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Program to offer cultural, linguistic immersion year

A pilot program will offer students the chance to divide their time between Durham and a foreign country, blend classroom learning with civic engagement and gain advanced proficiency in a new language—all in the span of one year.

In the 2011-2012 academic year, Duke INtense Global will launch immersive linguistic and cultural programs in Russia and India, each with about five to 10 students. Program representatives are targeting sophomores, but other students are encouraged to apply. Applications are due Jan. 30.

Although students will only spend parts of the year abroad, they will be engaged in the cultural and linguistic questions surrounding their country of study at Duke as well, lending their studies greater depth and continuity, the program’s faculty say.

“The goal is not to allow civic engagement and study abroad to acquire the quality of a distant, disconnected dream by the time of graduation but, instead, to foster a sense of interrelatedness between the there and the here, the global and the local,” said Leela Prasad, associate professor of religion and faculty director of the Duke Center for Civic Engagement, who will lead DIG in India. “This experience could provide for a transformative awareness of the world that a student so needs today.”

Professor Edna Andrews, who proposed DIG, said the program is a natural conclusion in Duke’s heightened focus on internationalization.

“This is an outcome of all of the hard work we’ve been putting in over the years,” said Andrews, who is a professor of linguistics and cultural anthropology. “DIG is the next step. It just fell out of what we already do.”

Administrators will watch DIG closely in its first year and may expand the program to other parts of the world, said Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education. A global health program at the University’s upcoming site in Kunshan, China, for example, is under consideration.

“As faculty have learned about this idea, a whole bunch of suggestions about possible Duke INtense Global experiences have started to come forward,” he said. “These are all in the early discussion phase... but I’m delighted to see that more ideas are emerging.”

Airfare and all other program expenses will be covered by students’ tuition, room and board. The University will pay the difference, at a total cost “in the order of tens of thousands of dollars,” Nowicki said.

“This is what I would call priming the pump. I want to get faculty who are interested and Duke students who are willing to give it a try,” Nowicki said. “I think that it’s important to invest in experiments. I’m an experimental biologist—if you don’t try experiments, you’ll never figure out anything.”

Students in the Russian program will start the Fall semester at Duke before traveling to Russia for three to four weeks of study at St. Petersburg University in late October or early November. After spending the Spring semester in Durham, students will complete the first summer session in St. Petersburg and participate in DukeEngage.

Andrews thinks the first trip will prime students for their second trip to Russia over the summer for two and a half months, enabling them to make the most of their time in the country.

“A lot of kids would be better off if they had a preview, if they could go when the stakes weren’t so high,” she said. “You can’t overestimate the identity crisis that people have when they go abroad. The protective mechanisms make learning more complicated. Language learning is very tied to psychological state—you have to be in the right place in your own mind.”

Students in the Indian program will begin the Fall semester and conclude the Spring semester at Duke but will study in Hyderabad, India for five months in between. While in India, students will study at the University of Hyderabad and the International Institute of Information Technology-Hyderabad, teach underprivileged children in Hyderabad, study community media projects in central Indian villages and travel throughout the country. Planned excursions include visits to a Gandhi ashram in western India, the Taj Mahal and Corbett National Park—one of the world’s most famous tiger parks.

“[The program] gives students the opportunity to understand in-depth and first-hand some of the workings of the world’s largest democracy, which has great challenges and great potential, and indeed great relevance to issues facing the world,” Prasad said. “It is for a student who not only wants to learn immersively about India and its increasing importance in the world, but wants to cultivate a global intelligence and versatility that will together allow him or her to work anywhere in the world.”

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