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Beyond the Boundaries:
Transdisciplinary Teaching and Learning

Learning to understand other cultures and navigate the space of difference between them is an inherently transdisciplinary endeavor. It is the daily challenge of students participating in Pitzer’s external studies. And the number of students taking on this challenge will reach its apex in the College’s history with 88 approved to study abroad in Fall 2006 alone. According to U.S.News & World Report, Pitzer is 25th in the top tier of 110 liberal arts schools in the percentage of students studying abroad. Our students walk the intersections of traditional Chinese medicine and Western neuroscience in China, practicing new ways of knowing that do not fit traditional disciplinary or interdisciplinary realms. In Kalimpong, India, they problematize and redefine their notions of poverty, dependency, and progress through bringing to bear knowledge from religion, economics, science, art, and sociology. In resolving a communication difficulty with a Botswanan host brother or grandmother, they learn how to hold the tension of the opposites long enough to understand and apply a judicious blend of values from their home culture and those most common to Motswana in a “third space” between the cultures. (continued)

Pitzer in Darjeeling

On returning to Pitzer, many experiment with how to apply the knowledge and skills of navigating difference they learned abroad in what Basarab Nicolescu calls “the included middle,” by helping others bridge differences that are often harder to negotiate here at home than in the guided space of an external studies program abroad. Martha Nussbaum in a recent edition of Liberal Education, advocated for “an education based on the idea of an inclusive global citizenship and on the possibilities of the compassionate imagination that has the potential to transcend divisions created by distance, cultural difference, and mistrust.” External Studies and our programs of intercultural and language education are intent on facilitating exactly that. Some updates on selected programs:

Pitzer in Brazil: The first team of Pitzer students will accompany Leda Martins, professor of anthropology, to do a semester of interdisciplinary field research in Boa Vista, Brazil near the Guyana border in Fall 2006. They will be working with biologists and anthropologists on environmental issues faced by local Macuxi communities.

Pitzer in Darjeeling: Located in Kalimpong, India, the program is entering its third year of operation in diaspora in this culturally Nepali region. Faculty, staff, and students are rapidly gaining local citizenship and creating strong relationships of trust within Kalimpong and the region. With continuing political tension in Nepal, we anticipate making India home for a while to come.

Pitzer in Costa Rica: The first group of Pitzer students has completed an inaugural semester abroad at the new Firestone Center for Restoration Ecology. They achieved a remarkable level of fluency in Spanish and conducted invaluable research projects on tropical and human ecology that will inform a strategic vision for the Center and its biological field station. Construction of a new Ecology Center and an architecturally distinctive bamboo teaching center and observation tower began in March.

Favorable Exchange Rates: For the first time in our history and because of our new exchange programs, all qualified Pitzer students have the opportunity to study abroad for a semester or entire year. As a result, we are rapidly moving toward having one of the highest percentages of participation in study abroad in the nation. Additional exchange programs will be developed in areas of notable student interest and academic need in West Africa, Arabic-speaking countries, Israel, and key urban centers. New exchanges with the University of Leon in Spain and the University of Valenciennes in France will be ready for external study in 2006-07 and join existing exchange programs in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Japan, Mexico, South Africa and Thailand. This year, international students have come to Pitzer on exchange or through the Bridge Program from Australia, Austria, England, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, México, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey -- enriching the cultural and linguistic diversity of the campus. Student Senate has created the first elected position for an International Student Representative in recognition of the important perspective they bring to campus governance.

Waseda University at Pitzer: Moving into their second semester, the Waseda students from Tokyo have integrated smoothly into the Pitzer community, studying everything from linguistics to Black Studies and alternative medicine. Waseda is developing a model for assessing the learning of its 1,000 students on study abroad in the U.S. and other countries that is based on the empowerment evaluation model used by Pitzer’s External Studies programs.

— Carol Brandt, Vice President, International Programs