Carmen Munoz-Fernandez
January 26, 2017

Program in Focus

Learning in the World: Q&A with Carmen Muñoz-Fernández
by Jenny Corke

Recently, we sat down with Carmen Muñoz-Fernández to discuss why off-campus programming is a priority at Andover and what students need to know in our interconnected world. Carmen is director of Learning in the World at the Tang Institute and an instructor in Spanish at Phillips Academy. She had previously taught in the Department of Romance Languages and Literature at Harvard University.

Why does Andover encourage all students to have a LITW experience?

Learning in the World is such an important part of the student experience at Andover. Enabling students to engage with different cultures and perspectives during their adolescent years has an impact upon their studies back on campus and remains with them throughout their lives.

The value is in how it helps students–and faculty–connect to the rest of the world. We are already connected through our phone every day. With Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, we connect to Japan, Russia, or Australia. So we want to give students skills they need to navigate this interconnected world and to represent themselves, their schools, and their origins in the best ways possible. We want them to develop their cultural empathy, respect for other people, and skills in areas that affect our global community, such as environmental or social justice. We want to help them gain a better sense of the history of a country and to become critical thinkers. It is so important, for example, to be able to read a news article and know, “this is one-sided,” and then be able to read it from another perspective.

But we are also lucky to have diversity on campus too, as students have a range of interactions and experiences right here at PA. Through conversation in class or in the dorm, students learn how to interact for the better. Learning in the World complements those experiences.

We are teaching our students to be the best global citizens they can be and encouraging them to leave their comfort zones. I so often hear that a particular campus experience with a student from another culture clicks when the student travels to that culture.

Is there a student anecdote that has stayed with you?

Students choose from a variety of programs. One may choose a language program. Another might be open to anything completely new. Some travel back to their roots. We have students going to Morocco and interested in learning Arabic because of their heritage. These different experiences, in some way, become an important aspect of our students’ own identities.

An example from the Human Understanding through Archaeology and Cultural Awareness (HUACA) in Peru program is one, among many, that has stuck with me. A student had come to me and said she’d like to go to HUACA. Her family is originally from Peru, though she was born in the US. I asked her, “Wouldn’t you like to go to a new country?” She responded that she really wanted to learn more about her background.

So she went and had a transformational experience. At the airport, her whole extended family was waiting for her–and she’d never met any of them. She discovered towns that her father had told her stories about and experienced the Incas.

It was a journey of her origin. Yet she returned to the US and said: “I am not just Peruvian, I am more connected to the US, even though I am super proud of my roots.” She also said: “I can now have a conversation with someone about what it means to be Peruvian American.” She had traveled to what she knew, but realized she didn’t know as much as she thought she did and gained perspective on her culture that she will carry through her life.

Can you describe your work with Learning in the World?

I started working with the Institute as a fellow in 2014, with a focus on growing Andover’s off-campus programming. I became the point person to work with faculty members running different programs and to give them more support. Some of the programs had been running for 10 and even 30 years! Along with several collaborators, I really wanted to pursue the question: How can we better support faculty members in doing the amazing job they are doing?

We initially took a comprehensive look at policies and processes. In the first year, we held monthly meetings with program leaders so they could share their experiences, best practices, and outcomes and help to build our community. Soon we started calling the programming “Learning in the World” and affirmed a common mission that each program would connect back to a student’s studies and follow a theme and curriculum. This created new ways for faculty leaders to collaborate and to offer new themes and locations.

We also considered our connection to the Academy’s Strategic Plan. “Equity & Inclusion” was a focus for us. We had seen the kind of impact a LITW experience has upon students and wanted to be able to offer it to every student, regardless of their financial circumstances. Now we are one of the few schools that supports students in this way. We make sure this experience is a component of the academic experience at PA and not something extra or separate.

Phillips Academy Strategic Plan:

The goal of the Equity & Inclusion in “Connecting Our Strengths: The Andover Endeavor” is to nurture the academic and personal growth of all students as they navigate a complex, intentionally diverse learning community.

How has LITW grown?

We had started with six summer programs in 2014 and have been growing substantially in the last two and a half years; now we have 16 full programs, 10 affiliate programs, and 37 faculty leaders.

We’ve also developed a LITW community. The progress we’ve made is the work of so many people: administrators, faculty, financial aid, counseling, controller, parents, students, and many others. Learning in the World connects every single aspect of our school in its own way.

What are some of the curricular components?

Students’ experiences are part of their studies, in different ways. We assign readings before they travel. We emphasize the concept of reflection, asking students to contribute posts about their experiences to a program blog. We bridge connections to local organizations to help students continue the kind of work they might have done during their travel. Students apply knowledge they’ve gained through an Independent Project or a paper that ties to the location they visited.

Students also bring their experiences back to the whole community. Niswarth participants, for example, get together regularly with alumni and connect with students who are planning to go. Last spring we held the Learning in the World Art Exhibit, which was an exciting way for students to reflect upon and showcase their experiences. Several students recently shared their experiences during the fall All School Meeting.

We also have the LITW Global Ambassadors program, which brings together a group of alumni monthly to work on projects and discuss global citizenship and cultural empathy. They go to dorms and talk about the LITW concept and also help with orientation.

What is your vision for the future?

To our faculty, we say: Come talk to us, bring forward your ideas, and see if we can make them a reality. This is part of the Ideas Lab environment at the Tang Institute–opening doors and letting people just come in and share ideas.

Our vision is to continue cultivating current opportunities, while also exploring new approaches and geographies, in line with demand from students and faculty members. We want to support faculty members with a particular vision and skills to lead programs in other areas, whether in Iceland or Africa. We also want to listen to our students’ voices and design programs that could expand upon their interests in medicine, math, technology, and more. We’ll continue to make these experiences robust and connected to the Andover experience as a whole. There could be, for instance, a class on learning in the world, in which faculty from across disciplines tackle different aspects of what an experience means and how to expand upon it. We are also considering a speaker series and symposia for students from PA and other schools, in order to bring together a broader community to share experiences through specific topics.

Another focus is on making these experiences officially part of the student profile, so that LITW would be part of the transcript. We want to show how committed our students are to this work. But our most important priorities remain offering financial support to students who need it and making sure our program leaders are supported.

Categories: Learning in the World

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