Transatlantic Exchange in Education at the Secondary, Tertiary, and Graduate Levels during the Twentieth Century

AHA Session 126
Friday, January 3, 2014: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Washington Room 6 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Catherine Plum, Western New England University
Catherine Plum, Western New England University

Session Abstract

Our panel delves into the effects – intended or otherwise – arising from transatlantic study abroad programs in the twentieth century at three different educational levels: high school, undergraduate, and graduate level. While our work collectively questions the designed purpose(s) of study abroad programs for individual students and the societies to which they belong, it also illustrates the complexity of the negotiated readjustments necessary when students return home from overseas experiences with new knowledge, values, and attitudes which may not blend harmoniously with those around them. This apparent disconnect, especially in young people, often causes a thorough questioning of the values and attitudes of the home society and holds the possibility of alienating one from the other. While one part of the educational mission is clearly achieved when a student returns home with broadened perspectives and wider knowledge, the unintended consequences can prove awkward for both individuals (Scribner’s paper) and governments (Contreras) as information asymmetry about other nations is complicated and contested through personal experience. In other cases the readjustment struggles of a few can begin to change a society through their devotion to what they learned elsewhere (Larson). Regardless of the outcomes, disagreement, debate, and discussion sit at the heart of individual and collective negotiations of understanding when students return home after periods of study overseas. Individuals stir discussion by referring to their experiences abroad; they can spark disagreement over the best way forward when established ways come into contact with “foreign” or innovative thinking. Finally, disagreement between individuals can lead to public debate about the suitability of new values, behaviors, and policies for the society as a whole. Our panel therefore responds to the conference theme by exploring the ways in which overseas educational opportunities encourage disagreement, debate, and discussion through individual incremental changes which, over time, can produce substantial changes in the home society. Moreover, by considering the purposes and outcomes of different study abroad programs in the twentieth century, this panel invites debate about how historical analysis of these issues can inform and stimulate discussion about contemporary exchange programs. Thus our audience will not only consist of historians of education and educational policy, our panel may also appeal to current secondary and tertiary education teachers who wish to learn more about how the overseas experience can influence their students who participate in these activities. The panel chairperson and commentator, Catherine Plum, recently edited a book on how youth and other historical actors challenged societal norms through travel and leisure pursuits during the Cold War in some of the same ways the panel’s papers suggest.

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