Date of this Version
Published in Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council Vol. 12, No.1 (Spring/Summer 2011). ISSN 1559-0151
Study abroad constitutes already the kind of enrichment that defines honors education at home. The honors component of instruction at home in the U.S. emerges from the differential between the regular course of instruction and the extension, or rather qualitative enrichment, of the same through various types of added conceptual complexity, scope of detail, depth of inquiry, or level of skill. That honors differential can be tracked visibly and explicitly onto a syllabus in a regular course through highlighted assignments for eligible students; or can be embedded invisibly and implicitly in a designated honors course the syllabus for which makes it distinct from both a regular course on the same or related topic and from an advanced departmental course. In study abroad, the honors differential is, likewise, invisibly and implicitly present already by virtue of the changed cultural context of instruction and daily life. Study abroad galvanizes at the forefront of student consciousness what Lionel Trilling once called a “culture’s hum and buzz of implication” (206) or the dense imbrications of background cultural assumptions that, literally, go without saying in one’s familiar home culture. Study abroad constitutes, in effect, an honors experience for one and all and marks for most students their first and most profound direct encounter with another culture and indirectly with their own. Students experience and gain a new level of comparative cultural consciousness and sophistication.
Honors credit for honors students studying abroad, then, has to capture the honors differential that is already there, make it explicit, and raise it to consciousness in order to reveal its implications. A journal or blog of reflections on cultural differences provides the best opportunity to register the nuances of experience that depart from the familiar. However, the journal cannot remain simply a chronicle of one’s activities abroad; rather, the annotation of experiences comprises the basic structure onto which the student tracks her/his reflections on cultural difference. The day-to-day chronicle is therefore the necessary foundation for the sort of meta-cognition or higherlevel reflection that defines honors but is itself not honors work. In order to help the student articulate and maintain that higher level of self-reflection on cultural difference in different contexts, the Hofstra University Honors College (HUHC) requires the elaboration in advance (under advisement) of ten categories of culture, adapted to the student’s interests, area of study, and planned activities. Generally, the categories are based in part on traditional disciplines at the university that also define, abstractly and inevitably, dimensions of the student’s experience such as transportation, food, economics, history, language, art forms, politics, geography, and urban planning. Such categories help the student extend and generalize from a discrete, local, and personal incident or observation to more far-reaching considerations about a culture.