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Immersion and Study Abroad

Students in a small research boat with snowy hills in background

Immersion Vanderbilt allows students to pursue their passions through intensive learning experiences in and beyond the classroom. On its own or combined with other experiences, study abroad is a centerpiece of many students’ Immersion Vanderbilt plans. This page will help you start thinking about the options available and guide you toward taking the next step in your planning process.

An Immersion plan is built out of intentional experiences, and there are many different types of experience to be had abroad. Depending on your destination, you might do an internship, engage in research, take classes not available at Vanderbilt, volunteer with a local community organization, participate in sports, visit art collections, experience new cuisines or local music—and much more.

We’ve identified three main routes to building a study abroad–based Immersion plan:

Categories of Study Abroad Immersion
Self-Contained Study Abroad Immersion

Attend an abroad program whose design allows you to complete all or most Immersion experiences as well as complete a final project that is supervised or co-supervised by faculty—all within the timespan of the program.

Departmental Study Abroad Immersion

Follow a plan established by a Vanderbilt department for completing Immersion. In addition to an experience abroad, your plan will likely include Immersion experiences from Vanderbilt coursework, Maymesters abroad, i-Seminars, or other sources.

Independent Study Abroad Immersion

Work with a VU faculty mentor to design your own, individualized Immersion plan that incorporates experience abroad. Your plan will likely include other Immersion experiences, and your final project will probably be completed at Vanderbilt.

What Next?

There are a few avenues you can explore to find out more:

Get More Examples. We’ve put together some in-depth examples of the different ways you can incorporate study abroad into your Immersion plans. Scroll down to check those out. Or, download a flowchart exploring the three categories of study abroad Immersion in more depth.

Learn More About Study Abroad Options. If you would like to talk through study abroad options, explore your interests and how they might connect to an abroad program, or discuss overseas study in general, contact one of our Global Education Office staff advisors. You can also read more about about study abroad on our Getting Started page.

Learn More About Immersion Vanderbilt. If you would like to better understand what Immersion Vanderbilt is, what your basic requirements are, how to find a faculty advisor, or how to file an Immersion plan, contact the Office of Immersion Resources.

In-Depth Examples
Self-Contained Study Abroad Immersion

Roberta is interested in popular music, and is particularly interested in how music can be a force for social change. After talking with a GEO adviser about study abroad options, Roberta becomes very interested in a program in Senegal that focuses on African hip-hop.

This semester-long abroad program includes all of the elements needed to satisfy Immersion requirements. It has significant coursework on focused themes. It also includes a significant amount of experiential learning, offering the opportunity to engage and perform with hip-hop artists, activists, and other cultural movers-and-shakers in Senegal. Finally, every student spends the final month of the program working on individual research mentored by a local, on-site faculty adviser.

Having identified her study abroad program, Roberta then develops her Immersion plan with the help of one of her college’s designated Immersion Coordinators. Here are the highlights of her plan:

Immersion Question: How are African artists and fan cultures using hip-hop as a vehicle to raise consciousness about the effects of globalization and inequality?

Immersion Experiences:

  1. In Senegal, she will take a course on African hip-hop. This course is highly experiential and will allow her to engage with and learn from hip-hop artists, arts organizations, activists, and more.
  2. Roberta will also take a course in Senegal to ground her theoretically in thinking about African identities.
  3. She will live with a local family in Dakar, enabling her to see and participate in local culture and daily life.
  4. To ensure that she is prepared to gather data for her project and has an appropriate ethical frame, she takes her program’s Research Methods and Ethics course.
  5. Roberta will carry out interviews and other data-gathering independently for approximately three to four weeks.

Immersion Project: Roberta will write a paper of significant length (20–40 pages) based in her research and experiences, and present her results to her study abroad cohort.

Complications: Not every Immersion project turns out as originally expected. Once she is on the ground in Senegal, Roberta becomes very interested in the female hip-hop artists she meets and studies. Her abroad program has a window of time for students to declare their topics, and during this window she works with the program to find an appropriate local faculty adviser for her new topic. She also files an amended Immersion plan with Vanderbilt, with a new focus on female artists and the role of hip-hop in their expression of identity and critique of social structures.

Note: While Roberta included only experiences from her time abroad in her Immersion plan, she could also have included preparatory work at Vanderbilt in her plan. For example, before departing for Africa, she might take a course such as AADS 3178: Colonialism and After to build a foundation for understanding the post-colonial historical context she will encounter in Africa.

Departmental Study Abroad Immersion

Students and family eating dinner

Tom is a first-year student who has really been enjoying his introductory Italian courses and wants to take his studies further. He is exploring the Immersion Opportunities Database when he comes across an opportunity offered by Vanderbilt’s Italian language faculty that centers around study abroad in Siena, Italy.

This semester-plus Immersion blueprint is built around the CET study abroad program in Siena, Italy, a program that allows students to immerse themselves in the Italian language. Vanderbilt’s Italian faculty facilitate students’ reflection on what they’ve learned both during the program and after their return.

Tom contacts his Italian instructor and she agrees to serve as his faculty mentor for this Immersion opportunity. Together they finalize his Immersion plan, following the departmental outline. At the same time, Tom meets with the Global Education Office to learn more about studying abroad in Italy, and looks at his four-year plan with his academic adviser. Tom is planning to major in Economics, but he arranges his four-year plan so that he can dedicate his semester abroad to Italian. Tom will go abroad in the fall of his junior year, with four semesters of language instruction under his belt.

Here are the highlights of Tom's Immersion Vanderbilt plan:

Immersion Question: What are the critical elements in learning Italian language and culture?

Immersion Experiences:

  1. Tom’s sophomore-year Italian coursework at Vanderbilt lays the groundwork for his Immersion project.
  2. In Siena, Tom will take an intensive Italian course, working through two regular semesters’ worth of instruction in a single semester.
  3. He will live with an Italian student from the University of Siena, giving him the chance to speak Italian daily, and to learn more about Italian culture—but also the chance to share his own culture and learn more about himself in the process.
  4. To get out in the community and interact with a wider range of people, Tom will volunteer three hours each week with a local organization that assists people attending their medical appointments.
  5. To reinforce his learning and self-reflection, Tom will write biweekly journal entries and share them with his faculty mentor at Vanderbilt.

Immersion Project: Tom will write a paper that critically reflects on his language learning process and developing intercultural competencies. He will submit this to his faculty mentor, and make a final presentation to a panel of Italian faculty members.

Complications: Not every Immersion project turns out as originally designed. Perhaps in his sophomore year, Tom gets interested in filmmaking. The Italian faculty’s blueprint for Immersion in Siena is flexible enough that—in consultation with his faculty mentor—Tom might replace the biweekly journaling with a film project that focuses on cross-cultural and cross-linguistic observations, for example.

Or let’s imagine that sophomore Tom discovers a love for history, and he declares his major in Economics & History. At the same, he decides that while he still wants to spend a semester abroad and continue studying Italian, he’d prefer to focus his Immersion project on Italy's post-war economic development. He looks for a faculty mentor with the right expertise (who might come from the Italian faculty, or from Economics or History, or perhaps another department). With his new mentor’s help and in consultation with the Global Education Office, Tom works out a new plan and files it with the Office of Immersion Resources. This new plan looks more like the Independent study abroad Immersion option described above, since it doesn’t rely on a plan with pre-designed elements.

Independent Study Abroad Immersion

Preschool children being read to by college students in a library

Dana is a sophomore. They are interested in early childhood development and want to understand how to help foster the growth of more inclusive, democratic communities through education and policy. They have learned that the Scandinavian countries are known for their social and educational success in producing independent, competent democratic citizens, and become interested in learning more. They start talking with one of their professors.

Dana learns that Scandinavia has also been ethnically and culturally homogenous but only recently began welcoming large numbers of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Dana wonders whether there might be any lessons in Scandinavian struggles with diversity in early childhood education that could help shed a light on potential reforms for the more multicultural US.

Dana visits the Global Education Office and learns that the DIS program in Denmark has a child development program and also offers opportunities to extend learning beyond the classroom. They ask their professor to become their Immersion faculty mentor and begin planning an Immersion project. GEO also helps connect Dana and their faculty mentor with a faculty member at DIS to help with specific plans and guidance. Here are the highlights of Dana’s plan:

Immersion Question: What can US early education reform advocates learn from Danish practices and multicultural integration processes?

Immersion Experiences:

  1. Before departing, Dana ensures they have a good intellectual foundation for the project by taking Vanderbilt courses related to early education and diversity in education.
  2. While in Denmark, Dana enrolls in DIS' child development program and takes a course focused on ethnic diversity and multiculturalism in Danish education and social policy.
  3. To ensure that they have opportunities to see theory in practice, reflect critically, and get hands-on experience, they will also engage in a practicum at a Danish børnehave (preschool), working with 3–6 year olds.
  4. To further deepen their engagement and sharpen their thinking, Dana applies and is accepted as a research assistant on a DIS faculty member’s project on Nordic childhood and education.
  5. After returning to Vanderbilt Dana does additional research prompted by what they have learned and observed in Denmark.

Immersion Project: Dana creates a website highlighting their recommendations for potential reforms in the US.

Complications: Not every Immersion project turns out as originally expected. Perhaps Dana will be inspired by the research they engage in during their research assistantship to pursue a less comparative project, for example. Or perhaps Dana decides that the scope of the original project was just too large. If changes are needed, Dana will consult with their faculty mentor and submit an amended plan through the Office of Immersion Resources.