History of Study Abroad: Part 1 (1190 - 1900)

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Napoleon Bonaparte: a surprising, but dedicated, advocate for study abroad.
Napoleon: a surprising advocate for studying abroad.
The History of Studying Abroad

As William Hoffa writes in A History of Study Abroad, any (and all) travel "has educational potential, whatever its inspiration and purpose. What and how much is learned, however, depends greatly on how open the traveler is to what the road offers." Hoffa implores students to be open to learning, but he is not the first to suggest this.

International education refers to "education that transcends national borders by exchange of people," and has been going on in written history for nearly a thousand years! While it is true that Aristotle was born in Macedonia but attended school in Greece, and it might be more fun to envision Magellan or Ibn Battuta stopping in foreign lands for a quick language class before continuing on their journeys, it is actually another man who takes the title of "The Pioneer of Study Abroad." The first ever "study abroader" was Emo of Friesland, who travelled from northern Holland to study at Oxford University in 1190. (Never heard of him? I hadn't either, but I've since given his Facebook page a "like.") Emo, in addition to being quite "sensitive," was extremely progressive - he began to pave the way for international exchange in Europe for the next 800 years.

Along with the onset of the Middle Ages came years of increased poverty, fewer food sources, poorer educations, and lower living conditions than earlier European generations. Overall, the lives of the people were harder, and study abroad was reserved for the royal elite. Power struggles between nations and stark patriotism flourished as countries continued to expand their borders in Africa and Asia. Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to unite all of Europe into one big empire (and failed), but his notions of peace and unity were not too farfetched - he just had a different idea of how to get there.

Napoleon may have been echoing the sentiments of the Swiss diplomat Emmerich de Vattel, who in 1754 urged the "exchange of professors among various nations," arguing that "the peace and security of each nation was dependent upon the peace and security of all." This urgency to exchange ideas in the classroom for the betterment of individual societies directly correlates to a growing interest in international education. The peace congresses following the Napoleonic Wars were particularly key for creating the groundwork for the field of international education that we are familiar with today.

For fundamentally all were out of step with the nineteenth century. In an era of nationalism, they spoke of internationalism. In an era of provincial loyalties, they argued for loyalty to mankind. And in an era of mass education for patriotism, they contended that the school was the only agency capable of advancing education across national boundaries. Little wonder that their proposals were viewed as radical, visionary, and utopian. --David G. Scanlon

In 1792, French educator Marc-Antoine Jullien wrote to Louis XVI, demanding the creation of a worldwide commission on education composed of educational associations from the various European states. Jullien saw the potential to cultivate peace among nations, as well as capitalize on an opportunity to share ideas and grow mutual trust among educators. In the mid-19th century, Jullien's wishes became reality, as representatives from the United States, Germany, France, and England met in London to design a plan for a permanent organization responsible for managing international education, which fully came into practice in 1876.

But what was going on in the "Land of the Free" while all of this exciting stuff was happening in Europe? John Diomatari, hailing from Ipsara, Greece, was making waves as the first ever known international student to make their way to an American university. John attended the University of Georgia and graduated in 1835, after which he went on to serve as the U.S. Consul in Athens, Greece. Not a bad gig for a returnee!

Without rapid transportation, students were still able to travel great lengths.
Weekend trips were not always so easy!

Forty years down the line, Indiana University began hosting a series of "summer tramps," a faculty-initiated study abroad program where university students were invited to Switzerland, France, England, Germany, and Italy during the summer holiday to study natural history, language, and culture. These programs were lead by a man named Professor David Starr Jordan; because the program was so academically focused, it was eventually available for academic credit. (I wonder if PE credit was included; apparently the trip included 300+ hiking miles. Yowzers!)

Meanwhile, graduates of Princeton University found little inspiration on the Jersey Shore and instead headed to the far east, becoming the university's first fellowship program participants in Tianjin, China. This group of committed students supported the creation of a local YMCA chapter, helping to organize the nation's first athletic associations. China at the turn of the 20th century - now THAT would be something worth seeing!

The first thousand years of international education may be slow moving, but the groundwork was laid for an exciting 20th century in the field. What happens next? Stay tuned!

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Photo Credit: Scenic view of Parthenon Temple, Acropolis

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