London Semester gives students culture

Stephanie Allmon / McClatchy Tribune

Ducking into a tea shop to escape the snow and rain. Leaving Westminster Abbey to discover the breathtaking sight of the sun setting over the Thames. All alone at Stonehenge, feeling as though the ancient site was newly discovered.

These are just some of the highlights and memories from past London Semester programs that await a new crop of California State University, Fresno students preparing to embark on a three-week winter session in London.

“It’s such a wonderful experience,” said Carla Millar, assistant to the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and coordinator for London 2010. “There’s so much to do in London.”

Museum and art gallery tours, historical sites, plays and day-trips. With so much to see in and around London, students will have a truly authentic British experience, according to Millar.

Fresno State professor Linnea Alexander believes studying and traveling abroad enables students to learn things that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

“It’s almost a paradox but we get to know ourselves and the world better by traveling,” Alexander said in an e-mail interview. “It’s especially important for university students to have a chance to live in another country. Even in three weeks, students will go beyond the tourist experience.”

Studying abroad shapes students in different ways, Alexander said. The experience will test students, deepen their sense of humor and increase their tolerance and patience – with themselves, the group and the people of London and the city, she said.

Many of the students haven’t been away from home before, Millar said, and this program gives them an opportunity to travel with professors who are familiar with the area. It also provides students time to explore, and get a feeling for their surroundings and meet new people.

“This is a chance to see the sights, sure, but more importantly, it’s a chance to live a life different than the one I normally live, if only for a few weeks,” said Patrick Martin, a senior music composition major.

Martin will be attending a multimedia school in Oxford, England next year. With the London 2010 program, he looks forward to soaking in the culture and getting acquainted with the country before he actually moves there.

“I think the biggest contribution a trip of this sort can make for anyone is the introduction of perspective, a thing that no amount of textbook reading can give you,” he said.

Along with the sights and tours, students will knock out seven units of course credit by taking Art 100TZ: London Art Tours and English 102WZ: Masterpieces of English Literature, which satisfy Area IC and the upper division writing requirement.

“The courses are designed to use London as a classroom and provide a unique learning experience in art, literature, theater and history in the London and British contexts,” said Dr. Vida Samiian, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities.

The courses, taught by Alexander and professor Joyce Aiken, are designed to introduce students to the city and familiarize them with the areas in which they will live and study, Millar said. The units are part of the spring semester and will be included in the student’s spring tuition.

This year’s program is shorter, but has some special attractions, Alexander said. Students will take three day-trips to Bath and Stonehenge, Cambridge and Canterbury, and also have two weekends to explore on their own.

“We’ll be in London for New Year’s Eve,” Alexander said. “Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve will be a memory no one will forget.”

In past years, the London Semester has actually been a semester-long program. This year, the three-week winter session will run from Dec. 27, 2009 to Jan. 17, 2010.

“Because of the budget reductions we had to cancel the semester-long program, but now with the three-week session students are still able to experience a transformative international experience in London,” Samiian said. “I am certain that it will offer a unique and memorable learning experience to our students and enhance their international awareness and understanding.”

The program cost is estimated to be $2,491 and includes deposit, accommodation, airfare and the program fee. IRA funding from Fresno State’s Associated Students, Inc. will help lower the cost by about $1,000 for each student, Millar said. Students may also apply for scholarships through the Office of Study Abroad and International Exchanges.

Instead of traveling to England during his spring break as originally planned, Martin said the price was right for the London 2010 program. “My original plan had me spending about $1,000 just on airfare and hotel accommodations for a week. Mustering up an extra $1,000 and getting two extra weeks plus visits to the art museums and theaters, plus college credit, seemed too good a bargain to pass up,” Martin said.

The response from students has been overwhelming, Millar said. All available spots are already full, with 29 students and a handful of community members going. Students still interested in the course can get on a waitlist, Millar said.

For more information on London 2010, contact Carla Millar at (559)278-3056.

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