Planet Duke: Don't Call It a Study Abroad

February 13, 2013

For the discerning Duke student who wanted to jumpstart his or her international exposure and couldn’t get enough of the freshman Focus experience, last year’s Duke INtense Global (DIG) fit the bill. The three-semesterlong interdisciplinary program had its test run in India and Russia and featured culture-and language-immersion components. For Edna Andrews, professor of linguistics and cultural anthropology and the initiator of the DIG proposal, the program was an opportunity to change the meaning of the word “classroom.”

“I’ve been thinking about [DIG] for a long time,” Andrews says. “If students are trying to acquire languages, they need in-country experience and cultural knowledge. The sooner you get them there the better.”

The fall semester of the Russia program offered a class on neuroscience and multilingualism, a theoretical linguistics course, and two credits of intensive Russian. The semester was punctuated by a threeweek trip to St. Petersburg that culminated before Thanksgiving, featuring afternoon excursions to museums, churches, theater, and an opera master class. In the spring, the students took another Russian course together and were free to pursue other electives. Finally, in May, the DIG students returned to St. Petersburg, joining the pre-existing Duke in Russia summer session for another two language credits. All of the travel and associated expenses were covered by regular Duke tuition.

In-country immersion: Cultural excursions included St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow's Red Square.

The perspective gained by the students between trips to Russia, not to mention the huge disparity in northern winter and summer seasons, made a big difference. “Two experiences abroad within one year is key,” says Andrews. “I think the second time was like going home: We know where we are, we know where the grocery store is, we know the metro. And St. Petersburg is spectacular in the summer.”

But the other key to DIG is its multidisciplinary approach. Andrews is adamant that DIG is not a language program; it’s a program that includes language. “DIG is supposed to cut across the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities,” she says. “It’s more like a Focus experience expanded out with an international program.” Andrews also made sure to take advantage of existing Duke structures, allowing students to apply for DukeEngage in Russia and benefiting from an exchange with St. Petersburg University dating to 1988.

 

Duke in Russia: At a Glance

Current students who were born in Russia: 20

Russian nationals working at Duke: 12

Alumni living in Russia: 97

Number of undegraduate students who traveled to Russia with university programs in 2012: 18

Key Duke connections:

  • DukeEngage projects with the Russian Ministry of Health and the Russian Rehabilitation Center for the Blind enable students to help local sight-impaired persons at the center itself and in their home with a variety of everyday activities.
  • The Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies offers a graduate certificate with specialization in legal studies. This program, the first of its kind at an American university, allows graduate students interested in issues relating to the legal environmentin this region to pursue an interdisciplinary study of the subject.