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The Intensive Course Abroad Mindset

By: Teresa Puthiyamadam

June 16, 2021

Navigating the social, emotional, professional, and academic complexities of being a freshman can be overwhelming. Adding a fast-paced 10-week term schedule with a possible co-op on the horizon can lead to feelings of inadequacy and stress. Like many freshmen, the night before the first day of classes consisted of playing out every scenario of what the first day might feel like. My first class was Honors Foundations of Business, a Global Classroom, which took place at noon in Lebow. My nerves got me there 15 minutes early, and the thoughts of what could go wrong became more invasive.

Within the first five minutes of Professor D’Angelo’s introduction slides, my nerves were at ease. All the questions that swirled around in my head the night before became irrelevant. I stopped seeing our differences and found the commonality in our humanity. Suddenly the image of her impressive LinkedIn profile and the nervousness I felt to be in her presence began to fade and was replaced with the excitement of meeting a vibrant person who has a family, hobbies, interests, and a zeal for travel. Early in the class, she insisted that we called her Dana and began talking about the importance of being globally minded citizens and understanding the implications of our actions on a global scale. As the class progressed, I felt inspired, confident, and excited.

Three months later, I was messaging Dana after landing in Trinidad & Tobago for an intensive course abroad (ICA) on Culture, Cuisine, Commerce, and Citizenship. The trip contained a mix of students of different ages with a variety of majors, interests, skills, and perspectives. Each day consisted of a blend of hands-on learning, site-seeing, classroom time, incredible food, enlightening conversations, and reflective bus rides. In addition to learning the course content, the trip taught me how to build relationships, ask questions, reflect on all the different elements of what is around me, and to view every location with an ICA mentality.

During our trip we worked closely with The University of the West Indies at St. Augustine. We were warmly welcomed to campus and attended lectures by Dr. Gelien Matthews. As we learned about the history of Trinidad & Tobago, we created our own carnival masks, had steel drum lessons, and even learned a few songs. During our lunch break we went to a campus hotspot that was run by a family who had been there for years. I quickly learned that the husband who helped run the restaurant was from India and knew Malayalam, a south-Indian language I grew up speaking. Within minutes I was in the back kitchen, learning how pepper sauce is made and comparing life stories with the family.

Within a ten-day study abroad, I felt a significant shift begin to happen. As my world expanded, in a way, it began to feel smaller. A place that once seemed far off and removed suddenly felt comforting and familiar. The love exchanged in the laughs, conversations, food, and history lessons taught me to take a moment to interact with the world around me wherever that may be.

Dana described it best, “ICA’s are a labor of love.” They require focused energy, attention to detail, hard work, passion and drive. They are intense in every aspect of the word and require an ardent desire to learn, and endurance to develop, promote, and coordinate. Whether it is the tenth or second time a trip is taking place, they are always redeveloped and are constantly evolving. The curriculum changes and the itineraries are often adjusted based on the students who enroll. After the students are accepted, and the trip is planned, Dana not only takes on the role of being a professor, but she also becomes a mentor, mom, tour guide, disciplinarian, nurse, banker, and sometimes even a chef. She molds into whatever role is needed at the time and must always be alert. However, as she plays the role of shapeshifter, she also gains the perspectives of all the people who would play those roles. She gets to see her students in a new light and can build a stronger connection with them. 

Drexel is committed to maintaining our interconnectedness with the world. Although Dana was no longer boarding planes with her students over the past year and a half, she is instilling the ICA mindset in them through her work with her global classrooms, specifically, with Universidad de Montevideo in Uruguay.  

Dana always says, “The ICA mindset is the subset of having a global mindset. You can go global without ever leaving Philadelphia, and it is important to remember that.” Although ICA’s are intensive courses abroad, once you attain the mindset of an ICA, every place becomes an opportunity to learn, grow, and connect with people. Whether it is your hometown or a new city, it is important not to treat any place like it is ordinary. Every place you go to has its own energy, and it is essential to embrace it. Dana urges each of us to begin going through life by setting our own learning goals and understanding that every place is much more connected to us than we think. 

More information about Intensive Courses Abroad can be found on the Office of Global Engagement's ICA page, and additional information about Global Classrooms can be found on the Office of Global Engagement's Global Classroom resource page