Women's Liberal Arts College Allows Students to Travel Globally as Part of First-Year Course

At Agnes Scott College, first-year students are given the opportunity to take their first step into becoming global citizens through its Global Journeys program.Students visit Sabal’s Cassava Farm in Belize in March 2022Students visit Sabal’s Cassava Farm in Belize in March 2022

“Our student demographic is one of the most diverse student demographics in the country,” said Dr. Gundolf Graml, associate VP for academic affairs, dean for curriculum and strategic initiatives, and professor of German. “Over 60% of our students are students of color. Over 40% are Pell Grant-eligible. Many of our students are first-generation students. Many of them have not really traveled widely or experienced an intentional global perspective.”

The program – now in its eighth year and is open to all undergraduate first-year students – offers approximately 15 different courses every spring semester under the program umbrella, said Graml, who directs Agnes Scott’s Center for Global Learning.

The courses take on average about 18-20 students each. Global Journeys is required for all students and is a graduation requirement, Grami said.

Notably, each of those courses takes a week out of the semester – often in March – to allow the private women's liberal arts college’s students to travel to destinations associated with their respective course, at no additional cost.

“We have a core/general education curriculum that emphasizes global learning and leadership development,” Graml said. “The phrase 'global learning' is not necessarily synonymous with international learning, but it focuses on enabling our students to recognize the global patterns and systems that we live in, work in, play in on a daily basis, from the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the means of transportation we use. Many of these things would not be possible without global connections of where these things are produced, who organizes them."

Such destinations range from domestic locations such as the Navajo Nation, Alaska, New York City, New Orleans, to international ones such as Iceland, Paris, Milan, Croatia, Ghana, Morocco, and the Caribbean.

Dr. Gundolf GramlDr. Gundolf GramlOne of the courses for example, focuses on fashion, which takes students to Paris or Milan, Graml said. The course introduces students to fashion houses, design, production, sales, but also educates them about the practices of cultural exploitation and sweatshops, he said.

Last Spring, sophomore Ty Kakkad took a Global Journeys course about cultural identities before and after colonization, which took her to Belize.

“I had a great time in the program,” Kakkad said. “Beforehand, we basically got to look through the history of Belize as a country and the history of all of the cultural and ethnic groups that make up the big, diverse population of Belize. We dove deeper into a couple of those ethnic groups. And we also, during the trip, got to go meet people who identify with those groups, and we got to learn firsthand about them and about their history and how they live today as modern Belize as well as how they coexist in those groups in the small country."

Another sophomore, Tallulah Selhorst, took one on identity and globalization, for which she traveled to Bulgaria.

“The travel portion is incredible, no matter where you go,” Selhorst said. “But also to have the added experience of going there through a specific lens of education is so cool. ... You're not a tourist. And even though you can go to tourist destinations, you have context about what this monument meant, what it means now, how it changed, and how it's looked at through history."

The program also makes an active effort to implement decolonization and anti-imperialist thought into their offerings, Graml said.

“We very intentionally try to avoid reaffirming traditional, imperial, or colonialist power structures, where students might go to the Global North and say, 'Oh yes, great achievements in history, architecture, culture, economy,' and to the Global South and say: 'Hm, not quite there yet. There still needs to be some work done and here we come, representatives of U.S. American educational institutions, and bring some improvement.' That's what we want to avoid,” Graml said. “We want to understand that what you see in the Global South and North, those developments are connected, and they're connected through power structures. And in order to understand and maybe change these power structures, it needs a critical approach to global learning."

One such course, “Decolonizing Conservation,” takes students to Alaska, Graml said, where they study ecology and conservation while keeping in mind the colonialist perspectives involved. The course questions normative understandings of conservation that have ignored or overlooked information that Indigenous peoples contribute, Graml said.

While the courses are meant to be enjoyable, their focus is on helping students develop intercultural competency.

"We really see it as an important steppingstone in what we really want to achieve for our students, namely the cultural agility that is relevant for their professional success,” Graml said. “The ability to live and work in different cultural spaces to work with people from different backgrounds is one of the most important career skills that our students can achieve. And as a liberal arts college, we know we have a great academic curriculum. But we also want to go the extra mile in providing our students with those skills, with interacting with people from different cultural communities, different political environments.”