From Jamaica to London: CSUSB students spend their summer studying abroad

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From cobblestone streets in European cities to lush greenery in tropical paradises, Cal State San Bernardino offers students an array of locations to study abroad. With more than 20 countries available, and 14 programs scheduled during summer 2017 alone, there is a place of interest for virtually every student.

The annual three-week study abroad program to Jamaica and the annual four-week program to London both wrapped up in July. The programs, like all of CSUSB’s study abroad programs, are a blend of traditional academic studies and cultural exploration.

This year, 12 students participated in the Jamaica study abroad program, which took place June 26 to July 16. The program began in 2006 and materialized after Rafik Mohamed, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, spent 10 days on the island as a member of the production staff for a large music festival.

“I spent most of my time with Jamaicans who were also working for the festival, and they introduced me to places and people tourists typically don’t encounter,” said Mohamed, who also has ancestral connections to Jamaica. “Because of that experience, and more significant than my family ties, I felt Jamaica was a place that could meaningfully put on display for students what I’ve come to describe as the ‘paradox of paradise.’”

According to Mohamed, Jamaicans often refer to their homeland as “the land of contradictions.” While it is often viewed as a tropical utopia, Jamaica faces many social challenges and is heavily tied to its colonial past.

“We, therefore, challenge our student-participants to consider the contradictions captured by this juxtaposition between the images of Jamaica put forward by the Jamaica Tourist Board and the vastly different economic and social conditions experienced by everyday Jamaicans,” said Mohamed.

Through an interdisciplinary curriculum and community engagement involving formal partnership with local community agencies, the program offers students an overview of Caribbean society and culture from the beginning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the present. Activities include visiting different towns and historical plantations, hiking up waterfalls and even touring musician Bob Marley’s home.

“I really enjoyed the activities since they were related to what we learned in class,” said Jasmin Limon Acosta, biological psychology major. “It was a really great experience embracing it all and seeing how different the culture is. I also liked where we stayed — it was very local and we got to speak to a lot of the locals and interact with them.”

Students learn from various texts including poems, short stories, music, and historical and sociological articles and essays. The program includes curriculum from sociology, marine science, English, communication, philosophy and theater. Mohamed plans to add anthropology to the agenda in 2018.

“Participating in the Jamaica summer study abroad program was an experience I will never forget. From the classes, readings, excursions and tours, to the community involvement and social gatherings, I will admit that it made learning about the Jamaican culture much richer than sitting in a classroom and getting lectured on it,” said psychology major Ana Romero Baltazar.

“With the knowledge I have gained from this trip, I feel as if I can see the world with a much more open mind, and make connections that I could not have been able to do so before learning a bit more about the history of a different culture,” Baltazar said. “The three weeks felt as if they flew by, but I am thankful for each day I was there, for all the people I met, and for the way the program was structured and put together.”

The London study abroad program, which took place June 27 to July 28, was led by Bradford Owen, associate professor in the communication studies department, and Cherstin Lyon, associate professor in the history department.

Twenty students immersed themselves in academic classroom teachings as well as excursions to cultural sites, theater plays and historical places of interest.

“London is a richly multicultural city with inhabitants from all over the world,” said Owen, who lived and taught in London for an academic year while he was a visiting assistant professor in USC Annenberg School of Communication’s London Program. Owen also co-founded the London study abroad program in 2013 and has co-directed it for the last five years.

For biology major Gabriela Ochoa, it was a trip of a lifetime, satisfying both her desire to travel to London and her college requirements.

“I knew my parents didn’t have the resources to send me on their own, and when I saw I can go with school, I took the opportunity,” she said. “Not only was I visiting the city of my dreams, but I also got school credit for it.”

The academic courses, which were held at the FSU London Study Centre, included HUM 340: Interpretation and Values, taught by Owen, and SSCI 325: Perspectives on Gender, taught by Lyon. HUM 340 explored the similarities and differences in British and American values and cultures through British cinema, while SSCI 325 used scientific, humanistic and social science perspectives to foster an understanding of how gender roles in Western culture are established, maintained and changed.

Syeda Rahman, an English literature major, took Owen’s HUM 340 class. “The course was designed not to overwhelm us with assignments, but to soak in the entire experience, including excursions, the topics we talked about, our stay at Newman House, our stay as a group and also the class assignments. I thought, overall, it was great learning experience.”

Liberal studies major Jocelyn Rodriguez found Lyon’s SSCI 325 course to be eye opening. “Dr. Lyon is a really great professor, and she was able to get us to see gender through multiple different lenses that I would never think to view it through.”

The program also offered HUM 582: European Experience, an independent study course in which a student undertakes independent work under supervision.

To learn more about the city, students participated in four day-long excursions, which included a six-hour walking tour around central London, and admission to six major sites: Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, the Churchill War Rooms and Tower Bridge Exhibit. In addition, students partook in out-of-town trips to Salisbury, Stonehenge and Bath.

For Karen Watkins, who graduated this past June with a bachelor’s in sociology, these trips related perfectly to what she was learning in Owen’s HUM 340 course. “I enjoyed how our class discussions and films revolved with what we had already seen or were about to see. London was indescribably beautiful. Everything I saw, I will carry with me.”

The program also featured five in-London events, including two theater performances (one at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre), a guided tour of the Tate Modern gallery, the “Making of Harry Potter” tour at Warner Brothers UK, and a farewell afternoon tea.

For the first time in the program, CSUSB President Tomás D. Morales met with the study abroad group for a couple days. He visited Lyon’s SSCI 325 class one morning and joined the group for a walking tour in East London.

“I truly enjoyed having President Morales in London,” said Syeda Rahman, who believes the president’s visit broke many barriers for a lot of the students. “Now I feel that I can go up to him and have a conversation or just write to him. I think it was a great opportunity for me to have him in London because I probably would have graduated without even getting to know the president of the university.”

Jocelyn Rodriguez enjoyed her experience with President Morales as well, and feels she got to know him on a one-on-one basis. “I was able to ask him questions about his life, his education and how he got to where he is in life right now.”

CSUSB also offers summer study abroad programs to places like Mexico City, Italy, Costa Rica, Spain and Taiwan.

For more information on study abroad programs at CSUSB, visit the Center for International Studies & Programs website.

For more information on Cal State San Bernardino, contact the university’s Office of Strategic Communication at (909) 537-5007 and visit news.csusb.edu.


TAGS:study abroad, Center for International Studies and Programs, Rafik Mohamed, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Tomás D. Morales, Cherstin Lyon, Bradford Owen, history, communication studies, College of Arts and Letters, College of Natural Sciences, Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration, College of Education

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