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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

OCS Office unveils changes, new programs and how new programs come about

Each term, many Carls across countless academic disciplines expand their educational pursuits across the globe. Carleton has long had a reputation as a distinctly international school — roughly 70% of students can expect to spend at least one trimester off campus, a statistic beaten by only eleven other schools. While many of the college’s programs are as timeless as the tradition itself, Carls who go abroad during the 2024-2025 academic year may find themselves on completely new programs introduced this year or enjoying revised versions of older trips.

One of these new programs is spring 2024’s “Greece at a Crossroads: History, Landscape, and Material Culture,” something classical studies professor Alex Knodell has been planning for a long time. “Greece is. . .  a collection of countless inspirational places, landscapes, stories and ideas,” Knodell explained. “The intersectionality of Greece — between Europe, Asia and Africa — makes it unique, which is certainly borne out in its history.” After spending time there during his own college career, Knodell “was immediately hooked” and “[hasn’t] stopped trying to get back. . .  ever since.” 

“Greece at a Crossroads” will be unique not only in its setting, but also in that it marks a collaboration between Carleton and the nonprofit organization College Year in Athens. All participants will take CLAS 200 with Knodell but will also get to choose from among several CYA-taught electives. The idea,” Knodell said, “is that students will get the best of both worlds. . .  Carleton faculty. . .  as well as a well-established local institution.”

The program will also take students outside the classroom. In addition to regular trips to sites of cultural and historical interest and engagement with Athens’s “vibrant intellectual community,” there are several planned excursions to other parts of Greece, such as Santorini or the Peloponnese. Knodell was careful to note that while coursework will remain as busy as ever, there will be many opportunities to enjoy “the best weather of the year” and “the food, festivals and excitement of being in Greece in the spring.”

As Knodell leads the “Greece at a Crossroads” group to Athens next spring term, professor Kiley Kost will embark with students from the German department on the German Studies in Austria program. The program marks Carleton’s first-ever OCS in the country’s capital of Vienna. The German department has conducted several trips to Berlin in the past but aims to focus more on language immersion this time around: While “Berlin is a very international city and you can use English almost everywhere,” Kost explained that Vienna will allow students to “immerse themselves in the German language,” “deepen [their] knowledge of [the language’s] facets and regional specificities” and “build relationships with people and places.” 

Like Knodell, Kost hopes to bring students outside the classroom. “Vienna boasts numerous theaters, opera houses and concert halls, and I’m really looking forward to bringing students to diverse cultural events and helping them find events that align with their interests,” Kost said. Kost’s own class, the literature-focused GERM 322, will include trips to the theater, but there will also be visits to “museums, monuments, parks and markets,” as well as “excursions to Germany, Slovenia and Italy.” 

Several past OCS programs have received updates so drastic that they are now different programs entirely, as is the case with religion professor Michael McNally and English professor Arnab Chakladar’s “Ireland: Siting Religion, Writing Place.” Originally exclusive to the English department, McNally and Chakladar have reimagined the Ireland program through an interdisciplinary lens and implemented “explorations of spiritual and literary imaginings of place.” McNally will begin the program in the dramatic landscapes and seascapes of Western Ireland, “places which Yeats, Synge and other literary nationalists drank deeply from” as well as “places of continuous pilgrimages, featuring holy springs and wells, holy islands and holy mountains.” Chakladar will then accompany the students to Dublin, a city crucial both to the works of famed authors like James Joyce and “vibrant contemporary drama, film and literature, including from migrant peoples who are remaking Ireland in interesting ways,” McNally said. 

OCS program development is a continuous process that can take several years. Director of Off-Campus Studies Helena Kaufman gave the Carletonian a glimpse behind the scenes. The seeds of a new OCS trip are planted with the OCS office’s yearly call for proposals, which are due the following January — though, as Kaufman remarked, “faculty and departments” also “approach us with their ideas, and we work together to develop them further.” The OCS Committee then spends Winter Term discussing the proposals and coordinating with departments, after which the provost approves the committee’s recommendation two years in advance. 

Not all programs are accepted. Kaufman noted that “we are charged with approving a well-balanced calendar — one that offers a diverse portfolio of programs, is thoughtfully distributed among Carleton’s three terms and accommodates new programs alongside established off-campus seminars.” 

Thankfully for its many participants, the OCS Department rarely suffers setbacks in implementing new programs. Every trip canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic has returned; cancellations are otherwise rare and occur only in the case of irremediable “natural disaster, political unrest or any other safety or security concern,” or, in even rarer cases, low enrollment. 

The professors who spoke to the Carletonian reiterated their excitement for the terms ahead. “Getting to know other people and cultures — to try to experience them and understand them on their own terms — makes us better global citizens and better humans. You’ll also get to see some fascinating places and have some amazing experiences along the way,” Knodell concluded.

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