Global

From country to country, from app to app: students connect from abroad

Jessica Hallstrom
Co-Global Editor

There will soon be a new interactive component to the Goucher College study abroad requirement designed to help students benefit even more from their time abroad.  This semester, a handful of students studying abroad are participating in a pilot program – The Pocket Anthropologist – an app designed by Dr. Robert Blikoff of Goucher College’s anthropology department.
The app functions almost as a communal blog, where students write (for credit) about their adventures studying abroad.  Students are given assignments, which help them structure their posts and divide them into three categories.  The first category is related to everyday life in their host country – students post about the new culture they encounter while abroad. The second category is to document when the students experience a “blow your mind” moment – one where they notice something very different about their host culture that gives them an insight into the country’s culture or makes them question their identity as a citizen of the United States. The third category is comprised of “Culture Treks,” where students explore their host countries’ culture as it relates to specific topics assigned by Blinkoff.
Spring 2014 is the first semester a large group of students will be using the app for credit while studying abroad. They are participating in a test run of the program, which is projected to lead to the use of the Pocket Anthropologist as a required part of the study abroad experience, in fall of 2014.
Blinkoff originally conceived of the idea for the app as a way to take advantage of the fact that students are constantly on their phones.  The goal of the Pocket Anthropoligist is to make students more conscious of the cultural implications of their experiences living in a different country.
“I wanted students to have in their mind that they’re being … mindful all the time of what they’re learning about the culture and see it through that [the sociological/anthropological] perspective,” Blinkoff said.
The Pocket Anthropologist will function not just as a way to assist students in assessing their new cultural surroundings, but also as a way of forming a community for students during studying abroad.  Students enrolled in the pilot program can see one another’s posts and comment on them, thus forming a connection with one another.
The app will also benefit students who are not studying abroad.  This semester, a sociology seminar taught by Dr. Jamie Mullaney will utilize some of the students’ posts in a final project in order to gain a cross-cultural perspective of certain topics.  This is a trial program in itself, as Blinkoff hopes that once the Pocket Anthropologist is required, other departments will use the student-generated information to make inter-cultural connections.
Only students enrolled in the program have access to the Pocket Anthropologist app, but there are plans to involve the Goucher community through presentations once or twice a semester. The work done by the students would be presented to give those not studying abroad an idea of what their peers have been working on and what their experiences have been like.  It will also serve to inspire those students who have not yet studied abroad to consider a wider range of host countries.
The Pocket Anthropologist will soon begin transforming the way Goucher students appreciate the time they spend abroad.
“This can really be something that just infuses the culture around here,” said Blinkoff.  “Not everybody just automatically has a transformative experience, so hopefully this helps more students get there.”

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