Study Abroad Office: Who We Are

Janna Behrens, Associate Dean/Director of Education Abroad

Amanda Wright, Assistant Director of Education Abroad


Faculty Committee on International Education

Learning Goals and Study Abroad

What is immersion?

Mission and Vision Statements

Program Affiliations and Consortia

Professional Association Membership


Faculty Committee on International Education

The Committee on International Education is comprised of the following members: Professor Professor Rosalina de la Carrera, chair; Professor Karen Sanchez-Eppler; Professor David Jones; Director of Education Abroad Janna Behrens, ex officio; Registrar, ex officio.  The Committee overseas many aspects of international education at the college.  For example, the Committee reads petitions for non-approved programs, liaises with academic departments on programs appropriate for the Amherst curriculum, and reviews applications to the several summer study abroad fellowships, to name a few.  Please contact the chair or the Director of Education Abroad if you have any questions about the Committee.

Learning Goals and Study Abroad

The core concept at the heart of any study abroad program can be stated succinctly: the encounter with and appreciation of cultural difference. Students will ideally experience this on a daily basis during their time at Amherst in ways that enrich their education, but such encounters overseas are of a qualitatively different kind.  The encounter with difference overseas can have a major impact on a student’s personal and academic development.  The learning goal for study abroad recognizes this:

To make the encounter with and appreciation of cultural difference more impactful on and enriching for a student, on both personal and academic levels.

One important way this can be accomplished is through language study.  Many students go to English-speaking countries.  Even in these cases, students will encounter a different idiom and a different vocabulary, to which they will need to adjust.  In the case of a non-English speaking country, students should study the language of the country for the entire duration of their time on the program.  Many students travel to a country whose language they are already studying at Amherst or within the Five Colleges.  The obvious benefit for such students is that their command of the language increases in dramatic, even measurable ways, while overseas.  Additionally, significant study of the country’s language in advance and continued study of the language after returning to campus will also make the study abroad experience more impactful.  Study abroad can and should be part of a larger trajectory of language study whenever possible.  Many of our students travel to countries whose language is not taught at Amherst or the Five Colleges.  Such students may not have the opportunity to continue their study of the language when they return.  However, even in such cases, the formal study of the host country’s language while abroad will make the encounter with difference more enriching.  A country’s cultural practices and cultural frames of reference are inscribed in, not separate from, its language.  The study of another country’s language is, arguably, the most significant encounter with difference a student will ever experience. 

Another way the study abroad experience can be made more impactful is by being connected to a student’s program of study at Amherst, including both the breadth provided by the liberal arts curriculum, the depth provided by specialization in a major, and a particular research project, such as a senior honors thesis.  A student whose major centers on learning a language will use the study abroad experience as an extension of their major.  But even students in, for example, American Studies, will find their experience in the major cast in a different light by taking courses in the field of American Studies outside the United States.  Scientific fieldwork overseas exposes students to cultural difference while they carry out research with other students and faculty members.  History majors may find the most basic assumptions about the discipline challenged by students and faculty at an overseas institution.  Students in studio arts will not only find new subject matter for their art, but may encounter different notions about the role of the artist in society.  In short, study abroad can enhance and deepen the program of study of a student regardless of major.  Study abroad can also complement the liberal arts experience when students use courses overseas to fulfill their aspirations for academic breadth.

A third way study abroad can be made more impactful is through immersion in the culture of the host country, meaning maximum contact with people outside the tourism industry.  Immersion in a single locale over a substantial period of time is crucial to any study abroad program, because it increases the likelihood of meaningful encounters as part of daily life.  Opportunities for immersion lie in the student’s choice of living arrangements, including homestay, university dormitories, apartments, and other facilities.  Immersion also allows students to participate in clubs, circles, and sports, and other activities.  We endorse study abroad programs that are integrated into the overseas university in significant ways rather than those that exist as islands of U. S. culture separate from the overseas university and the host country’s culture.  A study abroad program that is integrated into the host university exposes students to different pedagogical strategies, different expectations of students, and even different assumptions about how students should learn.  There are an increasing number of study abroad programs that offer a specialized course of study in a particular discipline, but do so using local resources that are often unique to that locale.  These new niche programs admirably fulfill the desire for both immersion and the acquisition of disciplinary knowledge.

Finally, we want to address the issue of a student’s personal growth.  Students overseas become more confident and more independent.  Students come to have a greater self-awareness and an ability to reflect critically on themselves and the culture in which they were raised.  The study abroad experience can allow them to test new identities in the context of a different cultural frame of reference.  We believe that much of a student’s personal growth and development while on a study abroad program can be attributed to the fact that anyone overseas for an extended period of time will, of necessity, confront the challenge of trying to find a position as an insider in the culture of the host country despite their status as an outsider.  Facing such challenges is one end of study abroad.  The negotiation of this complex position has far-reaching implications for a student’s success in later endeavors.

These ideals concern the individual student, and study abroad is a deeply individual experience.  However, the inherent unpredictability and ambiguity of the maturation process abroad gifts us with students who add significantly to classroom and campus conversations.  First-hand experience abroad adds depth to their ideas and how they articulate these ideas.

-Drafted by the faculty Committee on International Education, Fall 2014

What is immersion?

We define immersion as the active participation in a culture markedly different than one’s own, which leads to critical reflection, empathy, and perspective shift.

Program Affiliations and Consortia

Amherst is a member of study abroad consortia and affiliates with several study abroad providers.

Affiliation often means Amherst students have priority admission over non-affiliate schools, our faculty have an opportunity to contribute to program development and academic oversight, and participate in surveys. 

Professional Association Membership

Amherst College and the Director of Education Abroad are active members in the professional associations and networks in international education.  Amherst is a member of the Institute of International Education, NAFSA: Association of International Educators and the Forum on Education Abroad.  These non-profit organizations require annual dues that provide members with access to the latest information, standards, and networks within the field. The Forum is recognized by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission as the standard development organization in education abroad.

Mission and Vision Statements

Study Abroad Mission Statement:

To encourage students to study abroad in countries different than their own and with programs that provide the highest appropriate level of cultural and linguistic integration by making use of local and regional resources both in and outside the classroom. 

Our vision for the future:

  • Encourage students to engage in deep reflection about their study abroad experience in order to deepen awareness of global issues.
  • Prepare students early in their academic career for their study abroad semester or year and work with them upon return to better integrate their experiences into curricular and co-curricular life at Amherst.
  • Develop an efficient and customizable process to guide students in research and decision-making as they select a program.
  • Remove all obstacles for students who are typically underrepresented in study abroad.
  • Enhance the presence of study abroad on campus through continued development of our physical space, study abroad library resources (books, films) and expansion of our visibility online.