Reframe Podcast: Episode 19

Studying Abroad in Luxembourg, Miami University’s Home Away from Home

Luxembourg Chateau

In this episode, we travel to Luxembourg where Miami University hosts the European country's oldest American partnership, and where both students and faculty alike are encouraged to participate in an immersive intercultural experience that is unlike almost any other study abroad program.

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe, The podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami university.

In this episode, we travel to Luxembourg where Miami University hosts the European country’s oldest American partnership, and where both students and faculty alike are encouraged to participate in an immersive intercultural experience that’s unlike almost any other study abroad program.

(Music Fade)

After his first experience at Miami University’s Luxembourg campus, it wasn’t long before Dr. Jeffrey Wanko and his family began planning their second.

And then their third. 

Dr. Wanko first visited in 2007 when he supervised student teachers at American military schools across Germany, but he and his family stayed at the university’s chateau in Luxembourg when they were not on the road.

Jeffrey Wanko:

When we were at the chateau, we were like, this is a really neat place. I really liked the idea of spending some time in a place with students and talking a lot about the courses, the content that they were really excited about. So I designed two courses to teach there and proposed them and I was fortunate to be selected 6 years ago to go and teach there. So I went twice.

James Loy:

Wanko, a Miami University associate provost and professor of teacher education, taught in Luxembourg during the 2011 – 2012 academic year and now he’s back home again, fresh from his most recent visit this past academic year.   

Jeffrey Wanko:

I was the first person to get to do this from my department in teacher education. And that, I think, has helped others begin to think about it. We want to make that available to other people. 

James Loy:

At Miami, the Luxembourg program represents one of the most significant and immersive intercultural experiences available. In fact, Miami’s Luxembourg chateau, also known as the Dolibois European Center, is actually regarded as the university’s “fourth campus.” 

The program is open to all majors and disciplines, and participants can study or teach for a term or an entire year. There are some reoccurring classes, but the curriculum is mostly designed by faculty who propose courses that reflect their own academic expertise. The only requirement is that every class flows around a European-centric motif.

So coming from Miami’s College of Education, Health and Society, Wanko proposed courses that aligned with his background in mathematics and teacher education. 

One was a mathematics history course. The other was a comparative education course, which also allowed Wanko to accentuate the similarities and differences between American and European school systems by organizing a study tour in Finland.

Jeffrey Wanko:

To actually be there and take people to schools in another country was really powerful. Finland scores very high on international comparisons, which is why I picked it. And the students there do very well, and yet they don’t go to school as many hours in a day. They have a lot of free time during the day. The students don’t get homework. The students study a lot of different things. The focus is on the whole learner.

James Loy:

This, according to Wanko, is different from most approaches in the United States, which is typically much more focused on academic content.

Jeffrey Wanko:

In the United States, we often say we teach math or we teach language arts. But in Finland, and in other countries, they will say, “We teach kids.” That’s one of the basic ideas there.

James Loy:

In Finland, it goes beyond an emphasis on academic content. There, it’s also about the community collective, and about learning how to teach and engage kids from a deeper, more holistic perspective.

This, of course, would be an ideal intercultural class for teaching majors. But Wanko believes that learning about other educational systems can be enlightening for all students, especially within an intercultural context. 

Most Miami students, regardless of major, will support local school districts as professionals and may have children of their own one day. And, by using Finland as an example, Wanko helps them understand what else is possible, and for Mira Alexander, a Miami senior and kinesiology majors, it has been an eye-opening experience.

Mira Alexander:

For me, it was refreshing. Because certain classes, when I studied abroad . . . The education class brought light to an area that I now think is really important that I never would have thought twice about. But for me it was a good decision to expand myself a little bit more.

James Loy:

People often wonder how Miami University, a liberal arts college surrounded by rural Ohio farmland communities, found a home in Luxembourg, a small European country bordered by France and Germany. 

But, really, it was Luxembourg that found Miami.

Miami’s Luxembourg campus at the Dolibois European Center is named after John Dolibois. Originally born in Luxembourg, Dolibois enrolled as a Miami student in 1938. He would eventually serve as Luxembourg’s U.S. ambassador and it was his deep affection for the university that led him to become a strong advocate for the partnership.

Today, the center represents the oldest American program in Luxembourg. Next year it will celebrate its 50th anniversary, and every year participants enjoy an exciting intercultural atmosphere that’s still reminiscent of the Miami experience back home. 

All courses and grades count as if they were earned in Ohio, but along with the college credit also comes the multitude of immersive opportunities.

Most students discover European life as a local, and they participate in numerous cultural events and festivities. On the weekends, they travel. Paris, Berlin, and London are popular destinations. But on overnight trains, some adventurous students are able to venture as far as Budapest and Prague.

And while in Luxembourg, Miami students live with host families, who may or may not speak the same language, which can push even the furthest boundaries of almost anyone’s comfort zone.

Jeffrey Wanko:

It is extremely powerful for students to get that chance to experience other cultures and to broaden their understanding of the world. I have seen that growth for students who learn to respect other people and other people’s ways of doing things and ways of thinking about things. It’s really wonderful.

James Loy:

For students like Alexander, the experience has been more than transformative. It’s been reverential, even.

Mira Alexander:

Having that sense of independence that comes from being far from home and being exposed to so many different cultures, that really helped me come home and feel a lot . . . a lot changed but all for the better, in a way. I have a new perspective on the way I handle school. The way I watch the news. I had a lot of fun and I think that it is something to take advantage of you are at Miami.