Around the world in 28 days: Spring Term Abroad returns to W&L


Emma Malinak

As eleven W&L students and I walked through the bustling streets of Bridgetown, Barbados, we heard the poignant words of Dr. Trevor Marshall over the pounding of tropical rain on the cracked city sidewalks.

“We don’t know our own history,” said Marshall, a Barbadian historian and retired professor from the University of the West Indies.

Marshall went on to explain that the people of Barbados are “disappointingly callous” regarding their past and are unable to address the complex history of colonialism that has affected the island for nearly four centuries.

That history, while often hidden away by locals, is precisely what my peers and I were trying to uncover. The goal of our Spring Term Abroad (STA) class was to examine the impacts that colonialism and slavery have had on colonized peoples and observe the linkages between African and Caribbean history by exploring Barbados, a former British colony.

Our class, led by Professor Dennie and Professor Kamara, accomplished this by visiting various historical sites, museums and cultural locations to better contextualize the island’s past. 

Professor Dennie commented that this engagement with history “forces us to confront the brutality of slavery and reckon with the humanity that enslaved people were denied.”

Betelihim Haile, ‘22, who attended the STA trip to Barbados, saw the ability of this immersion in history and culture to broaden students’ worldview.

“Oftentimes people in the West [western hemisphere] are eurocentric in the way they think about and perceive certain concepts,” she said. “Studying abroad gives you a different perspective to view the world.”

Our class’s journey of discovery and growth is just one example of the 16 STA courses being offered at W&L this year. 

Throughout the four-week spring term, over 250 students are studying numerous subjects from Music to Math in a total of 12 countries (Barbados, Costa Rica, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Spain and the United Kingdom). Some classes are even focusing on language immersion, and students in those courses have pledged to only speak the target foreign language during their time abroad.

Regardless of location, language, or subject matter, these 16 classes signal a victory for the Center of International Education (CIE) at W&L, which has not been able to run STA courses for the past two years due to the pandemic.

“Overall it was really exciting to run the courses again, and there was a lot of enthusiasm from the students and the program directors,” said Jillian Murphy, Study Abroad Coordinator in the CIE.

With initial trip proposals due to the CIE committee in January 2021, these courses have been carefully crafted and organized over the past year and a half. All STA professors, whether creating a new course or teaching a course that has been run in the past, had to overcome new challenges this year while navigating pandemic restrictions.

Murphy said that although this year presented new logistical challenges, W&L’s partnership with International SOS, a risk management service, provided the expertise that students and staff needed to plan the trips. The service organized security experts to advise professors on travel restrictions before the classes left campus and also provided emergency advice to travelers while they were abroad.

“International SOS is such a powerful risk management tool. It really lets people take control of their travel experience,” summarized Murphy.

With this meticulous planning, W&L students could once again enjoy the benefits of studying abroad. And, with the unique four-week model, students could immerse themselves in a new culture without the fear of committing to a full semester abroad. 

“Because it’s such a short amount of time, you are forced to absorb everything,” said Haile, “You’re pushed to be outside of your comfort zone, but those four weeks allow you to learn faster.”

Overall, Murphy thinks that this design of STA allows it to act as a “springboard” for many students, giving them the confidence to travel, make new connections, and plan for more opportunities abroad. 

Dennie agreed, saying that students who study abroad not only gain new friendships but also gain the skills necessary to arrive at important conclusions by synthesizing observations and excursions with lectures and discussions.

“It is really valuable to study abroad to get exposure to new ideas and to a new culture,” said Dennie.