Dr. Michael Woolf

Michael's unique role at CAPA takes him around the world to conferences as a frequent presenter and attendee. He serves on a number of boards and committees, including the Curriculum Committee of the Forum on Education Abroad, the Editorial Boards of Frontiers and the Journal of Studies in International Education, EAIE’s Knowledge Development Task Force, and Braun Stiftung für Internationalen Austausch. He has written widely and has published extensively on international education and cultural studies. Most recently, he published work aimed at critically reviewing the core assumptions of study abroad. 'Thoughts on Education Abroad' is a monthly column of short essays sharing his thoughts and expertise on the subject.

Recent Posts

The Dean and Mr Schneider: No Laughing Matter

Mar 30, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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Laughter is a serious business, and comedy a weapon more dangerous than tragedy which is why tyrants treat it with caution. 
—Joe Orton

The world is sick, and I'm the doctor. I'm a surgeon with a scalpel for false values.
—Lenny Bruce

All humor is rooted in pain.
—Richard Pryor

pexels-photo-417270-architectural-design-architecture-art-balconyPhoto: public domain

In America, anyone can become president. That’s the problem.
—George Carlin

Washington couldn’t tell a lie, Nixon couldn’t tell the truth, and Reagan couldn’t tell the difference.
—Mort Sahl

In these troubled times when bigotry is political orthodoxy and, paradoxically, political correctness is used as a weapon to constrain freedom of speech, it seems to me that we are in urgent need of the power of comedy. Throughout our history, comedians, satirists and humorists have pricked the balloons of prejudice and self-righteous pomposity, exposed idiocy and cruelty to ridicule. Offending orthodoxy is a moral obligation in outrageous times. Two figures, the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and Mr. Schneider of New York, separated by almost 250 years and 6,000 miles, demonstrate the power of humor and ridicule; our openness to these voices is some measure of moral health. Comedy is, as these two figures demonstrate, a political scalpel cutting through the flesh of corruption, cruelty, idiocy and indifference.

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Posted in: Study Abroad, History Abroad

Imagined Space Revisited: Europe and the Obscene Whisper

Feb 23, 2018 10:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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I have written and spoken recently about Europe in the light of the Brexit referendum. Whatever your view of the outcome, history has been curiously absent from the debate. We have tended to demonstrate collective amnesia in that there has been little consideration of the role of the European Union in leading, whether by accident or design, to over 50 years of relative peace within the region. The traditional and bloody animosities between the major nations of Europe, France and England on one side and Germany on the other, have given way to a sense of common interest, if not quite common identity.

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The question of collective memory was alternatively illustrated by the extended period of World War I commemoration that culminated in the ceremonies of remembrance in London, throughout the UK, and in many other parts of the world on November 12th, 2017. Remembrance Sunday takes place every year on the nearest Sunday to Armistice Day when the hostilities of World War I ended at the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918. This event was rendered even more potent in contrast to the amnesia demonstrated by Brexit. Two versions of Europe paradoxically coincided. One is marked by what is for some political expediency of the moment. The other is the product of historical continuity.

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Posted in: Study Abroad, History Abroad

Imagined Space: Inventing the East and Creating the West

Jan 26, 2018 9:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet
—Rudyard Kipling The Ballad of East and West (1889)

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Making Space

The idea of space is critical in education abroad. We believe that exploration of unfamiliar space is of educational value and, consequently, we have developed a wide range of teaching strategies that take students beyond the formal classroom. A primary distinction between domestic study and education abroad is precisely the exploration and analysis of space through some combination of what we call situational learning and/or experiential education.

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Posted in: Study Abroad, History Abroad

Does God Like Christmas?

Dec 22, 2017 10:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel and reindeers, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas.
– Ronald Reagan

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Introducing Winterval

Things about which I am sceptical are unavoidable in these cold dreary days of December. If you live in London (or in most of the cities in which we operate) Christmas is omnipresent in our media, streets and shops. It begins, in fact, in early October and drags on for close to three monotonous months. It is in our eyes—tinsel town and twinkling lights —urging us to commemorate the conjunction of holiness and poverty by buying more and more things. It is also in our ears. Many of the Christmas Carols with which we are familiar were written in Victorian times. They are now heard, more often than not, as a kind of seasonal muzak in department stores: droning reiterations of sound devoid of meaning.

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Posted in: Study Abroad, Holidays Abroad

Beyond our Vision: A Shameful Amnesia

Nov 24, 2017 10:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man's dignity and integrity …in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

-Rabbi Joachim Prinz, August 28, 1963, The March on Washington.

The Roma in Europe

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This summer I had a two-month sabbatical which gave me the space to pursue my interest in the history of the Roma, “gypsies” in Europe. I revisited some of the issues I first raised in November 2016 in my column “Sounds familiar? Roma & Memory” and was able to conduct some in-depth research that is ongoing.

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Posted in: Study Abroad, History Abroad

Worlds Apart: From Idealism to Pragmatism

Oct 27, 2017 10:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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Let me make it clear from the outset, I am not assuming the role of outraged dinosaur or rabid reactionary howling ineffectually at the ways things are. Instead, I want to illustrate a change that has taken place, over roughly the last 25 years, often unnoticed and unremarked, in the way in which we talk about our work. I have been pondering an alteration in our collective consciousness partly out of nostalgia for the dreams of the past, and partly out of unease at the direction in which we have moved.

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In my admittedly faulty memory and in brief, we have shifted from talking about the collective good to focusing on personal benefit; from describing ways in which education abroad brings diverse individuals together to emphasising the personal advantages that participants can gain. In the years following World War II, there was a vision (perhaps illusion) that education abroad might bring greater international understanding through the interaction of young people across borders.

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Posted in: Study Abroad

The Circus

Sep 22, 2017 8:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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“Men, women, and children who cannot live on gravity alone need something to satisfy their gayer, lighter moods and hours, and he who ministers to this want is, in my opinion, in a business established by the Creator of our nature. If he worthily fulfills his mission and amuses without corrupting, he need never feel that he has lived in vain.” - P.T. Barnum

The final performance of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus, took place in a New York suburb on May 21st, 2017. Though the circus began in Europe and will continue in one form or another there and elsewhere, the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus, represented the peak of the arts; it was simply “the greatest show on earth.”

At the last performance, the ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson, urged the audience, (“ladies and gentlemen, and children of all ages”) “to keep the circus alive inside you.”

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Photo: public domain

I only discovered this event by accident in a very small item in the inside page of a London daily newspaper.

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Posted in: Study Abroad

Too Academic: A Therapeutic Approach

Aug 25, 2017 8:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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What is wrong with me

I took part in a panel at a recent conference with two of the smartest women in our field; they would be among the smartest women in any field. We received reasonable evaluations except from three anonymous colleagues who, in one way or other, judged it to be “too academic.”

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That did not trouble me too much personally. I do not seek unqualified approval (which is just as well) and I respect the opinions of some of my colleagues. Nevertheless, I found myself oddly perturbed at these comments even though they represented 3 out of 15 received (those 15 represented about 22.6% of those “present” at our session, in one sense or another). What really disturbed me was that I was disturbed. I have become very accustomed, almost immune, to a critical focus on my own manifest failings.

But, I brooded.

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Posted in: Academics Abroad, Study Abroad

The Length of Study Abroad: Does it Matter?

Jul 28, 2017 11:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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No

The size of a work of art is not a reflection of its value: exquisite miniatures [1] can have as much impact as the monumental paintings by which Jacques-Louis David (1748 – 1825) sought to glorify Napoleon. [2].  By the same principle, the length of a book is no measure of its quality or impact. If it were, a Jeffrey Archer novel (not recommended) would be better than a poem by Emily Dickinson (recommended). [3]

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Photo: public domain

By way of comparison, the gold standard in study abroad used to be based upon spending an academic year devoted to the study of the language of a foreign country. This is no longer the case.  A number of factors have combined to expose the redundancy of that notion. A focus on language studies has been eroded by diversification of locations to include minority-language environments. There are obviously valid reasons to study in Hungary, Poland, or the Czech Republic, but learning those languages is only a priority for students with very specialized interests. Another development has seen a growth in theme-driven, discipline-specific, intensive studies in which language learning is of secondary importance (if of any importance at all). There are also regions of the world, Africa in particular, where very few programs prioritize the acquisition of local languages. Broadly, a focus on what might be learned within the environment, rather than on the languages spoken there, aligns with institutional objectives and reflects the fact that fewer universities now require second-language acquisition as a condition of graduation. Familiarity with French, German, Italian or Spanish also endowed the speaker with the appearance of sophisticated cosmopolitanism: a seductive identity to be sought when the cities of Western Europe were more exotic and further away than they are in these internet times.

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Posted in: Study Abroad

Exploring Space: The Streets of Boston

Jun 23, 2017 8:30:00 AM / by Dr. Michael Woolf

Dr Michael Woolf CAPA International Education

"Thoughts on Education Abroad" is a monthly column written by CAPA The Global Education Network's Deputy President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Michael Woolf.

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Reading the signs

Coming from suburban America, where people drive from one place to another, walking for no particular reason was a bit of an eccentric thing to do. I could walk for hours in Paris …looking at the way the city was put together, glimpsing its unofficial history here and there, a bullet in the façade of an hotel particulier…or a row of cobblestones revealed by roadworks, several layers below the crust of the current city, slowly rising ever upward. I was on the lookout for residue, for texture, for accidents and encounters and unexpected openings. [1]

Lauren Elkin’s comment resonates with the experience of many American students when they study abroad. They learn modes of engagement with the environment that may be unfamiliar.  What Elkin calls being “on the lookout” precisely describes the habit of spatial consciousness that we try to inculcate in our students.

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Photo: public domain

A student of urban environments is a kind of archaeologist or a reader of signs: deciphering that which might be missed by a tourist or incidental visitor. Interpreting visual signals requires us to go from merely seeing to active observation. Then, we need to translate those perceptions into language; to move from exploration to analysis -- to occupy rather than just pass through in a myopic blur.

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