Framed in the Doorway: Administering International Programs

August 31, 2010

The continuing growth in international education and in study abroad programs provides new opportunities for music faculty. What are some of the experiences one may expect leading a program abroad, and what are its benefits, both professional and personal? Judith Kritzmire, a member of the Committee on Academic Leadership and Administration, just completed a year as Director of the University of Minnesota Duluth Study in England Programme and shares her experiences and reflections of leading a program overseas. She served as Music Department Head at UMD for 16 years and returns to campus this Fall as Professor of Music Education and Director of Graduate Studies. She also serves as the school's NASM representative. Previously she taught in the Study in England Programme in 1997 and 2008.

It was the last class on the last day in the small building in which the American study abroad students had spent much of their academic and personal time this past year. Students were moving in and out of the Director's office depositing papers, supplies, textbooks, and pausing in the doorway to say goodbye for the moment. It was also goodbye to the year, the last time I would look up from my desk and see these students framed in that doorway, backlit by the arched stained-glass hallway windows of the historic building our program offices called home. During the year, this charming aperture illuminated the students as they checked to see if I was available for a chat, a story, a question, a problem, a recounting of a travel adventure they had experienced that weekend, or a concert they had heard in a remarkable European venue.

I was caught with this realization of finality, captured by a momentary sadness. The moment framed more than the students' images; it encircled... symbolized... the multiple dimensions of this year abroad program for the students and me. It triggered an awareness that the essence of international program administration extends beyond the traditional administrative tasks. Administrative accomplishment in these settings is found in what we learn about, and from, our students and ourselves as together we pass through the various portals of the year's experience. These vistas offer the opportunity to re-frame our work, to acquire fresh vision. The responsibility is deep. And the rewards are deeply satisfying.

My purpose in writing this abbreviated case-study of my recent experience as Director of a year-long study-abroad program in England is to highlight ways a music administrator, or experienced music faculty member with leadership experience, might find new perspectives on administrative work. What are the benefits of allocating a year to a non-music administrative task? In what ways may our music leadership work be informed by doing administration in a different setting, with non-music faculty and students? Are there similar goals and task for each assignment? Perhaps we typically think of these general administrative positions as being more suited to, and occupied by, a liberal arts administrator, yet there are stunning opportunities for the music leader in these programs. The versatility and agile thinking required of the music administrator is well suited to the oversight of these offshore programs. Undertaking a leadership role in international settings can offer fresh perspectives on administrative practice.

Fundamental Differences

International program administration is fundamentally different from the usual role of music administration in our universities and colleges. In these familiar settings we know who we are, what we do, and how we do it. We know the processes and people that make things work in our classrooms and concert halls. We can rely on faculty and staff to 'fill in the blanks', keep the schedules moving forward, the goals and objectives met. Our music students are familiar canvasses on which we paint experiences and images drawn from our own music backgrounds.

While there is interest in the music community in building international music study programs, today's international education programs are typically open to all students. A primary distinction, then, for the music administrator operating in an international arena is that of overseeing a diverse student-body. The program administrator will encounter students from varied backgrounds, having many majors, or none; having global travel experience and sophisticated awareness of the world, or naively coming to the program from a simple farm or rural background. These are not students who are predictable and familiar. Only some or none are driven toward successful careers in music. They may not, in fact, currently be committed to any career at all! They are, however, open to experience, to new awareness of themselves and the world.

In our program, the Director interviews each applicant prior to their admission to the program. General questions about background, academic and social interests, problem-solving ("How might you resolve a significant disagreement with another student in your flat?"), their reason for wanting to live and study abroad for an academic year, and other pertinent questions to determine their independence and suitability for being productive and respectful group members. Here is where I encountered my first intriguing understandings of these college students. Surprisingly, most had more than a little musical participation in their pre-college, and some in their current, study. They volunteered that they had been choir or band students in either junior or senior high school; several were continuing amateur musicians. They were excited about being able to enroll in the music courses. It seemed a higher than expected percent of these eager international explorers counted music as a primary prior experience and interest. (I began to ponder whether there is a quality called 'zest for life and adventure' which may be a side-benefit of music study?)

As Director, I taught one course each term. Most of the 28 students enrolled in both courses. The fall-term standard "Introduction to Music" course was strongly flavoured with attention to English composers, while the Spring term course, "English Music and Musicians," ranged from comparing the Beatles with Queen, to hearing and analyzing the music of Vaughan Williams, Handel, Gilbert and Sullivan, The Beggar's Opera; a real survey of music in England. We attended several concerts in the area as a group, including Handel's Agrippina, performed with truly tongue-in-cheek English humour. Hearing Holst's The Planets or Elgar's Enigma Variations played by English musicians in a world-class symphony orchestra was an unforgettable moment. The students were stunned, as most had never heard music of this quality performed in an acoustically brilliant concert hall.

Throughout these courses, the students showed great interest in learning about music, musicians, and composers. When I asked them, after noting their sincere interest in this thing called "classical music," how many would consider a liberal arts major in music involving the study of music, without the solo performance/expertise requirements, many were highly enthusiastic. I counted this as another one of my primary "aha" moments of the year; realizing that we may be missing an opportunity to engage students in music degree programs beyond the introductory courses, in ways we do not necessarily currently offer the non-performer.

Time As a Friend

Another way in which international program administration utilizes, but also differs from, the standard duties and expectations for the School of Music Dean or Director, or Department Chair is in the 24/7 oversight of students, which is essential for a well-functioning and successful study-abroad program. As music leaders, we are accustomed to the need for good crisis-management skills; we understand that we go to sleep and awaken thinking of the issue du jour in our music units. We think creatively and purposefully about ways to improve our programs. But throughout our day, the continued onslaught of meetings, committees, requests, paper-work, fiscal reports, consultations with faculty, followed by evening and weekend concerts, visits with donors, and student audition weekends forms a barrier to our full engagement with our students. When was the last time we attended an off-campus concert with 30 of our students? When was the last time we talked with students in our office about music or anything else on their mind, without checking our watch to be sure we were not missing our next meeting?

In the international setting, time becomes our friend. There is time to think and read, time to prepare materials for our classes, time to seek and find cultural events, concerts, theatre, a chance to dine frequently with our American or international colleagues and share social activities, opportunities for weekend or break travel...but most of all, time to be with the students. This can occur casually before, after, and between classes, as well as on the long weekends. It happens in the monthly birthday parties hosted by the Director in which students are guests in faculty and Director's flats. It happens when a few students and faculty meet for dinner in a Moroccan restaurant, or at the group Thanksgiving dinner, or Christmas/holiday party. These social events are substantially different from the receptions or afterconcert events which generally are a part of the music student and faculty interactions. They replicate family gatherings, something the students very much welcome in their year away from home. For the music administrator, it allows us to once again undergo that very special student-teacher relationship which initially drew us to our profession.

Another meaningful way in which administrative time abroad differs from usual academic time is that program members spend time together on field trips in which students, Director, and faculty participate. England is a remarkable country, with widely differing regions and culture; there are stunning geographic contrasts, from the staggering coasts of Cornwall to the peaceful Lake District in the north, to the soft Brighton Pier and coastal area in the south. In addition to simply viewing and understanding a country in which a study abroad program is located, field trips afford music program directors wonderful options to provide students memorable music and art experiences. For us, these occurred during a glorious Evensong in Yorkminster, in cathedrals hearing choral rehearsals, in the bagpipes of Edinburgh, in jazz clubs in Bristol.

Times together build respect and affection. Students develop ownership among the participants. They are protective of one another and of the program. They become their own governing group, monitoring their behavior, whether in pubs, shopping, in class, in off-site gatherings, when travelling abroad or onisland. Ensemble directors and participants well-know the value of this sort of camaraderie. It is part of our culture. Using this cumulative experiential knowledge, music administrators are well equipped to bring to study abroad programs firm knowledge of good leadership practice. We know how to build unity, how to establish boundaries and guidelines, and how to reward and take delight in our students when they respond. We know how to oversee the total academic program, how to work with faculty to develop projects with students, how to counsel and guide students, and how to maintain an atmosphere where students respect the goals and policies of the group.

The Gift of International Program Administration

International/Study Abroad programs are pervasive in higher education. Beyond the typical annual ensemble tour of a few weeks, music executives should give greater consideration to the rewards of participation and look for opportunities on their campuses. International programs take varied forms; onesemester programs, summer study, J-term programs. All offer similar benefits. International program administration places the leader in different and appealing roles, in which contact and proximity with students is paramount. It de-mystifies and erases those processes that may perform gate-keeping functions in our music programs. The diverse locales and students, the chance to re-connect with their teaching craft, the possibility to work with faculty in other disciplines, and the increase of self-knowledge about their strengths as administrators are gifts to those who choose a year framed by a different doorway in an international setting.

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