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Off-campus study with a major in the arts

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While studying abroad is a valuable experience, it can also make it difficult to graduate on time, finish general education requirements and complete all the necessary classes in your major.

How does this change with an art, dance, music or theater major? Is it more difficult to study abroad with a major in the arts? Is it even possible?

It is absolutely possible, according to dance major Georgia Wagnild ’20, vocal performance major Sally Olmstead ’20, Art Professor John Saurer and theater majors Cait McCluskie ’20 and Claire Chenoweth ’20. All agreed that studying abroad with majors in the visual and performing arts helped their training and the way they view  their art forms.

“Study abroad has enhanced my training,” Olmstead said. “Oftentimes students stick with one private teacher for all four years of college but going abroad means that I have the opportunity to train with another professor and get another perspective.”

Olmstead is spending this semester in Milan, Italy, and found that simply spending a semester in a city with such a rich music culture exposed her to a variety of experiences she wouldn’t receive at St. Olaf. 

Chenoweth also spent her semester off-campus focusing on her training. A theater major, she studied at the National Theater Institute in Connecticut last fall. The next month, she was on the Theater in Russia interim trip.

“These experiences have completely altered my concept of what theater is and what it can do. Maybe most importantly, I saw such different standards of access and availability compared to mainstream American theater,” Chenoweth said.

Wagnild had a similar experience while studying abroad last fall in Oslo, Norway.

“I think the greatest benefit of studying abroad as a dance major is to gain new experiences, whether they are within the of dance or not,” Wagnild said.

Wagnild was able to join a dance club in Oslo that offered ballet, jazz, hip hop and modern classes. She even had the opportunity to perform, helping her grow as a dancer.

It is also possible, however, to study abroad with a major in the arts realm without focusing on training. McCluskie went on Global Semester this past fall – studying abroad helped herthink about new ways to use her theater major.

“While I still want to pursue theatre, I now want to use it as a tool to help people,” McCluskie said. “I plan to do this by building programs for communities that don’t have theatre or arts opportunities and creating relevant theatre that allows for change.”

While she felt out of practice when she returned to campus in January, McCluskie doesn’t regret doing Global Semester. To referred to the experience as one of the greatest of her life.

Saurer fully encourages his students to go abroad at least once in their four years. He estimated at least half of art majors study abroad.

His favorite course to teach is, in fact, an interim study abroad program in New York City. In this program, students meet with artists all over New York City and make connections and learn more about their field post-graduation. The art department also offers study abroad programs in New Mexico, the Bahamas, south Asia and Italy. 

“Art should be transcultural,” Saurer said. “It’s a great way to get out there and see what’s going on. Students come back significantly altered, and it usually finds its way into their artwork.”

anders43@stolaf.edu