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Student Affairs Committee --

A World of Possibilities:
Study Abroad for Archaeology

Jarrod Burks

Bienvenidos, bienvenue, willkommen, karibu, welcome - these are some of the most common words first heard by students in programs of study abroad. Every year, tens of thousands of students from the United States travel abroad in search of diverse learning experiences. For many, study abroad becomes a primary defining experience in their academic, professional, and personal lives. If a year or two abroad can have such a profound impact on the education process and getting a job, why hasn't everybody studied abroad? While students can greatly benefit from the experiences gained from living in another country, developing a rewarding program of study requires careful planning. In this article, I introduce the what, who, when, and why of study abroad for archaeology students.

What is "Study Abroad"?

Study abroad is an umbrella term that refers to a wide range of programs that involve travel to a different country for the purpose of learning. What separates one program from another is the context and format of the learning experience. For example, some universities in the United States have branch campuses abroad, such as Miami University's branch campus in Luxembourg. In this study abroad program, as in other exchange programs, students attend classes just as they would at their home institution. Participating in the Peace Corps is another kind of study abroad. The Peace Corps represents the ultimate in immersion learning. Before volunteers are sent to their sites, they take extremely intensive language and cultural classes. Then, for the next 2­3 years, volunteers are involved in developing and conducting projects that help their host communities and perfect their own foreign-language skills.

For archaeology students, there are four main categories of study abroad opportunities: archaeological fieldwork, classroom study, language schools, and volunteer work.

Archaeological Fieldwork

Participating in an archaeological project, such as a field school, is the most popular avenue of study abroad for archaeology students. Every summer, countless universities in the United States and around the world offer a variety of field school opportunities for students of all experience levels. Check out the Web page hosted by the Costen Institute of Archaeology at University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) ( or University of California-Santa Barbara's list ( for a range of worldwide summer fieldwork opportunities. Choosing the right field school can be a complicated process, but it usually amounts to a few key considerations: price, academic credit, living conditions, and geographic area of interest.

Most field schools require students to pay tuition, a lab fee, and generally, room and board. Out-of-state tuition rates in the United States can be very highbut occasionally, field schools funded through grants can waive students' fees, such as the field school run at Dusk Cave by the University of Alabama. However, the application process for funded field schools can be very competitive, so be sure to apply soon!

It also is very important to verify that the academic credit earned through field school participation transfers to your home institution and counts toward your degree. Because most field schools are so intensive, the credits earned can be twice those for regular classes.

Finally, field schools can be very rigorous experiences. Although part of the fun of a field school is primitive living, make sure the living conditions meet your standards.

Classroom Study

Aside from attending a field school, traveling to study in the classrooms of another country's university or institute is the most common way to gain experience abroad. Almost every college and university in the United States, as well as most in other countries, has an office of international studies. Through the help of advisers and other personnel in these offices, students can research, plan, and implement their own study abroad programs. However, if your school lacks such an office or does not provide a wide enough range of possibilities, there are a large number of private and not-for-profit organizations that set up and conduct study abroad programs. For example, the University Study Abroad Consortium ( and the Institute for the International Education of Students ( are both organizations that help students plan and implement programs of the student's choosing. Some organizations, such as Cultural Experience Abroad (CAE) (, function as both study abroad advisers and travel agents and, for a fee, provide abundant opportunities for excursions to world-class archaeological sites, such as Tikal, the Giza Plateau, and Lascaux Cave. Such excursions are recommended, since it is important to know your surroundings and learn about your host country while you have the opportunity.

Language Schools

For most students, learning a foreign language is a requirement for earning a B.A. degree. While classroom learning will usually suf-fice, one of the best ways to master a foreign language is through total immersion. Many countries have language immersion schools where students stay with host families while attending language classes at a local school. For example, Ohio State University sends its students to a school in Cuernavaca, Mexico, to learn Spanish.

Fluency in a foreign language is especially important for students planning to conduct their graduate research outside the United States. It will enable you to hire laborers and work with local landowners, facilitate your negotiations through customs with all of your suspicious-looking equipment, and simplify the process of obtaining your work permit.

Most schools support study abroad language programs through their international studies office or language department. Other options for study abroad language programs can easily be found on the Web. For example, the Eurolingua Institute ( ) provides many options for language immersion programs abroad.

Volunteer Work

You may find that field schools and classroom programs are too formal, beyond your budget, or have excessive requirements. In such cases, volunteer work can provide the study abroad experience at a different pace. Most archaeologists accept volunteer help on field projects, especially if the volunteer already has some previous experience or has a recommendation from a professor.

The Web is an excellent place to find archaeological volunteer opportunities for study abroad. The UCLA Web site mentioned above provides links to a wide range of volunteer opportunities. There also are countless other Web sites of organizations looking for volunteer help for field projects in foreign countries (e.g., for Central America,

Who Should Study Abroad?

All anthropologists, including archaeologists, stand to benefit from involvement in a study abroad program. The opportunities for undergraduates and graduate students are generally the same for either academic programs or field schools. However, most classroom programs seem to be geared more toward undergraduates.

If you are considering study abroad, the best first step is to seek additional information on the subject and survey some of the available programs. There are numerous research books (e.g., Carlson, J. S., B. B. Burn, J. Useem, and D. Yachimowicz, 1990, Study Abroad: The Experience of American Undergraduates. Greenwood Press, New York.; Freed, B. F., 1995, Language Learning and Study Abroad. In Second Language Acquisition in a Study Abroad Context, edited by B. F. Freed, pp. 3­33. John Benjamins Publishing, Amsterdam/Philadelphia; Teichler, U., and W. Stuebe, 1991, The Logics of Study Abroad Programmes and Their Impacts. Higher Education 21: 325­349) and guides (e.g., the Academic Year Abroad series, published by the Institute of International Education) to available programs in print and on the Web, at sites like

Once you have a better idea of the range of available programs, it is important to discuss your plans with your academic adviser. Leaving the country can extend the number of years it takes to complete your degree. Your adviser can help devise a plan that minimizes the impact of your absence on your class schedule, as well as help you identify a geographical area of study that will fit in with your future educational goals and research interests.

Then you should identify the programs that specifically fit your needs and interests, consulting with the office of international studies, or equivalent, at your institution or use the many Web sites that allow you to run searches on databases filled with hundreds to thousands of potential programs.

One of the primary factors that deters students from following through with their interest in study abroad is cost. A roundtrip plane ticket to Australia, for example, is extremely expensive! Do not let cost prevent you from studying abroad - there are many scholarships and grant programs available. One of the most prestigious sources of funding is the Fulbright Scholarship (, the crème de la crème of study abroad awards. Nearly 4,200 individuals are awarded Fulbrights every year. The International Student Exchange Program (ISEP) ( is a reciprocal exchange program for both graduate and undergraduate students. It is low cost, because participants pay their home institution's tuition and fees. For information on other funding sources, go to

Why Study Abroad?

Archaeologists, like other anthropologists, study culture. Observing a range of cultures helps make the study of the past richer by providing a broader context for understanding. This is somewhat akin to doing background research in the library for a term paper, except study abroad is background research for life experience. Thus, the experiences of study abroad provide a framework for understanding what is learned in anthropology degree programs.

Certain categories of study abroad, such as fieldwork, provide invaluable experience for archaeology students. Even situations where the field experience is outside one's geographical interest area, they provide opportunities to learn important skills and demonstrate initiative and self-motivation. Frequently, students make important contacts with other students and professionals during their study abroad programs. These contacts represent the beginnings of a network that will be important when the time comes to apply for a job.

When to Go Abroad

Any time is a "good" time to travel abroad. However, to benefit the most from the experience, the student must have some preparation. Most students do not start their undergraduate careers as anthropology majors and may be lagging in the fundamentals of anthropology. It is imperative to gain these before departure. In general, for undergraduates, study abroad occurs during the junior year, which means that the plans must be made with your adviser during the sophomore year.

For graduate students, the best time to leave is determined more by the exam schedule. For example, if the degree program requires an examination prior to the awarding of an M.A. degree, departure would be best after passing the exam.

Study abroad is an important and highly accessible experience in the steps to becoming a professional archaeologist. In addition to providing a fun and exciting experience, the lessons learned and acquaintances made in study abroad programs undoubtedly help in getting a job. With a little background research and effective planning, it is relatively easy to develop a reasonable trip and study program. Finding the time to actually fit it into your schedule can be a challenge, but with careful planning, it can be done.


I would like to thank the following individuals for their gracious help and suggestions: Ken Carstens, Mark J. Lynott, Frank Poirier, George S. Smith, and Dean R. Snow. ·

Jarrod Burks, a member of the Student Affairs Committee, is a student at Ohio State University.

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