Globalizing Liberal Education: Study Abroad and the European History Class

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 22–23, 2013

University of Miami
Miami, Florida

This presentation asked the question: “Is Europe and the European history class relevant for our students in the 21st Century college curriculum?” European Studies remains important for liberal education in the 21st century in two respects. First, Europe and the USA share political and cultural values fundamental to liberal education. Second, the USA and Europe have very strong financial ties that are crucial for the well-being of both blocks. If Europe is an important political, financial, and cultural area worth studying, then how can we revitalize European studies, and reestablish its place within liberal education in the 21st century? Reemphasizing study-abroad options in Europe is one way to revitalize liberal education in the 21st century.

Students at our institution are usually first generation college students who work full-time jobs. We know that for their future careers, our students need to study China and Asia. Asia, China, and India are important economic and political powers, and will wield vast amounts of economic and political power in the future. Students should have knowledge of these nations and cultures, and studies of these areas are built into the general education requirements at SUNY. How important should European studies be at such an institution? What knowledge of Europe do our students bring to the classroom? A survey of our students in typical introductory Western Civilization classes revealed that about twenty-two percent of our students had visited Europe at least once. Therefore, some of our students have first hand knowledge of Europe. The question then is how to expose the other seventy-eight percent of students to the wider world, including Europe, in the curriculum.

Our institution offers several study-abroad opportunities for our students. For example, Farmingdale State College is very active in the national Fulbright program. In the overall count of Fulbright grants received by students at the thirty-one SUNY four-year and graduate institutions during the period 2010-2012, Farmingdale State College tied with the University Center at Albany for fourth place; only the University Centers at Stony Brook, Buffalo, and Binghamton had more Fulbright winners. Farmingdale College received its fourth and fifth Fulbright winners in 2013: one student to work at the university level in Argentina, and another at the K-12 level in Thailand.

Farmingdale Fulbright applications to Europe have held relatively steady over the last five years. 2009 = 42%; 2010 = 50%; 2011 = 61%; 2012 = 40%. On average, usually around forty-five percent of Farmingdale students applying for study abroad via the Fulbright program select European destinations. Other Fulbright destinations chosen by our students include:

Latin America2009 = 02010 = 02011 = 02012 = 2
Canada2009 = 12010 = 02011 = 12012 = 0
Africa2009 = 12010 = 02011 = 12012 = 0
Asia & China2009 = 12010 = 32011 = 12012 = 3

European countries popular with our students (2009 – 2012) included Italy (2), Estonia (2), Greece (1), France (1), Netherlands (1), Spain (1),Germany (2), Poland (1), UK (4), Denmark (1), Finland (3), Switzerland (1)

How does all of this compare with US students generally? For US students overall, of the top twenty-five destinations requested for study abroad 2009/10 – 2010/11 ten destinations were in Western Europe.1 Ten out of twenty-five destinations included European countries, about forty percent. Farmingdale students are not unusual in their choice of study abroad destinations. Our students identify Europe as a place important for study. Farmingdale applications to and interest in Asia has steadily increased over the past few years. However, Western Europe continues to be the most requested study abroad destination for our students.

Farmingdale State College also sponsors a summer program in Florence, Italy (affiliated with the Florence University of Arts – FUA). Students can earn six credits during a three-week summer session. One course is taught by a Farmingdale instructor and a second course selected from a wide range of courses in almost all majors offered by the Florence University of the Arts. All courses are taught in English. Forty-five Farmingdale students have studied in Florence over the past three academic years. Horticulture, astronomy, sociology, business, art, sports management and psychology have been some of the most popular courses of study. These four week courses provide students with a hands-on experience of European and Italian culture. Farmingdale’s Florence Program remains very popular with students and faculty alike. Part of the attraction is the wide variety of courses offered each summer.

Institute of International Education “Open Doors” figures indicate that 149, 663 students sought to study abroad somewhere in Europe in 2010-2011 (an increase of 3.3%). 14, 596 students went to China as study-abroad students in the same period (4.9% increase). Overall, 32,081 students studied in Asia, a decrease of 0.8%. Though applications to China are increasing, Europe remains as important as China and India for study-abroad options.2 Therefore, our students know that an understanding of European history and culture is important for their future careers.

European political and cultural values are similar to the USA: Europe is not that “foreign” for our students, just different: our students should be exposed to these differences through study-abroad if possible, but in the classroom as well. Study in Europe will reinforce the freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech and ideas that may not be experienced in other parts of the globe. In an increasingly global world, American universities have expanded study-abroad options in non-Western parts of the world, even opening satellite campuses in countries such as China, Asia, and the Middle East. However, many of these satellite campuses are in countries whose approach to academic freedoms and intellectual inquiry differs substantially from those of the West.3 By studying in Europe, American students are also examining their intellectual heritage, the heritage of the West.

Mutual business relationships will also continue to inform our students’ relationship with Europe in the future. Europe remains an important trading partner with the United States. Europe is still one of the largest markets for the USA with 505 million inhabitants in Eurozone. The USA also remains the most important export market for Europe. US Chamber of Commerce figures show that the “European Union produces more goods and has much deeper economic and financial ties to the United States than China does.” Trade Figures for 2012 demonstrate how financially important Europe remains for the Unites States. US Exports to Europe in 2012 in units totaled 172,429.2. Total imports from Europe: 253,772.3 (with a trade deficit of -81,343.1). Moreover, in terms of market, there are currently 505 million inhabitants in the twenty-seven member Eurozone. If non-Eurozone countries are added, there are roughly 718 million inhabitants of Europe as a whole. That’s a big market, double the size of the United States and larger than Asia.5

European studies will remain a vital component of the curriculum of a liberal education in the 21st century. Markets and business (future careers), but also language and culture, make Europe a vital subject of study for our students, and they should be encouraged to study Europe in the classroom and, whenever possible, through study-abroad opportunities. Therefore, the introductory European history survey, invigorated with a study abroad component, will remain an important course of study in the liberal education curriculum of the twenty-first century. Exposing our students to European history, civilization, and culture will prepare them for jobs in the future, as well as shape them as well rounded global citizens. Study-abroad represents another way to reinvent liberal education in the twenty-first century.


1Institute of International Education (Open Doors) Figures ( These destinations included the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Czech Republic, Denmark, Netherlands. (China ranked number five and India came in at 11th place). 11/16/2013.

2Institute of International Education, “Open Doors” Data, 2013. (

3While many of these institutions claim that an American presence in these restrictive countries will help spread liberal and Western values, they have been known to “implicitly accept” limits to off campus expression. See Tamar Lewin, “U.S. Colleges Finding Ideals Tested Abroad” in the New York Times, 12 December 2013, pp. A1, and A3.

4“Is Europe Passé” by Beth McMurtrie in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2 August 2013, pp. A21-A24.

5Population figures: Trade Figures for 2013 Total US Exports to Europe: 172,429.2; Total imports from Europe: 253,772.3; Deficit: -81,343.1 (

Go to the table of contents for:
Spring 2014: Reinventing Liberal Education