October 2018

Minnesota private colleges offer many opportunities for students to study abroad — or off-campus — and although the location of these experiences differ, the chance to engage with difference is always at their core.

“An off-campus experience is a chance to learn about another place in-depth, everything from food and customs to cultural norms,” said Jodi Malmgren, director of international and off campus studies at St. Olaf College. “Those cultural learning experiences can be significant even if you’re in the U.S.”

These opportunities are at the core of what the liberal arts strives to be — appreciation for diversity, critical thinking and leadership, Malmgren said. Many of St. Olaf’s off-campus programs also integrate vocational skills and goal setting into the experiences. 

Off-campus study is baked into many courses or majors. This emphasis on study abroad can be seen in the ways professors build off-campus studies into their department. Many faculty are leading their own off-campus experiences, which provides them a unique perspective when teaching their on-campus classes. Some majors — such as Russian at St. Olaf — require at least one semester of study abroad and many students do more.

“There are courses offered in most disciplines including music, chemistry, sociology and art,” said Malmgren. “It’s not just language majors studying off-campus.”

In one of St. Olaf’s 60 study abroad programs, human biology students work with doctors and dentists who travel to an Andean village in South America. The students see what it means to be a doctor, the doctors gain eager students to provide non-medical patient assistance and the village gets much needed health care. “This program is a great example of students seeing how to integrate service into a career and life after college,”Malmgren said.

Augsburg's River Semester

At Augsburg University, off-campus study also takes a wide variety of forms. “Traditionally study abroad was abroad only,” said Andrea Dvorak, assistant director of off-campus studies in the center for global education and experience. “Recently, we felt a need to provide more opportunities within the U.S.  . . .  These programs can provide very similar experiences to traditional study abroad where students don’t have to leave the country — if we provide opportunities to reflect on the differences students interact with.”

Like the programs themselves, the students Dvorak is working with are also different from each other. Some students might be looking to work on language skills and others might be looking to connect to their native country, Dvorak said.

One of Augsburg’s unique off-campus study programs is the River Semester, which involves a group of students paddling down the Mississippi in large canoes and learning across disciplines about the river. “The River Semester really focuses on the experiential education,” Dvorak said. “Students are learning from people who have experience with the river and asking ‘what’s your experience with climate change, the economics of the river, the politics of the river, the literature of the river.’ These students are engaging with difference the entire way down to New Orleans.”

“Off-campus study is an opportunity to engage with difference,” Dvorak said. “And that means different things in different places. Whether you’re paddling down the Mississippi or in a South African classroom you’re engaging with difference.”

All 17 of the Minnesota private colleges encourage off-campus study. Find links to all of the institutions’ offices for off-campus study.

By Tom Lancaster