Students Get New Study Abroad Adventure—at Home

Boston-New England Experience captures immersion and intensity of overseas study

By Chelsea Feinstein

Adam Sweeting, an associate professor of humanities, leads a class trip to Concord during the Boston-New England Experience’s Summer 1 session. Photo by Chuck Henebry

For this year’s College of General Studies freshmen, the summer semester offered a new opportunity to explore the city many of them were just getting to know.

With the pandemic denying them the chance to study abroad in the CGS Boston-London program, students instead joined the alternative Boston-New England Experience, spending their summer immersed in the culture of New England.

Like the London program, the Boston-New England Experience focuses on social, cultural, and scientific developments in the 19th through 21st centuries and includes learning inside and outside the classroom. For in-person students, that’s meant trips to historical sites, such as Walden Pond, Newport, Rhode Island, and Mt. Auburn Cemetery, as well as architectural walking tours of Boston.

For students opting to do the program remotely, faculty arranged high-profile guest lecturers, virtual performances, and guided online tours of historic sites and museums.

“The condensed, intense nature of the program allows them to dive deeply into subjects and projects and really focus on the connections between the course material and our contemporary world,” says Kathleen Vandenberg, a senior lecturer in rhetoric.

CGS students tour Marble House in Newport, R.I. Photo by Davida Pines

Dean Natalie McKnight says she hopes the program, which was initially developed prior to the pandemic, will continue to be popular with students.

“I hope the program attracts a growing number of students in the coming years. We really need to offer an alternative to London since not every student wants to study abroad in their first year, and some students are already studying abroad by being in the US,” McKnight says. “We need to offer a comparable experience [to the London program] that provides the same amount of credits and the same balance of classroom activities and excursions and guest lectures.”

McKnight hopes spending a summer exploring Boston has helped expose students to a different side of the city, one that many don’t get during their time at BU.

“Students tend to be very busy during the semester and don’t have as much opportunity to explore Boston and the surrounding areas as much as they might like,” she says. “I think students are surprised about how much there is to see and do that was never even on their radar. Even students who grew up nearby experience things they never have before—and perhaps experience some familiar ones in a new way.”