James Madison University

Psychology Professors Explore Topics Abroad

By: Mackenzie Kelley
Posted: October 18, 2013

PHOTO: arbeit macht freiPsychology professor Matt Lee spent this past summer traveling through Germany and Poland. His trip wasn’t strictly a personal vacation though. Lee was traveling a test route for the psychology department’s newest study abroad program. Starting this summer, for three weeks in June, students can travel across Germany and Poland to study cross-cultural psychology, ethnic conflict, and the Holocaust.

Lee describes the program as a reflective and emotional trip that really explores the ethnic identities of the two neighboring countries.

“The two countries have unique and interlocking histories,” says Lee. Though the countries have historical similarities and border each other, each is also very culturally distinct from the other. “Germany is associated with Western Europe,” says Lee, “but Poland is mainly a Slavic country.” Students will have the chance to study how these countries have interacted throughout history in regards to their cultural differences.

In addition to numerous cultural museums, students will also be visiting two concentration camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau  and Dakhau, examining how the Holocaust had an immense effect on the two culture’s relationships.

“Modern Poles are really grappling with what it means to be Polish,” says Lee. The psychology of what it means to be German and Polish in a post-WWII era will definitely be a major topic covered in the program. Lee hopes students will gain a greater appreciation of the Holocaust and how it relates to survivors particularly in the US and Israel.

Students will also meet young Germans and Poles featured as guest lecturers in the curriculum. To learn more about the trip to Germany and Poland, visit JMU’s Office of International Programs site for study abroad.

Psychology professor Dr. Bill Evans will also be leading a few cross-cultural trips to Europe this summer in both Italy and Austria. Evans has been leading a successful trip to Italy for about ten years, making it the longest-running travel abroad program that the Department of Psychology offers.

According to Evans, the trip to Italy is primarily focused on a cross-cultural analysis of Italian and American cultures, particularly on people in each culture who are in the transition from adolescence into adulthood.

“Even though Italy is a first world country, it is a collectivist culture unlike the United States,” says Evans. Family bonds and approval are paramount to Italian culture. As such, Italian adolescents are influenced by family in areas like career choice and mate selection, dissimilar to individualistic American culture.

Senior Kevin Malone attended the Italy Trip with Dr. Evans and made his own observations about Italian culture.

“The biggest difference between America’s culture and the Italian culture is the pace that people move,” said Malone, “In Italy, the people move a little bit slower and seem to have greater appreciation for the basic characteristics of life.”

The second program facilitated by Dr. Evans is based in Vienna, Austria. This trip focuses on comparing and contrasting three major theorists in psychology, namely Sigmund Freud, Viktor Frankl, and Alfred Adler. Dr. Evans pointed out that all three theorists were medical doctors and Jews affected by the Holocaust, so their different perspectives on psychology were influenced by similar backgrounds.

“One thing in particular from the curriculum that really interested me was learning about Viktor Frankl’s purpose of life and how it related to one of our day trips to a gorgeous island and lake,” said Malone, who also accompanied Evans on the trip to Austria.

Other trips students will take during this program include visits to Prague, Budapest, and Slovakia. Of course, trips to concentration camps are also worked into the itinerary, emphasizing how the Holocaust affected the three major theorists and their cultural perspectives.

“Learning this way is fun and informative,” said Evans, “Students also tend to learn a lot about themselves too. They never felt so American until they went to Italy or Austria.”Read more about Dr. Evans’s trips to Italy and Austria.

This feeling of being “American” is also a huge topic of psychology professor Claire Lyon’s study abroad trip to Ireland. The major concentration of this program is self-identity and discovering aspects of who you are as a person.

“It’s different from other the other trips,” explained Lyons, “because you are more focused on who you are as an individual and as a part of a country.”

Students traveling in Ireland will get to hear speakers discuss religion and language in Ireland. In addition, day trips to musical and sporting events give students a glimpse of Irish culture.

“A strong sense of place and where you are from is important in Ireland,” said Lyons on how Irish culture differs from American culture. One of the projects in the program’s curriculum features constructing an identity box as a visual representation of themselves. This past summer, students met with a group of adults with intellectual disabilities to build their identity boxes.

Lyons emphasizes the discovery of self-identity throughout the entire trip.

“Students noticed things about themselves that they hadn’t before, because they were always surrounded by similar types of people back home,” said Lyons. To learn more about the trip to Ireland, see oIP’s description of the Ireland program.