Road Trip: Fairfield and Fields of Experiential Education

Internships often find themselves placed alongside other kinds of learning that take place outside of the classroom--study abroad, research, service learning--under the moniker of "experiential learning." There are some problems with that term depending on how you define "experiential," but that might be a discussion for another time. However, the term has stuck, so in higher education we have this motley crew of disparate kinds of learning yoked together in various ways.

I say this because yesterday I represented WII at a Study Abroad Fair at Fairfield University. In many ways, students coming to Washington for our program are having an experience similar to that of students going to Athens or Pretoria: they are often coming to Washington and experiencing living on their own for the first time or in a city for the first time. They are shifting their perspective, which is one of the greatest benefits of studying abroad. Obviously, they're not learning a new language (though perhaps learning jargon in their internships is close) nor are they confronted by completely foreign mores, customs, or foods; that said, I'd say that there are plenty of opportunities to do that in DC, and, as a newcomer myself, I'd say DC has its own unique culture that differs greatly from other American cities. I would argue that many things people want students to gain by studying abroad can be gained in our program--and there's the internship component that transforms it into a sort of "double dip" of experiential learning.


So, with my American flag behind me, I didn't feel completely out of place at the fair, though I did get more than a few quizzical looks from students wondering what the heck I was doing at this fair. Those who didn't want to remind me that DC is actually in the US saw the opportunities presented by our program, and many were interested in doing our program in addition to studying abroad, which, especially for students interested in international relations, makes perfect sense to me. I had a lot of fun at the fair talking with a lot of obviously bright and engaged students--and fun explaining how DC isn't a state, and therefore pretty much qualifies as studying abroad (tenuous logic, but it was fun to try to unravel that pretzel).


I didn't get as much of a chance to see the entire campus as I would have liked, but what I saw was nice, with a ton of trees populating campus and some nice artwork. It also seemed like a really active campus when I was walking around; that is, even when it was during class time, there were a lot of students walking around and lots of great public spaces for them to hang out in. Having a campus that feels alive is important and not accidental, and it was nice to see that there had been some thought put into that.