"Six months in another country is a life-changing experience," said UW-Parkside Communication Professor Wendy Leeds Hurwitz. "I cannot believe it took me this long to go outside of the U.S. and live long-term in another country."
Wendy's Great European Adventure began when she was selected as one of six fellows at the Collegium de Lyon, one of four Institutes for Advanced Studies (IAS) established by the French government. Described as "an international and multidisciplinary IAS, focusing on social sciences without excluding exact sciences" the Collegium de Lyon's purpose is "to create an academic community based on a culture of excellence, supporting exchanges between disciplines, cultures, and languages."
Since this was its first year of operation, Wendy and her five other Lyon fellows had the opportunity to build the foundation of this fledgling institution.
"I was very lucky to be there in the first year because they didn't have any models and it meant that we were able to figure out what it should be. And so we got to shape it a bit more than maybe other people will. That was fun!" Wendy said.
Wendy's project was titled the "Social Construction of Interdisciplinarity." This put her in the perfect position to help the Ecole Normale Supérieure Lettres et Sciences Humaines (which houses arts, humanities and social sciences) and the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon (which houses the sciences) as they worked to merge into a single institution.
"Because of my topic, people started inviting me to attend meetings and I started putting together white papers explaining interdisciplinarity," Wendy said. She realized "they needed to start collaborating on research together and they needed to start meeting each other because these are two faculties that have absolutely nothing to do with each other now. They're only about three blocks apart but they are two completely separate facilities, separate libraries, separate administrations, separate everything; yet they're going to be one as of January 2010."
So, she learned about ecosystem services with biologists, geographers, and philosophers. A second possibility will combine philosophy with food sciences, and Wendy was brought in on both of these interdisciplinary conversations.
"That was fun," she said.
Wendy's expertise on intercultural communication led to a connection with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) office in Paris. There, she was invited to participate in what they call an "experts meeting" on cultural policy, especially intended to help Third World countries having no national cultural policy.
While in France, Wendy organized a conference in Istanbul, Turkey, for the National Communication Association (NCA). The conference was organized as her activity while chair of the NCA's International and Intercultural Communication Division.
While planning the conference, Wendy connected with another UN agency, the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research.
"They had run into some of my publications on the history of intercultural communication and were reading my work--I didn't know the people at the UN would be reading my work--and I'm going to end up doing a book with them that came out of all this," Wendy said.
The conference ran from July 22 to 26 in that ancient Turkish city on the Bosporus River.
Meanwhile, back in Kenosha, students were taking a spring semester course from Wendy online. And as she was discovering the educational opportunities in Lyon and Istanbul, Wendy was also having some "Ah-ha!" moments in cyberspace.
"I discovered it actually takes way more effort to teach a class online than in person," Wendy stated. "You have to think about everything ahead of time, put together all sorts of materials for the students so that when they walk into the 'online class,' a lot of information you'd normally be giving out orally to them is there in a visible form to support what they're doing. So you do much more work."
That didn't stop Wendy from creating another online class for Communication which she is teaching this semester. In addition, her other courses use what is called "blended delivery" with some learning done in person and some done electronically.
When asked if her experience in France, Istanbul, and cyberspace altered the way she approaches teaching, Wendy could not have been more emphatic.
"It completely changes what I do," she asserted. "There are dozens of things I'm doing differently, there are dozens of stories I'm going to be bringing into my classes, there are dozens and dozens of resources that I now know about that I did not know about before. Everything is going to be different, absolutely everything."
Prior to the start of the fall semester, Wendy completely revamped her three courses, starting from scratch with two of them and extensively reworking the third to incorporate her experiences abroad. It also made her determined to get her students to travel and to find ways to help them finance their journeys.
"One of my students, Crystal Perez, took a semester abroad this past spring and...she said it was the best thing she did her entire time here. I am going to push a lot harder on my advisees--to do semesters abroad, to travel abroad, to take more language classes, to make more connections outside the U.S.--than I pushed in the past," said Wendy.
She is working on a grant proposal for micro-financing of global travel and research, not just for students but for colleagues in the discipline as well. She said during the Istanbul conference, she was told by junior and international faculty that even grants as small as $250 made a huge difference in financing educational travel.
"I want to be sending people out. I want people to go get some experience themselves. What I think is going to happen is that if you get somebody out of their 'comfort zone' once, they're going to learn how easy it is and they're going to want to do it some more," Wendy said.
Comparing the U.S. with the European Union (EU), Wendy said the EU is doing far more to support people making connections from country to country. She said that in the last 10 years, the EU has sent two million people for educational experiences in other EU countries. In comparison, in the U.S., more than 60 years of Fulbright Program Scholarships have sent fewer than 300,000 people to study overseas.
"We need to be sending people for more international experiences, and more often," Wendy said. "So, I'm going to see what I can do to help that happen."
Publish date: 11/24/2009