The pandemic has not only prevented students from traveling as part of the University’s study abroad program, but has also prevented international students from coming to Middletown.
During the 2020-2021 academic year, international students struggled to obtain visas and were reluctant to travel due to COVID-19. As a result, the University has only hosted one undergraduate exchange student and no Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA), who are usually graduate students. This semester there are approximately 12 FLTAs on campus and four undergraduate exchange students.
While the University hired FLTAs to work remotely for the 2020-2021 academic year, they couldn’t hold as many informal conversations and social events as they usually can. Director of Studies Abroad Emily Gorlewski stressed that the work of FLTAs is an integral part of teaching foreign languages, saying that working in person enables them to participate more fully in the university community.
âThis year they are able to [work on campus], and they’re at Fisk here, âGorlewski said. “They have an office on the third floor, so it’s good to have themâ¦ to stop by or have their movie nights.”
Besides being an exchange student at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, Lena Kruzycki also provides language courses as a course assistant for elementary German. Kruzycki said his goal is to help students communicate in a functional way.
âMy job is to work on the pronunciation and just get them out of their comfort zone,â Kruzycki said. âYou don’t have to have perfect grammar or perfect vocabulary, no, you just have to communicate. That’s what [language is] for, and that’s what I’m trying to show them.
Kruzycki lives at German Haus and runs weekly conversation sessions for teachers and staff to improve their German skills. Academically, she plans to use this year at college to find a topic for her BA thesis in American Studies. She is currently studying the opioid epidemic in Connecticut cities, including Hartford and New Haven. Kruzycki mentioned that her experiences so far have contradicted some of her previous views on Americans, such as the idea that gun ownership is important to most people, but she acknowledged that the University does not represent all of American culture.
âI have to remind myself over and over again that Wesleyan is a bubble,â Kruzycki said.
Kruzycki said she sees immersion and lived experience as essential for studying other cultures.
âI really wanted to finish my bachelor’s degree with real experience in the US,â Kruzycki said. âIt just seems really pretentious to me to study American Studies and always be on the lookout for the outside world. “
Elena Rodriguez, an exchange student at Carlos III University in Madrid, Spain, who studies philosophy, politics and economics, also believes that cultural diversity is an important aspect of education.
âI firmly believe that the social sciences are different in different parts of the world, but also differently taught by different people,â Rodriguez said. âFor me, knowing these different perspectives is an integral part of my education. “
Rodriguez’s academic program involves frequent travel. She studied at four different Spanish universities for one semester each before coming to the United States for her third year of study. Comparing the courses at different universities, Rodriguez mentioned that some of the courses at the university are less complex than the ones she took in Spain.
âIn all my economics courses in Spain, I have [had] engage with [a] quite a complex level of calculus and algebraâ¦ things that here I don’t come across as much, âRodriguez said. âYou would need, I think, more mathematical knowledge to pass an economics course in Spain. “
However, Rodriguez found the University’s model to be effective in promoting long-term retention of material.
âThe Spanish model is mainly focused on a final exam at the end of the semester, so it’s not so much about learning as it is about completing all the required knowledge,â Rodriguez said. âI think here, through continuous assessment, you are constantly challenged to engage with the material, so you inevitably learn more things, although the content might not be as difficult as some of the Spanish courses I have taken. . “
Rodriguez was also surprised that his economics course at university applied economics concepts to real entities, especially businesses. She said that in Spain, economics classes focus on models, such as those developed by the Chicago School of Economic Thought, without discussing how these theories relate to real businesses or financial events. in general.
Likewise, Kruzycki commented on the differences between the university’s teaching style and German academics, saying that American students interact quite informally with their professors.
âIn Germany, the dynamic between professors and students is totally different,â Kruzycki said. âJust walking into office hours to chat with your teacher is unimaginable. You don’t do that. Your teacher is a very clear and distinct person of authority.
The students both made broader observations about the cultural differences between the United States and Europe. Kruzycki observed that public transportation systems in America are not as robust as those in Europe, and Americans generally rely more on cars than Germans. Rodriguez noted that American students sometimes drive in order to avoid walking relatively short distances.
“[Itâs] very shocking that people don’t walk here, âRodriguez said. “I don’t know how many times we were told it was crazy to go for a walk to Aldi [which] is a twenty minute walk from [the Universityâs campus]. “
Overall, Gorlewski stressed the value of interactions between students from different backgrounds, adding that larger-scale partnerships between universities sometimes emerge from student exchange programs.
âThe more diversity we can have on campus, the better,â Gorlewski said. âProfessionally, I like being able to interact with [exchange studentsâ] institutions â our partner institutions. I think this is a fruitful thing for the University, and [these partnerships] sometimes become more than just an exchange program. Sometimes they’ll have faculty exchanges, or they’ll do research collaborations orâ¦ lectures, or things like that, so it’s good to have those connections through the students.
Rodriguez reiterated that travel has been an important aspect of his upbringing and the educational styles of different places can illuminate each other.
âI think anyone who has the opportunity should try to visit another university or another country while studying,â Rodriguez said. âIt’s a very enriching experience.
Anne Kiely can be contacted at [email protected]