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A group photo of 15 Emerging Scholars in Commonwealth Honors College

Emerging Scholars Study Abroad

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

In a pilot program, 15 Emerging Scholars in Commonwealth Honors College spent two weeks during the summer in the Dominican Republic learning the country’s history and culture—and even finding the time to build a vegetable garden at an elementary school. The study-abroad
experience for the first-generation college students is part of an effort by the campus to increase participation in international education.

“Increasing study abroad is one of the ways we help students grow socially, academically, and intellectually,” says Alexandrina Deschamps, associate dean at the honors college and director of the Emerging Scholars Program. Kalpen Trivedi, associate provost for international programs, says students from diverse and underrepresented groups at UMass Amherst, and across the country, typically don’t consider education abroad. “We are trying to change the face of study abroad to be more inclusive and rewrite the narrative that education abroad is not just an elite experience,” he says.

Spearheaded by Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, the International Programs
Office (IPO), the honors college, and the Council of International Educational Exchange partnered to create and cofund the program. Deschamps, who was responsible for the four-credit course that culminated in the trip, says the pre-trip studies included examining the tensions between Haitians and Dominicans, as well as the history, geo-politics, and socioeconomics of the island nation.

Faculty members Mari Castañeda, chair of the communication department, and Joseph Krupczynski, director of Civic Engagement and Service Learning, accompanied the students. “As faculty, we provided ways for the students to connect their experiences in the Dominican Republic with their education at UMass. We had multiple academic discussions and group reflections during the trip that allowed the students to understand how their personal experiences are related to critical thoughts and ideas,” says Krupczynski.

The students, mostly sophomores who spent their first year in the Emerging Scholars Residential Academic Program, say their two weeks in the Dominican Republic taught them many personal and academic lessons. They experienced the challenge of language barriers, the perspective of being an outsider, and adapting to a new culture. “The students learned the important lesson of stepping out of their comfort zone and being open to non-U.S. modes of thinking and ways of life,” notes Castañeda.

Maria Arenas ’20, a comparative literature major, says she enjoyed learning the differences among bachata, merengue, and salsa dances. But on a deeper level, she says, the group’s work to build a vegetable garden for young students for educational and culinary purposes left
an indelible memory. “The garden,” she says, “will leave something meaningful and lasting for the children.” Jonathan  Maciel ’19, a junior economics major, says visits to museums were inspiring. “It’s one thing to learn about this history in class, but to actually stand in the places where the events took place is a special kind of learning experience,” he says.
—Judith B. Cameron
 

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