Shorter trips becometrend in studies abroad

Gavin Lesnick and Gavin Lesnick

Glenn Gass and his class of Beatles fans had just arrived in Liverpool in the summer of 2003 when Beatlemania struck. Gass, a music professor at Indiana University, was leading the third installment of a month-long study abroad program focusing on the Fab Four when someone excitedly noticed a familiar face: that of Paul McCartney.

“We’re standing there and Paul McCartney drives up,” Gass said. “This is within an hour of us getting to Liverpool and there he was 10 feet away. My students were (shocked) and I was just reduced to a 12-year-old. It’s a Beatle; there’s something incredible about that.”

Gass’ popular class is one example of a growing demand for customized abroad programs — trips that are shorter than traditional semester-length excursions and are dedicated to a very defined subject.

According to International Education of Students, the non-profit group that arranges Gass’ Beatles trip as well programs in 21 other cities across the world, shorter trips are a more flexible choice for fitting in a journey abroad without having to stay an extra semester to catch up on missed requirements.

They also allow a less intimidating experience for students wary of traveling to a foreign country for a lengthy period.

“If students haven’t had international experience or are unsure if they have the right kinds of skills to be successful, most of the programs are designed for students with little to no experience,” said Brian Harley, director of programs for study abroad at Purdue University. “The short-term one might feel more consistent with their comfort zone.”

At Purdue, Harley said about two thirds of the programs are under a semester in length, in response to the growing demand for shorter trips. Of the 3,500 students who traveled through IES last year, 500 of those chose programs less than a semester in length.

That number has increased steadily over the past decade as the customized programs have grown increasingly popular, though the kinds of students who partake in each differ.

“I think the number one type of student for short-term is a slightly different profile than longer term in terms of not a commitment to the experience but an expectation for the experience,” said Nancy Kenyon, director of customized programs for IES. “We focus on very academically oriented programs and it’s not as though the academics are less, but it’s not the same investment in time or resources. I think you get students who really want to do something that’s precise and targeted.”

That and a natural desire for traveling convinced Purdue University student Emma Doud to go on a customized trip. Doud, who is now a senior, traveled to Madrid for six weeks through IES the summer following her freshmen year for a language program.

There, she developed a near fluency in Spanish, a newfound independence and an impressive itinerary of sites visited including stops in Portugal, Greece and Germany.

“I think a lot of students don’t feel like they have the time to spend an entire semester or year abroad and these six to eight week summer programs provide a solution for those who want to travel,” Doud said from Australia, where she studied over the summer. “(The) programs carry the double appeal of providing general education credits in spectacular locations while not forcing a student to lose time from his or her major requirements.”

Students in Gass’ class spend their time in morning lectures and on field trips to Beatles sites, like recording studios, old clubs the group played before becoming famous, Abbey Road, Strawberry Fields and other historic destinations.

“We get a committed group, one that doesn’t mind walking six hours to see where Ringo used to live,” Gass said. “If you weren’t really a fan, it could be encrustingly dull. But if you’re a fan, it’s a Beatles daydream.”

Gass said he’s glad he can offer an experience students wouldn’t get in a classroom in Bloomington, Ind.

He credits IES with making the trip happen, as it takes care of all the logistics and costs, leaving Gass free to concentrate on the class itself. He said being able to offer it and having students be interested in taking it is a dream come true.

“It’s like going to Beatle wonderland,” Gass said. “There’s a sense of place you can’t get at Bloomington when you’re standing at Penny Lane or Abbey Road. It brings it back to a human scale and makes it more astonishing. It’s like going to Vienna and seeing where Beethoven lives.”