Columns / Discourse / March 8, 2017

Immersion experience is essential for language majors

In this column, I would like to write about the detrimental impact of Knox College’s proposed changes to the Barcelona study abroad program. At the same time I hope to shed light on the importance of the Besançon and Buenos Aires programs which have been suspended.

To begin, we need to understand that these study abroad programs are essential aspects of the French and Spanish majors. In the same way that a physics class is incomplete without practical work in a lab, an hour and 10 minute class three times a week does not provide nearly the amount of practice needed to become proficient in a foreign language. An immersion experience is the essential practical aspect of a language major.

The biggest change proposed for the Barcelona program is to have it run by an organization called CEA. While it might be cheaper for the school, the switch would entail an incredible loss in value. As the program stands now, it is run by Knox College with the Universitat de Barcelona (UB). Knox provides students with classes taught by UB professors and excursions to other parts of Spain. At the same time, the college has its own office in the UB. All of these benefits of the Knox College program would be lost in a switch to a CEA program.

The most detrimental change would be the move from the UB to a CEA building. We have to keep in mind that simply moving to another country is not the same as immersing yourself in a language. Let’s take, for example, a CEA building full of foreigners. Classes might be taught in Spanish but foreigners often communicate in English. If students are spending most of their days in a CEA building they will not be presented with the same opportunities as I was to speak Spanish with Spaniards. Immersion means creating real relationships via a different language not simply being in a place where the official language is foreign. A CEA environment inhibits a student’s ability to make connections with natives by taking them out of the very places where those natives go about their day.

The loss of excursions to the program also takes away from its academic rigor. During Fall Term Knox provided an excursion to the Pyrenees where we stayed in a bed and breakfast in a tiny medieval town. Speaking to the owner was a fascinating experience. One, her accent was different from what I was used to in Barcelona which provided me with a linguistic challenge. Two, her political ideas cued me into the regional divisions in political thought. A loss of excursions then, would present a loss in students’ deeper understanding of both the language and the place they’re in.

The benefits of having a Knox connection in Spain would also be lost with a CEA program. There would be no mediator through whom students can work with Knox’s bureaucracy from afar, no directors who are from Knox and know the students already, and no office where students can always find a helping hand, a library of Spanish books and movies, maps, printing cards, job opportunities, etc.

In the end, then, the choice of switching to a CEA program in Barcelona is a choice of quality. Is the college prepared to give up a program that provides Knox College students with so many unique academic benefits? What would that entail for the integrity of Knox College’s commitment to academic rigor? Money is an important factor, but I hope to have pointed out here that it’s in no way the only factor.

Tom Grizzle

Tags:  barcelona CEA column discourse international modern languages study abroad travel

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