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July 22, 2013

Mount professor takes his course outside the classroom –to Amsterdam!


Alan Brown AmsterdamAlthough Alan Brown’s studies have taken him many different places, from California to New Orleans, he is particularly nostalgic for his time at the University of Amsterdam.

“It shaped me,” sighs the Assistant Professor of Sociology/Anthropology. “Dutch culture is so different from ours but without a significant language barrier. It gives students the opportunity to learn from so many different perspectives.”

Alan knew the specific lessons he wanted to teach about race and gender would be difficult to do in a traditional classroom environment so he set about to discover a new way. This led him back to the University of Amsterdam which allowed him to create a specific course that would allow his students to drive the conversation. Four mornings each week, students will attend lectures by different professors from the university, using the afternoons to discuss the concepts in different places around the city, from parks to cafes. 

Taking class outside the classroom is what excites Nadia Masad, a current Sociology/Anthropology student heading into the Women and Gender Studies graduate program in September.

“I am ready for the city to teach me,” she exclaims. “To spend three-and-a-half weeks travelling with friends, staying in dorms, going to nearby places like the Anne Frank Museum, and receiving a full credit towards your program is a dream come true.”

They certainly have a lot to cover during their trip but Alan insists that keeping the experience to a shorter timeframe is necessary.

“Spending an entire semester abroad is exciting but the reality is that many students need to work in the summer or take other classes. This model allows me to reach students who could not participate in traditional educational travel programs.”

Alan Brown's class in Amsterdam

Nadia is quick to agree stating, “an entire semester abroad would be too much for me. The fear of homesickness and culture shock would keep me from finding out more information and applying.”

Alan’s new model allows students to get many of the same experiences as a traditional travel abroad program with the benefits of setting their own curriculum. This flexible approach leaves plenty of room available to expand on different subjects and make sure each student finds the experience and answers they’re looking for.

“The cafes, the rivers, the different districts, the surrounding areas, the Pride parade – I’m showing them that learning can happen anywhere if you give yourself the tools to really think about your environment and be critical of it,” Alan grins. “And in a way they’re showing me that too.”

You can follow the hashtag #MSVUAmsterdam on Twitter and Instagram to see the students' thoughts and images of the experience.