Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Smart Study Abroad

Here goes with a new blog: Smart Study Abroad, and I'll be using it to help document my attempts to put together a study-abroad course on my own. It's the first time I've tried such a thing.

I'm no stranger to travel abroad. As a professor at Simpson College in Iowa, a liberal arts school that puts a focus on study-abroad programs, I've led study groups to various European destinations three times over the past eights years. I've also participated in a faculty exchange with Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

But this year is different: Due to escalating costs and the declining economy, I'm taking on the task this year of planning and leading a travel course on my own, taking 9 Simpson students and an assistant with me on a 15-day excursion to Paris, Bordeaux and Nice in France in April and May.

This is a bit of stretch for me in that my skills in the French language are, well, minimal. But I'm game for about any challenge, and I'm very much looking forward to taking students to see what I've always considered to be a warm and welcoming nation and people.

I'm also a professor of journalism at my college, trying to embrace the multimedia revolution. I'm fortunate enough to be on sabbatical this term — which provides me with plenty of time to put together this study course. But I'm also using the sabbatical to create, promote and maintain this site in hopes of creating a community of college and high school faculty who believe in the benefits of study abroad but also need help in putting it all together.

I'm coming to find that it can be done, as the Beatles said, with a little help from our friends. So let's get to it!


  1. As someone who has worked with both travel companies and organized tour on my own, there are definitely positives and negatives for each approach.

    When I first started taking students abroad, I went with the tour company approach, albeit one that specialized in college student travel. When I realized that the tour company I was paying, was paying a company in-country to make the actual arrangements, I realized that I could do better on my own.

    In the years since, I've found that many of the positives of travel company organized courses have disappeared with the advent of the Web and the changes in airline policy. In many cases, the idea of a "group discount" has gone away. The main positive as I see it for using a tour company is the "if something goes wrong, I just call the number" that comes with the tour company. After I did a few of these types of experiences, I realized that I could solve most of the problems as well, or better than the travel company because I knew the people involved, the parents, the college's policies, etc. I have to admit though, I've only taking students to English-speaking countries so I have not had to deal with the language issue. I also lived for most of a year in the country I take student to so I feel I know the culture, pretty well.

  2. For a small group, making arrangements by myself is pretty straightforward, especially since so many things can be done online now. The complications come into play when the size of the group gets large. Moving 30 plus people around is pretty tough, especially at 5 p.m. in Rome when you're trying to get on a bus! Another advantage of a tour company is if there is a hiccup in your travel plans, they can often deal with it easily. And hiccups can happen anytime -- missed flight connection, labor strikes (more common in Europe than the U.S.), unexpected museum closures, etc.

    One of the most rewarding experiences I've had was leading the Semester in London in the fall of 2007. I forced myself to keep a blog, and I'm so glad I did (

    This is an excellent blog!



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