Learning in an International Classroom

Learning in an International Classroom

This is part six of my summer study abroad series! Follow along this summer as I post about my travels in Sweden and Denmark while I study in Stockholm and Copenhagen through the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS).

As you may have read in previous posts here on the Bold Beautiful Barnard Blog, Barnard students are no strangers to utilizing New York as an extension of the classroom--whether it’s going with a class to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, exploring various archives while doing research for a history class, or going to a performance for a music or dance class. New York City is an integral part of the Barnard student experience and something which really makes our education unique.

Studying abroad as a Barnard student is great because we get to use all of those valuable skills--navigating public transport, taking advantage of a huge city, utilizing our intellectual curiosity, among others--and apply them to an international setting. In just the right program, you’ll find that professors will encourage you to take advantage of your surroundings like your Barnard and Columbia professors do back home (if I had a dollar for every time my professor said, “You need to take advantage of being young in summer in Copenhagen!” I would be a very rich woman). This is especially important when you consider the limited amount of time you will spend in that location, whether it’s a few months or even just a few weeks.

For my program, exploring the setting outside the classroom is not only encouraged, but it’s actually a requirement and professors often integrate numerous field studies into their teaching. During my first course on social norms reflected in television, my professor took my class on two field study trips. On one of our field studies, we went to Sweden’s Royal Library, where we saw the Black Power Mixtape. As a Barnard history student with a particular curiosity in the 1960s and 1970s, I’ve learned a lot about student, social, and civil rights movements in this time period, but I’d never looked or imagined looking at the topic through a Swedish lens. That’s exactly what we did while we were visiting the library. The documentary we watched was one which we looked at topics which were extremely familiar to us American students, but entirely through the perspective of Swedish journalists and the Swedish public. 

While I was in Copenhagen for my second class on terrorism and counter-terrorism, we also did a few field studies, such as visiting the Imam Ali Mosque, the largest mosque in Copenhagen, along with visiting the Danish War Memorial in Copenhagen. Visiting the mosque was particularly great because we got to learn more about the experiences of Danish Muslims and diversity within Danish society compared to the multiculturalism of American society. (Since I was one of the few students in my class to be from New York City, where over 37% of residents are foreign-born, I imagine my own experience with multiculturalism is much different from my classmates’ as well.) We brought this field study experience back to our class conversations about terrorism--in this case, the misinterpretation and misappropriation of Islam and the discrepancy between media coverage of Islamic “terrorist attacks” and far-right wing “shootings” (you can ask me for my TED talk on a later date). 

Perhaps the most exciting way we got to utilize the space around us was by going on a long study tour to other parts of Europe. For five days, my class traveled through Brussels and Munich, learning about extremism on the political right and left as well as supranational agencies’ approaches to combating terrorism and extremism. We got to visit the European Commission and NATO Headquarters to learn about EU and NATO approaches to countering terrorism in Brussels; in Munich, we went to the Documentation Center for the History of National Socialism, the 1972 Olympic Village, and Dachau Concentration Camp. 

Not only was it cool to get to visit two extra countries, but with the particular topic at hand, it was also interesting to see how Belgians’ and Germans’ perspectives on terrorism and even their respective histories differed from those of the Danes we had spoken to in Copenhagen. Additionally, in a place such as Germany, which has a very rich but also a very checkered history, we got to see just how close everyday life is in Munich to events I’ve only ever imagined from history textbooks and documentaries—Hitler’s rise to power, the Holocaust, and the 1972 Olympic terrorist attacks.

Learning from new perspectives is something I can’t emphasize enough while you’re abroad, no matter where you go! Even in Western and very progressive societies such as Sweden and Denmark, you’ll find your opinions being challenged in new and interesting ways. For example, you may have already known that Germany has stricter laws surrounding what can be considered “hate speech” than many other Western countries. You still probably would not expect to see an entire museum exhibit devoted to denouncing it, even classifying what in the United States may just be considered “radical” as hate speech. Additionally, in countries which are less diverse than the U.S. (and especially New York City), you might be shocked by the dynamics surrounding race and culture. Although these situations may be uncomfortable at first, they’re also great opportunities in learning how to face adversity, thinking about issues from a different perspective, and even in sharing knowledge with others. 

Speaking of new knowledge, I’ve mentioned before that I’m a history major--so what am I doing taking international policy and film studies classes? I’ll discuss how I plan to use these classes and this experience when I get back to Barnard in next week’s post about making the most of your experience abroad.

Want to read more about my study abroad adventures? Check out my other posts:

Summer Study Abroad: Oh, the Places You Could Go!

Trevlig Resa! / God Rejsa!: Bon Voyage!

New Cultural Experiences + Culture Shock

A Day in the Life: Studying Abroad in Stockholm


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