New Study Abroad Options Are a Success


Published: August 27, 2009

Fish and Chips. The Tube. Drinking ale by a fireplace in a pub. Dodging traffic coming from the wrong direction. None of these are things New Yorkers are accustomed to experiencing on a daily basis. But this summer a group of Fordham University students traded in the hustle of Manhattan to experience London first hand. Not only did we have student representation in the England, but Fordham also premiered it’s first ever Study Abroad in Rome program, giving students the opportunity to study the arts in the ancient city.

With June serving as the launch date of Fordham’s new Liberal Arts Program in Rome and London Centre at Heythrop College, the group (made up of both Rose Hill and Lincoln Center students) served as the guinea pigs for Fordham’s study abroad summer program. For the first time ever, Fordham students were able to study abroad with their home university,

as well as have the opportunity to take classes abroad with Fordham professors.

“The experience was amazing and I would go again in a heart beat,” said Jillian Wax, FCLC ’10, a student in The Films of Alfred Hitchcock course in London.

“My experience with Fordham’s study abroad was great,” said Peter Reitano, FCRH ’11, who took part in the London course Archiving Africa. “Besides a few kinks due to us being the first group that Fordham has done this with, I felt that they provided great classes, as well as professors, and managed to find a great location for us to live while in London.”

Daniela Grafman, FCLC ’11, described the experience of taking the Hitchcock class in London as “a great opportunity… I got to experience a different culture and study in a different environment. It gave me the chance to interact with other Fordham students and engage in a foreign lifestyle.”

“[The program was in an] excellent location, five blocks from the Vatican and five blocks from the enthusiastic nightlife along the Tiber,” said Stephan Apicella-Hitchcock, artist-in-residence at FCLC and co-professor of Photography in the Documentary Tradition in Rome.

All of the students mentioned the camaraderie amongst themselves as a highpoint of their trip.

“Amazingly, all of us got along, including the Fordham Rose Hill class,” said Wax. “We would do everything in large groups. We were all on the same page in a strange place with strangers, but we all experienced it together and I’m happy I had great people to share it with.”

“The best part of my experience, besides the group of people that we were with, was being able to get a good education while immersing ourselves within the city,” said Reitano. “There was a lot of leniency in regard to how we were able to spend our time in London, which I loved.”

The students attended class either three times a week for four hours or four times a week for three hours. Besides certain out of class “field trips,” the rest of the time was left open for the group to explore the city.

“London is full of great sights, particularly their various markets,” said Grafman. “The markets were tons of fun, offering a variety of food, clothes, antiques, etc. A great perk about going abroad was definitely being on my own with the ability to travel and try new things. Whether it was traveling to other parts of Britain or another country, the experience was unforgettable.”

“Trying new foods, ways of transportation, nightlife, and meeting different people [were] all eye opening,” said Wax.

The students in Rome were given similar freedoms when it came to time.

“I loved jumping on a bus that I had no clue where it was going and just adventuring,” said Lisa Spiteri, FCLC ’10, who took part in the photography class in Rome.  “The overall trip was a joy to have been a part of. It was great to be completely submersed in a culture.”

“Flexibility in scheduling allowed us to take advantage of opportunities as they arose, such as theatre performances, museum schedules, as well as the quality of light in the morning and late afternoon,” said Apicella-Hitchcock.

“We were able to go on weekend trips, so I went to Florence and Venice with some friends one weekend,” said Lisa Errera, FCLC ’10, who took the photography class in Rome. “Being on my own really allowed me to test myself on everything I had been learning.”

Edward Bristow, professor of history at FCLC, and teacher of the Modern Britain course in London, discussed the struggle to balance time in the classroom with exploration of the city.

“The biggest challenge was finding the right balance between field trips and class work,” said Bristow. “We probably tried a few too many lengthy field trips, but it was difficult to resist going the few miles to visit Oxford after the trip to Blenheim Palace. Strategic, nightly film screenings rounded out the program with gems such as Michelangelo Antonioni’s ‘L’eclisse,’ Lina Wertmüller’s ‘Travolti da un insolito destino nell’azzurro mare d’agosto,’ Dario Argento’s ‘Suspiria,’ and Federico Fellini’s ‘La Dolce Vita’.”

Being Fordham’s first year abroad, the patricipants noticed things that will have to be worked out for future groups.

“Fordham could have improved their dealings with the people who ran the dormitories,” said Reitano. “Other than that most of the shortcomings were trivial.”

“Student facilities were adequate, the only complaint I heard was related to the use of a weed whacker in the garden at 4 a.m.,” said Bristow.

“We had a lot of problems with accommodations,” said Wax. “Living in a hostel in London was certainly not ideal, but according to our professor he had it worse. It seemed unorganized at times. There was one incident where we were used as a publicity stunt and posed around London by a photographer Fordham hired, which was the worst part of the trip.”

“The classroom we were given was barely used and there were many technical difficulties we experienced while using it for the first few times,” said Spiteri.

“The accommodations were at times inconvenient because of a difference in expectations between the Heythrop administrators and ourselves,” Grafman said. “Fordham could add offerings of cultural events to help the students get a more well rounded taste of London.”

Despite a few kinks to be worked out, the students and professors alike felt the program was a success.

“My students and I agree that the Fordham program in London was an outstanding success,” said Bristow. “I read their journals on the flight home and in every case they reflected transformational experiences and impressive learning.”

“I can’t complain too much,” said Wax, “we had a great time regardless of the mishaps, I hope the program learns from the mistakes and improves them for the next class.”

The professors reflected on the affects of location and time on their courses.

“Those that spend their summer committed to an intensive, daily relationship with the medium of photography return to the normal academic year at a much advanced level,” said Apicella-Hitchcock. “One month concentrating on image making yields a tremendous increase in photographic skill, understanding of the medium, as well as the rapid development of a personal vision.”

“The Making of Modern Britain turned out to be an ideal course for anyone interested in recent history because taking the course abroad seemed naturally to render it explicitly comparative in connection with the United States,” said Bristow.

In terms of the courses themselves, the students were able to experience material typically taught at Fordham, in a foreign country.

“I think taking the photo class in another city allowed me to see things in a new light,” said Errera. “Being able to work closer with the professors really helped to gain more of their photo knowledge, and improve my skills and perception of the art.”

Brian Rose, professor of communications and media studies, was one of the Fordham professors who taught in London.

“From my perspective, it was very successful, and certainly an intense and exciting experience,” said Rose. “Teaching Hitchcock in London was a dream come true, and I think we were able to use the city in some interesting ways.”

“Professor Rose was a great asset to the program, his course was both engaging and interesting,” said Grafman. “Given the nature of the course’s material, being in London made it all the more exciting as it allowed us to see the actual locations seen in the films. The films’ many inspirations could be understood from the culture of the city they were made in. Also, having a professor I had already experienced helped create a comfortable environment and a closer bond with him.”

“Brian Rose was there with us exploring London and learning just as we were,” said Wax. “The Alfred Hitchcock course was interesting and perfectly choreographed for London. This being my first film class I really learned a lot and the film and theatre in London allowed us to experience things hands on.”

“I enjoyed my archiving course a lot,” said Reitano. “My professor had a deep passion for the topic which helped and we were able to explore a lot of England through the class to enhance our learning of the material. We were able to learn the material as well as enjoy the new environment that we were in.”

“The fact that the class took place in a completely new environment led me to explore photography in ways that I never did before,” said Spiteri. “I usually take photos of people, but this trip made me want to explore other subject matter such as landscape, objects, and architecture. Now I find myself looking at everything and wondering what it would look like in a photograph.”

Culturally speaking, the students reflected on the ease with which they were acclimated to the lifestyle abroad.

“It was interesting to learn how many similarities there actually are between two cities like London and New York,” said Grafman. “I expected to be hit by a culture shock, yet it was easy to adjust to the lifestyle. The lack of a language barrier definitely helped the fluidness of the trip.”

“I learned that deodorant is not as important abroad as it is at home,” said Reitano. “But seriously, much of the differences culturally were to be expected such as the money and way of driving. Perhaps the biggest thing that I learned is that the way of life is much more relaxed and not as hectic as it is in America.”

The students all discussed how the month program serves as a perfect opportunity to study abroad for those who may be hesitant to leave the country for an entire semester.

“The program for a month was a lot more practical for me than the six month study abroad for a whole semester,” said Wax.

“I would tell other students to definitely partake in the program,” said Reitano. “If they don’t want to spend an entire semester abroad this is a perfect alternative. It can also serve as a way for them to see what it would be like if they did study abroad and were considering spending a semester.”

“I would really recommend doing this program seeing as London is a great place to visit and the fact that it’s only a month serves as the perfect chance for students to try an alternative experience without committing to a full semester abroad,” said Grafman.

After serving as the first group to study abroad with Fordham in London and Rome, do the students recommend it to others?

“If the subject of the course is of interest to the student then they will greatly enjoy having it as part of the program. It’s a great opportunity to make lasting friendships and memories,” said Grafman.

“I would tell them to go for it!” said Wax. “Although there were some bumps along the way, I would never take back my decision to go. The experience was amazing!”