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Harpur Faculty leading study abroad programs

By Audrey Sapunarich

Kathleen Sterling and Sébastien Lacombe, a husband-and-wife team, direct an archaeological project and field school for Binghamton University's summer program in France. He's French; she did doctoral research in France. Still, there's something special about returning with undergraduates.

"It's almost like experiencing it all over again for the first time when you see it through a student's eyes," Sterling says.

The archaeologists work at an open-air hunting and gathering site south of Toulouse that dates to about 17,000 years ago.

"Open-air sites are very rare for this time period," Sterling says. "It's great to see someone going into a painted cave for the first time and realizing that these are images created over 10,000 years ago by people like them. It creates this connection to the past."

Sterling, an assistant professor of anthropology and Lacombe, a research assistant professor of anthropology, are two of many Harpur College faculty members leading study abroad programs at Binghamton University. The University's Office of International Programs (OIP) manages all study abroad program development, recruitment and advising, working with faculty members to establish and lead programs. Including the over 40 Binghamton-sponsored programs, SUNY provides 600 study abroad programs throughout every continent of the world. France, London, Spain and Germany are just a few destinations of Binghamton faculty-led programs. About 350 Harpur College students take part in study abroad programs each year.

While abroad, Harpur College participants—even faculty members—learn lifelong lessons.

Mary Haupt, lecturer and co-director of the London program alongside Joseph Keith, associate professor of English, was taken aback by London. She had never been to London before teaching abroad in 2001, and returned in 2014.

For one assignment, Haupt sent students in pairs to interview street performers and they produced colorful articles.

"One of the best things is watching students blossom. I had the opportunity to make London itself part of my courses," Haupt says. "London has become a home away from home."

Aja Martinez, assistant professor of English, was among the faculty leading the spring 2015 program to London.

"We found ways to make writing—especially through the social media travel-writing course—something the students were already doing. That was the medium and the city was the site," Martinez says. "I was learning just as much from the students as I was teaching them."

Martinez is interested in working with OIP to build an internship-based program—which she says would offset the cost of studying abroad—focused on low-income, underrepresented students. Antonio Sobejano-Moran, chair of the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, says he attributes the growth of the initially small Spain summer program to its affordability.

Sobejano-Moran hails from a small village in Zamora, Spain, and while he has not been teaching abroad lately, he continues to travel with the program every summer.

"I attend the program for approximately 10 to 15 days. These are the most difficult days for our students. Some of them have difficulties adjusting to a new culture, a new environment and a new system," Sobejano-Moran says. "The most gratifying part of my participation is to see students enjoy not only an academic experience but a cultural one. Traveling abroad is an experience that will allow them to see how fortunate they are."

Rosmarie Morewedge, associate professor of German studies, says students who study abroad grow into global citizens concerned with larger communities.
Morewedge and Wayne Jones, chair of the Chemistry Department, co-lead a program bringing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students to a number of research institutes.

"It is important for students and faculty alike to see first-hand how research is done in different parts of the world," Jones says.

Morewedge is helping meld the need for knowledge of German with the internationalized research goal of the program. Participants are trained in basic German language and culture before departure. Students work with researchers at the University of Leipzig, which has been an exchange partner with Binghamton University for more than 20 years.

"The transformation students have experienced abroad has made the greatest impression on me," Morewedge says. "I've particularly enjoyed the insight students have gained through understanding and managing critical situations."

For example, Morewedge says one of the students accidentally dropped a flower pot onto a Mercedes parked a story below.

"When our student learned to empathize with the owner's pride and express that empathy to the owner, the situation was diffused. I love the emotional and intellectual growth that comes to students as a result of experiences that take them out of their comfort zone and require them to expand their abilities to respond," Morewedge says.

"Working with students abroad has made me more discerning in observing behavior intuitively and analytically, and in attempting to help students become more observant. In this sense, I believe that my work with students has helped me develop new teaching skills."

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Last Updated: 3/1/17