. “You have to have connections to establish those relationships.” He is married to Dr. Heljä Antola Crowe, professor of education, who already had a relationship with Stadia. When he learned more about the university from her, he saw a natural connection between this polytechnic university, which has strong programs in the commercialization of technology, and Bradley’s Foster College of Business Administration, which seeks to globalize its curriculum.
Students work on collaborative projects during their study abroad class in Helsinki with Professor Heljä Antola Crowe.
This marks the third year that Bradley students will study at Stadia. In May, Bradley students traveling to Helsinki will take a course called Economics of Innovation, the Globalization of Technology. Developed with faculty from Stadia, this course will have faculty and students from both institutions in the same classroom. The course focuses on the entrepreneurs who bring new technology to the marketplace. In recent years, Finland has surpassed the United States as a global leader in commercializing technology, making this a wonderful location to explore this topic.
Finland is home to technology giant NOKIA, as well as KONE, a global producer of elevator equipment. These companies host the students for all-day visits, which involve tours, presentations, and question-and-answer sessions. By studying with the Finnish faculty and students and visiting these companies, students “take on a responsibility,” Crowe says. “They realize that they are representing Bradley.”
Student collaborative projects involve case analysis, looking at what is different about Finnish and American cultures and how each culture encourages innovation. A unique part of this program, which helps facilitate the collaboration, is a tuition exchange agreement between the two universities. For the past three years, Bradley has hosted two Finnish students for 15 hours of credit. In turn, Stadia hosts 15 Bradley students during the May course for two hours of credit. Crowe says, “it’s helpful that when our students go to Helsinki, they meet the two Finnish students who will be coming to Bradley next time. And the Finnish students who have already been to Bradley sit in on the classes and take part in the projects with the Bradley students.” This provides a good introduction to Finnish culture.
Another development that has come from the relationship between Bradley and Stadia is that representatives from Tekas, the Finnish small business development center, will be coming to Peoria in the near future. “Tekas helps fund innovations of businesses,” Crowe says. “So we saw a natural connection between them and Peoria NEXT.” Bradley University is a founding member of Peoria NEXT, a regional collaborative that facilitates discovery and commercialization of new technologies for economic development. The hope is that the connection between these two groups could lead to more faculty research and continued collaboration with students.
Many Bradley faculty members, including Crowe, took part in a decade-long exchange between Bradley and Samara State Aerospace University in Russia during the 1990s. “We learned a lot from that relationship,” he says. “We had student, faculty, as well as business leader exchanges and had wonderful experiences there during a difficult period in Russian history. Those connections are important and long standing. We learned that for a collaboration to be successful it has to include faculty, student, and business leader exchanges.” Clearly these lessons are contributing to the success of the Helsinki program.