Students learn new perspectives while studying abroad

Students in this spring’s Concordia University System study-abroad program take a break from a bike tour of Wittenberg, Germany, including some "off the beaten path" sites. (Courtesy of Renata Mayrhofer)

Students in this spring’s Concordia University System study-abroad program take a break from a bike tour of Wittenberg, Germany, including some “off the beaten path” sites. (Courtesy of Renata Mayrhofer)

By Elizabeth Ahlman

During their spring semester this year, a number of Concordia University System (CUS) students experienced a study-abroad program that included time in Rome and Wittenberg, Germany.

In Wittenberg, the students and their accompanying professor stayed at the Old Latin School managed by the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW) — of which the LCMS is a member. The newly renovated school that houses the International Lutheran Center was dedicated in May 2015 (click here for information about The Wittenberg Project).

The study-abroad experience was organized by the Concordia International Studies Consortium (CISC), made up of eight CUS schools.

Kelly Matthias, director of the Community Action Leadership and Learning Center at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn., explained that the purpose of the consortium is to “send our students on international experiences with our own faculty. It was created in 2008 as an opportunity to provide programs together to add even more value to our existing international programs.”

How the program works

CUS faculty members are asked to provide two courses for the program, from which students can choose one, according to Julie Johnston Hermann, director of Global Opportunities at Concordia University Nebraska (CUNE), in Seward, Neb.

“We ask them to teach courses that would have a wide appeal,” she added, “like World Religions or Intercultural Communication, that could serve as general liberal arts courses or even fit [various degree] programs. … We also look for locations where we can capitalize on the offerings of the host provider.”

The Rev. Dr. Phillip Brandt, professor of Theology at Concordia University Portland, in Portland, Ore., led students on the first part of the semester in Rome where he taught History of Christianity and Renaissance and Reformation.

There, the Consortium worked with Richmond University, which offered J (January)-term courses for the students. In Wittenberg, they worked with the University of Halle and a German-language instructor was contracted.

Concordia University System students studying abroad in Germany this spring enjoy a meal hosted by a group of Syrian refugees after a meeting that gave the students a new perspective on the refugees’ circumstances. (Courtesy of Renata Mayrhofer)

Concordia University System students studying abroad in Germany this spring enjoy a meal hosted by a group of Syrian refugees after a meeting that gave the students a new perspective on the refugees’ circumstances.
(Courtesy of Renata Mayrhofer)

Renata Mayrhofer, professor of business management and chair of the undergraduate business department at Concordia, St. Paul, accompanied the students on the Wittenberg leg, teaching Intercultural Communications and Global Management.

The Consortium works together to provide more opportunities for students because of the importance they place on the ability to study abroad.

“The culture in which we live is an increasingly global culture,” said the Rev. Dr. Paul Philp, director of Institutional Research and Integrity for the CUS. “Regardless of the areas in which graduates will serve and work in the years ahead, there is a high degree of potential that they will interact with the international community in a variety of means. … The experience of learning in another environment serves to enliven their understanding of global interaction. It is to be hoped that this will translate into a more effective skillset in their future endeavors.”

Old Latin School’s ‘benefit’

During their six-week stay in Germany, the CUS students and Professor Mayrhofer stayed at Wittenberg’s Old Latin School, where two floors are dedicated to student housing, along with an apartment for the professor. Also included is a common kitchen for their use.

Use of the Old Latin School “is a benefit to this program,” explained Philp. “The goal at this point is to have the annual spring trip utilize the Wittenberg location every other year.”

Of the accommodations, Mayrhofer remarked that “the professor’s apartment is perfect. I could not ask for more. It’s warm, it’s welcoming, it’s comfortable … I like being on the same floor as the students and knowing they’re happy in their rooms.”

Student Larissa Geyer, a Business and Graphic Design major at CUNE, also noted that the accommodations at the Old Latin School were very nice.

Kristin Lange, managing director for the ILSW, noted that the students cooked lunch together every day in the kitchen and that they made good use of the group room available to them.

Studying in Wittenberg also gives many of the students an opportunity to connect with the history and theology of their Lutheran beliefs.

“Having a dedicated location in the heart of Lutheranism is a unique opportunity that the institutions are pleased to be able to use as part of this program,” Philp said.

Lange also noted, “For the students to have class in the former Wittenberg University, look out upon the City Church each morning from their bedroom, or walk the very steps Martin Luther did down to the Castle Church with his provocative theses, they are living daily life in the exact places where the Reformation was itself formed — where the pure Gospel of being saved by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, on behalf of Christ alone was taught and preached to everyday people.”

“I like the small town,” Geyer said of Wittenberg. “[It is] old and unique.”

Using a scavenger hunt as a way to see more of the sites in the town, the students discovered a Jewish memorial behind St. Mary’s Church (also known as the Stadtkirche) and visited the Castle Church and the Luther House.

The latter was a highlight for Mayrhofer. “The students wrote it down as one of their favorites,” she recalled. “Hearing the history and realizing they are part of it by going to school in the Leucorea where [Luther] taught, staying in the Old Latin School right next to the church he preached in, just felt so tangible.”

Hands-on experiences

Mayrhofer made the most of the format of a study-abroad program by using experiential learning in her courses. She explained, “Instead of making up case studies, I just sent the students out into the town … I sent them out to find small businesses and learn what it’s like to start a business here in Wittenberg. … I could have them read a book, but having them do hands-on is much more powerful.”

The benefits of this type of program are not only in what is learned inside the classroom, Mayrhofer added, but also that “it stretches my thinking; I think it stretches the students’ thinking. It makes me a better teacher to do hands-on experiential teaching.”

“The students’ sense of vocation is changed by having an opportunity of this nature,” said Philp. “And they are able to integrate their experience into their continued learning and service in Church and world.”

Lange said she enjoyed having the group at the Old Latin School and hopes to see more such groups visit.

In addition to the CISC sending a group every other spring, other programs and conferences are also scheduled to make use of the building, including The Hermannsburg Mission Society and the International Lutheran Council (ILC). A few Master’s classes are also planned — with their participants staying at the Old Latin School during what Lange calls “their immersion in a city-wide classroom.”

Deaconess Elizabeth Ahlman ( is communications specialist for the Eurasia Region with the LCMS Office of International Mission.

Posted May 27, 2016

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