Q&A with student from first study abroad program
More students are studying abroad than ever before, with 505 currently out of the country. Studying abroad, however, was once not as popular as it is now. The Chronicle’s Sasha Zients sat down with Rev. Martha Ballard, T ’75 and Divinity ’78, who went on the very first Duke-sponsored study abroad trip. Ballard discussed her semester abroad in Vienna in 1973 with Paul Bryan, former conductor of the Duke wind symphony. She discussed how the trip affected her Duke experience.
The Chronicle: Where did you study abroad and what year?
Martha Ballard: I spent the spring semester of 1973—my sophomore year—in Vienna, Austria.... This was before they had actual study abroad programs that you could sign up through Duke. These two faculty members sponsored us and were with us for the semester. Most people in our group were sophomores and juniors, but we may have had a few freshmen.
TC: Why did you decide to study abroad?
MB: When I joined in the wind symphony during the Fall of my sophomore year, I found out about this opportunity. I carefully calculated that I could still complete my major course requirements even with this time away from the campus. The Financial Aid Office offered to apply my tuition remission to my study abroad and so I came to the conclusion that nothing was standing in my way.
TC: How was your experience?
MB: It was a very growing experience. Afterwards, I think I gained a lot of confidence from it. I wouldn’t say it was incredibly easy.... Even getting there was a challenge—our plane was delayed and we all had a hard time getting there. We did a concert tour in the spring and we went to many countries. We went behind the Iron Curtain, and one of our members was not even allowed behind the Iron Curtain at that point and had to go back to Vienna. We were a musical group that studied together and then we did a concert tour together. We went to Hungary, and we also went to Italy. All of our visas had to be in order and it was not an easy process. The travel was very tiring but very rewarding.
TC: What was the set-up of your program in Vienna?
MB: We were sponsored by an agency in Vienna that arranged our concert tours and lodging. Every student in our group took a cultural studies class and we toured museums and sites. We all did that as a group. We also all took a music class with Professor Bryan. We were encouraged to go to as many operas and concerts as we could. We all took a German class based upon our level of the language. I had had German at Duke so I believe I was in the most advanced group—some were beginners. And then, a number of us, including me, took an independent study and that was through Duke faculty back in Durham who advised us on what to focus on.
TC: How do you think your experience is different from today’s study abroad programs?
MB: My daughter did study abroad at King’s College in London through Duke and she took actual classes. We were a self-contained program and the program was designed for our group. We actually had some participants outside of Duke who joined us for the semester. They were able to work out getting credit at their schools. And we actually also had a few people who weren’t in symphony but they were able to work out coursework for the semester. Most of us played instruments but most people didn’t major in music. We did have a few people in our group who ended up being professional musicians.
TC: How did your decision to study abroad affect your major and graduation requirements?
MB: Studying in Vienna didn’t particularly help with my major, so I had to figure out if I could complete my major and my graduation requirements on time, and I could. I would consider the classes I took in Vienna to be electives and that was true for everybody who wasn’t majoring in music.
TC: Was this the only study abroad option that existed at the time?
MB: As far as I know, we were the very first trip. Professor Bryan took a number of groups after us and there may have been a few individual students before us, but we were the first official group, or so I was told at our 30-year reunion.
TC: Are you still in touch with people from your study abroad experience?
MB: Last spring, some of us got together with other symphony graduates to celebrate Professor Bryan’s 93rd birthday and we had a concert for him. We bonded as a group so much that some of my closest Duke friends are from that semester.
TC: Do you have any memories you’d like to share?
MB: Historically, it was a very significant time because the Vietnam War ended when we were there. And I recall the soldiers coming home on the news and not being treated very well, but I wasn’t home. So I missed that whole part of history in that sense. Also, it’s important to remember that the Iron Curtain was very restrictive and Europe was a very different place then. But our experience was incredible over all. Before we went on spring tour on the 23rd of March we played a concert in Vienna, and our posters were all over town.