Thursday, November 7, 2013

Assistant Director of Off-Campus Study, Jonathan Larson, on the Grinnell-in-London Program

                  It is important to be aware of how international experience, and the formation of international knowledge, is brokered and mediated by various experts who shape our itineraries, translate local behavior, frame relevant categories for understanding a place, and more. So how does Grinnell’s own program in London help orient faculty to London, Britain, Europe, and a different vantage point on the globe? How are the structures and approaches of the program evolving?
                  Grinnell-in-London (GiL) has long served faculty quite well as a vehicle for exploring the above locations through their teaching. Faculty offer courses that they have typically not taught at Grinnell, and anchor these courses in sites that they come to know more intimately with students particularly through field trips, but possibly as well through guest lecturers.  The program’s longtime resident director, the American-born and Harvard-trained Dr. Donna Vinter, has earned wide acclaim from past faculty for her efforts to help faculty across the disciplines translate questions about place, people, and artifacts into academic discovery for Grinnell faculty and students. Faculty have also forged and developed local academic and other professional ties, and have benefitted from the research they do prior to arriving in London that draws on a typical array of academic resources (such as the library and Internet) as well as advice from colleagues.
                  In 2014 GiL will mark its fortieth anniversary with a new chapter in the production of international knowledge: the program will incorporate the option for students to take a course at Queen Mary College, University of London. The change’s primary aim is to offer students a new form of cultural integration. However, one question of relevance for the Center for International Studies is whether a flow of peer faculty contacts with Queen Mary will follow from where our students venture. This model for shared student and faculty engagement with different milieu has been explored in other parts of the world: it is Grinnell’s opportunity to leverage localized investments in global knowledge made through off-campus study. Initial faculty exposure to Queen Mary has yielded positive reports.
                  This change to the program comes with other questions. For instance, is GiL the type of program that can or should encourage ties with a single British institution? Is a semester sufficient time for faculty to meet peers at Queen Mary alongside other personal and professional needs on the program? Is Queen Mary the right partner for this kind of modification to the program? For better or for worse, Grinnell-in-London is diversifying its reliance on local translators of cultural knowledge. The college is currently taking applications for faculty to teach on the program in 2015, and hopes to make appointments eager to discover the possibilities and limitations of this additional feature to one of its own administered international experiences.

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