This past weekend, the university saw a blur of students and professors rushing back into the Oxford city limits, thus ending their winter vacations and settling back in for a new semester, as is the late January custom at Miami. But for members of the Miami community that traveled for a J-term study away program, this transition was particularly stressful.
Daniele Fioretti, an Italian professor who spent J-term traveling to his home country of Italy with students, said that he usually tries to prepare his syllabi for spring semester ahead of time, but to no avail.
“The days before the semester starts are always very hectic,” he admitted.
But Fioretti believes that the student benefits are worth it.
“Traveling abroad is a very important experience for a student,” Fioretti said. “We are living in a world that is more and more global and interconnected, so having first-hand experience of a different culture helps to view one’s own culture in a different way.”
Theatre professor Lewis Magruder feels the same way. Magruder took a group of theatre majors and non-majors to London for an immersive program in which they studied various aspects of the theatre world.
“For me, the benefits are being part of creating and leading something that enlarges students’ understanding of theatre, the world and, ultimately, themselves,” said Magruder. “Each time I have run the program, I have seen how students engage so fully and passionately with theatre that is so very well produced and performed for a supportive, theater-going public. Watching students engage in this way, I can see their horizons expand quite a bit over just three short weeks.”
According to Fioretti, Miami University began offering study abroad J-term programs in the winter of 2014.
“I was already working in the summer study abroad program, so I thought this was an opportunity to give students the chance to study abroad in Florence in winter as well,” said Fioretti, a Florence native. “The idea of having students study and appreciate my hometown makes me very proud and I am happy to share with students what I know about living in Italy. I am proud of my culture and my heritage, and I am happy to help students to know more about Italian culture in a non-touristy way.”
The amount of work and immersion that these various J-term experiences provide for students is quite impressive. For Magruder’s London Theatre Program, students watched and analyzed seven performances within their three weeks abroad, on top of other coursework.
David Shrider, a professor for the Farmer School of Business, got back from New York the Friday night before classes after his second year of the Wall Street Walk program.
The program started off as a simple one-week field trip to New York City, but in the last two years has transformed into an intense course geared toward the best and brightest business students.
“We had an existing Wall Street program before that was not a class,” Shrider said. “They just went to New York for one week, did the field trip, weren’t responsible for anything and didn’t have any assignments. So we kinda saw that over time students were not necessarily engaged and there was no way to hold them accountable. And so we decided to make it part of a class, a longer class where we had time in Oxford and then the culminating week was this Wall Street week experience in New York.”
The class now entails forming teams, picking a stock, performing an analysis and then creating a pitch that the students present for a multitude of audiences, including Citibank and Bank of America on Wall Street.
Marketing major Will Hoff spent his J-term under similar pressures while in Disney World, where he learned that the life of a marketer is not at all what he expected.
The program at Disney provides intensive training on leadership, customer experience, management and marketing strategies.
“Running a service audit is nothing like I expected to be,” he said. “There are lots of aspects of service marketing that you take for granted.”
Debbie Coleman, the leader behind the Disney World program, said that this is exactly what the experience is aiming to prove.
“Students see Disney Parks and Resorts from a new perspective,” she said. “Rather than personally enjoying the outcomes of surprise and delight, students study how that magic is created: They observe and audit things like optimization, capacity, queuing, compatibility management, etc. It should be clear by now — this is no Mickey Mouse course.”
The topics covered in Coleman’s Disney program can be applied to a multitude of majors. Megan Neiheisel, a sports leadership and management major, participated in the Disney World study away program to see how their marketing techniques can be applied to services in the sports industry.
“While I am not interested in applying to the Disney College Program, I am interested in working in sports marketing and brand marketing,” Neiheisel said. “Disney does a phenomenal job of selling its brand to its customers. Disney is a leader in its industry and there were many things that I learned while on the program that I can apply to whatever career I may have in the future.”
The benefits and success of the J-term study away programs can be seen by how comfortable students can get in a new environment in such a short amount of time.
“What I like the most is to see students adjust to Florence and to Italian culture,” Fioretti says. “I am very proud when they say that they consider Florence as their second home.”
Like Fioretti, Shrider also finds that the moments of pride in his students are what keeps him coming back to teach during these winter weeks.
“It’s the final pitches, the final presentation that they do,” he said. “Seeing the idea come from something that maybe wasn’t so perfect at the beginning, and now you watch the winning team present and they go flawlessly through their entire presentation, answering questions that you know two weeks ago they did not know the answers to and now they’ve got it down cold. It’s really fun to see that transformation.”
As for the stress of coming back, Magruder admits that tensions might be high among students, but for a different reason than one might think.
“Coming back to the spring semester is a challenge, no doubt; there’s little time to adjust,” he says. “But, perhaps the hardest aspect in coming back is the let-down of not being in London anymore!”
*Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Daniele Fioretti as a female.