Building Study Abroad Programs Around Diaspora

It strikes me—especially considering a recent article “Sounds familiar? Roma & Memory” by Dr. Michael Woolf—that while the field of study abroad rushes to include IDI-inspired courses that measure and document cross-cultural navigational capacities, equal amounts of energy could be dedicated to program development centered on the poetics of diaspora.

For there, in the spread of ideas, practices, and cultural forms from one location to another, are traces of the students’ own transposition across languages and cultures (a chance for some reflection on the crossing of boundaries, for sure, in intercultural development seminars), as does training around the ability to see continuity across space and time.

Let’s think about programming in Spain, just as an example. How do we expect students to understand anything about the worldwide persecution of the Roma if, inside of the program courses and all-important meetings, we do not include and show the films of Tony Gatlif? Latcho Drom begins in India and ends in Andalusia: the message of continuity is traced rhythmically and in terms of movement. And it is a continuity that highlights a rich layer of connections and shows that the “gypsies” of Spain are one part of a greater diaspora that even crossed the Atlantic to the Americas. The message is loud and clear in La Caita’s song from a hilltop in Andalusia:

The field has made ‘moving,’ multi-national study abroad programs a priority in terms of development (though cost barriers remain an issue). In the poetics of diaspora we have the opportunity to build programs around movement, shift, transformation, and what Amiri Baraka called “the changing same.”

Want to study the Religions and Arts of the African Diaspora? Orientation is in the Bronx; moves to Cayo Hueso, Havana; crosses to the Ilés of Salvador da Bahia; and then lands in Oyó, Nigeria. Pre-departure and Re-entry orientations in New York involve religious practitioners and artists and serve as points that mark the type of cross-cultural development at “home” and not always measured by standardized testing.

Woolf’s decision to think about study abroad programming through the history of the Roma (and present day treatment, as well) is an important one that merits further discussion, especially in this moment that seems to be mirroring waves of fascism from the not-so-distant past. 

Where there is awareness of diasporic continuities and study abroad programs built around diaspora, there is too a heightened awareness of ongoing oppression and marginalization of groups like the Roma. Questions of injustice could become central to programs built around Diaspora Studies and this would expose students to what Dr. Woolf calls “a constant trickle of disturbing news that has not penetrated our consciousness.” News that, as Woolf writes, has “not entered the customary discourse of diversity and is rarely part of the agenda of study abroad; it is easy to avoid.” Several recent examples of this type of news are listed in the article:

"Authorities close shelter making Roma homeless” (Milan, September 30, 2016)
"Roma denied electricity...collective punishment” (Serbia, October 14, 2016)“
"No arrests after Romani man beaten to death” (Czech Republic, October 21, 2016)
“Families pushed out into the streets as winter begins to bite” (Rome, October 28, 2016)

While I start on the initial phase of a brand new study abroad program in Delhi that I’m calling the “Diasporas of India: A Nation of Movement and Continuity” I think about Latcho Drom’s opening scenes in Rajasthan:

I think about how fascinating it will be for students to visit Red Fort and learn of La Alhambra’s construction during the same period: a connection and line of continuity centered in the Moors that illuminates the Roma diaspora as well. 

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