Jul 2, 2024

Studying Abroad in Three Weeks or Less

Dordt University faculty members have made it a priority to organize and lead trips off-campus, offering students unique opportunities to broaden their perspectives and deepen their understanding of the world.

Several Dordt faculty believe so strongly in the value of off-campus experiences that they have prioritized taking students to far-flung places, even for just a short period of time.

Professor of Language Studies Dr. Leendert van Beek has offered his course Core 283 “Dutch Culture and Reformed Worldview” since the summer of 2003. Students who take the course get a chance to live in the Netherlands for three weeks, where they study the identity of the Dutch people from prehistoric times to the present and discover how a Reformed worldview has shaped aspects of life and society, such as church, politics, and land reclamation.

This summer van Beek will teach the course for the 11th time. “Through our classes, daily journaling, field trips, and contact with the locals, students develop an understanding of the Dutch culture,” he says. “They learn the traffic rules for bikes in the Netherlands, experience three Sunday worship services—two in English, one in Dutch—and consider why their university is named after the Synod of Dordt.”

Van Beek’s course was a trailblazer for other off-campus courses that have been gaining popularity. “One of the reasons Dordt has encouraged faculty to develop off-campus programs is to increase the options for students to take advantage of staying in another part of the world,” he says. “There are students who are unable to take an entire semester off to go off-campus, so being able to spend a couple weeks traveling to a new place is important.”

Since 2017, Professor of English Dr. Joshua Matthews and Professor of History Dr. Walker Cosgrove have co-taught Core 289 “Dante and the Italian Renaissance.” Students spend 12 weeks studying on-campus and one week in January exploring Florence, Italy.

“Experiencing something in person is key—seeing it and walking around it,” says Matthews. “That component makes all the book-learning in the course come alive, especially for a course that focuses on art, city planning, and architecture.”

Matthews says the wide-eyed wonder of the students is always remarkable. “It’s fascinating to see students experience Florence for the first time,” he says. “I enjoy how the students open up and become more friendly with their professors on the trip—after all, we are on an adventure together. A highlight is the group dinner, because we order odd cuisine that students might not get elsewhere. That’s a blast!”

This year, Instructor of Health and Human Performance Kyle Van Wyk ('10) launched Core 288 “Sport and Exercise in Society and Culture.” Students study sport, exercise, and physical activity within the contexts of society and culture, investigating and analyzing contemporary views and a Reformed perspective. The semester-long course culminates in a two-week trip to Scotland, where students experience Highland Games events, curling, hiking in the Highlands, touring a Glasgow club soccer stadium, walking the home of golf at St. Andrews, and more.

“A major motivation for me was to create an opportunity for students who might find it difficult to be away from campus for an entire semester due to other commitments,” says Van Wyk. “One of my biggest regrets in college was not doing a study abroad program; I was involved in athletics and couldn’t get away from campus for an entire semester.”

Why spend time off-campus?

“I think it’s so vital that I tell all my advisees and others to think hard about studying abroad,” says Matthews. “It’s crucial to live elsewhere and experience different cultural practices and lifeways. That way, you know what yours are and why you do what you do, with the ability to revise or change your own place.”

“I have heard it said that students saw their Netherlands trip as a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” reflects van Beek. “One student wrote in her final course paper, ‘This trip to Europe was a life-changing experience. Since going on this trip, I feel like I can go out and do anything.’ Each time I go, I come back enriched myself. It’s amazing how much one can learn from cross-cultural experiences with different groups of people.”

Studying abroad broadens students’ perspectives, adds Van Wyk. “If students are anything like me, not only do they learn about new places and people, they learn a thing or two about themselves.”

Sarah Moss ('10)

A picture of campus behind yellow prairie flowers