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Making a Case for the Artist Abroad

Inspiration for CFA students


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“I think we need opportunities to disorient ourselves—to see things from a different perspective.”

So says painter Emily Manning-Mingle (CFA’09,’10), who chose to leave the familiarity of Boston during her junior year to study in Italy. It’s why she often set out to wander the labyrinthine streets of Venice during her spring semester there. It’s also why she decided to extend her stay in Italy for an extra month, volunteering at an organic farm in rural Tuscany.

“I wanted to live with a family and experience that part of the culture,” she says, “and I was up for manual labor.”

Wide exposure. Broad perspective. It’s what a liberal arts education is all about. And in today’s increasingly global world, considering yourself truly educated means expanding your perspective beyond the boundaries of your own country and customs. That’s why BU makes it easy for students to gain international experience—why the International Programs office makes it possible for students to choose from more than 75 programs in 25 countries around the world, and why BU actively recruits international students and professors to bring outside viewpoints to the classrooms along Comm. Ave. Last year more than 1,700 BU students studied abroad, and more than 40 percent have studied abroad by the time they graduate.

Nowhere is this global perspective more important than at the College of Fine Arts, where students are preparing to create works of art they hope will reach and inspire audiences the world over.

Semesters abroad
During Manning-Mingle’s semester in Venice, she studied 16th-century master Tintoretto—not by reading about him in a textbook, but by gazing at his massive paintings on the ceilings of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. And Michael Moran (CFA’09), midway through his semester at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), was able to travel to Stratford-upon-Avon with his acting classmates to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform the entire canon of Shakespeare’s history plays.

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For several months of her junior year, trumpet player Laura Carpenter (CFA’10) (above) spent her days playing classical music at London’s Royal College of Music and her evenings practicing and performing with a local pub band called Stanley.

Despite its myriad cultural offerings, Boston cannot provide these opportunities, which is why CFA has created full study abroad semesters to coordinate with each of its undergraduate programs. In addition to the studio arts program in Venice, the School of Visual Arts offers a landscape painting program in Tuscany and a graphic design internship program in London. The School of Theatre has established conservatory-style studio programs at LAMDA and at the Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy. Musicians can choose a semester at the Royal College of Music or join their theater classmates for a semester in Arezzo. Students also have a range of overseas internship possibilities to choose from—working for theater companies in Australia, design firms in New Zealand, and art galleries in London and Paris.

Undergraduates usually study abroad during junior year, which is perfect timing, says Paolo DiFabio, School of Theatre assistant director. By the time they’re juniors, he says, most students have settled into a comfort zone at BU, and studying abroad gives them a chance to break out of it. Having this “out-of-Boston” experience also gives them time to reflect on all they’ve learned up to that point, he says, and they return to Boston energized and full of “very rich and fertile ideas” for their senior projects.

Another benefit of study abroad, according to Jeannette Guillemin, assistant director of the School of Visual Arts, is how quickly students mature while they’re away. “They gain new confidence in their ability to adapt to another culture,” she says, “to travel, to problem solve, to manage money, to live on their own—and it all happens in a very power-packed way.” Moran’s semester in London—and the volunteer work he did in Zambia between sophomore and junior years—taught him to live on his own and gave him valuable experience dealing with uncertainty. “What happens when you go to those places,” he says, “is you literally get on the plane, and you don’t know what’s going to happen when you land.” So when you step off the plane, “you have to be present and deal with what happens to you moment to moment.” Moran is now building a career as an actor, which is not unlike boarding a flight to Zambia, he says. It’s scary and unpredictable, but he can press ahead partly because his time abroad taught him to trust in his ability to face the unknown.

Grad students go, too
CFA’s study abroad programs were designed specifically for undergraduates, but the graduate population isn’t left out. Many graphic design grad students take advantage of the London internship program; the School of Theatre is planning to take grad students to the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space this summer; and John Walker a CFA professor of art, invites MFA candidates to join him on an international excursion during spring break each year.

Walker took his graduate students to China last year, where they attended the opening of an exhibition of his work at Tsinghua University in Beijing. They also explored the Forbidden City (a former imperial palace that now houses the Palace Museum), took in the terra-cotta warriors in Xian, walked on the Great Wall, and visited the studios of several prominent Chinese painters who are friends of Walker’s.

In 2009, Walker and his students visited Mexico City. This year he’s planning a trip to Madrid, where his students will be welcomed by another friend of his, the director of the Museo del Prado, one of Europe’s most impressive art museums.

Walker says the purpose of these spring break trips is to educate his students in great cultures. “I do believe educated artists are the best artists,” he says.

Experiencing the world—in Boston
Oboist Alicia Maloney (CFA’11,’12) is getting a fair dose of international exposure even though she decided against spending part of her junior year at the Royal College of Music, feeling that the British style of playing the oboe is so different from the American style. The Massachusetts native has taken classes at CFA from several foreign-born professors and from American professors who spent parts of their careers abroad. She’s also surrounded by fellow students who come to BU from all corners of the world.

“Within my studio, there are only seven of us, and three of the students are international,” she says. Just visiting the student lounge on CFA’s ground floor—adjacent to the new music practice studios—is a multicultural experience, she says. “English is not necessarily the primary language being spoken there.”

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BU, with more than 5,000 foreign students enrolled each year, is among the most international universities in the United States. International students make up more than 10 percent of the CFA student body, among them Chinese, Korean, and Taiwanese students, as well as students from South Africa, Kuwait, Spain, Russia, and Brazil, to name a few.

These students experience a rich cultural immersion in Boston, “but American students also benefit from the great diversity that exists in this school,” says Shaun Ramsay, School of Music assistant director, who recently traveled to Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore to audition prospective students. Playing and taking classes with musicians from other countries “is part of the learning experience,” for School of Music students, he says. “It’s a cultural and communication learning experience, as well as musical.”

For Maloney, who plans to teach after graduation, interacting with her international peers has been invaluable. Showing Korean classmates how to make American-style oboe reeds has helped hone her teaching skills and talking with students from various countries has made her aware of the Americanisms in her speech—something she knows she’ll have to watch out for when she takes on international students someday. And thanks to the cultural mixing that happens all across BU’s campus, she says, “we just have a general open-mindedness at this school, which is essential to life.”

Such a perspective is bound to serve Maloney and her classmates well as they build careers in an increasingly global society. It’s one of the many benefits of attending a university whose reach extends not just throughout Boston, but throughout the world.

Read more BU Abroad stories.

The deadline to apply for study abroad in fall 2011 is March 15. The application can be started on the International Programs website.

Corinne Steinbrenner can be reached at cks@bu.edu. Devin Hahn can be reached at dhahn@bu.edu.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of Esprit.

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