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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

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

640px-Flag_of_the_Romani_people.svg.pngPhoto: Roma flag

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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Exploring Space: Names and Monuments

May 26, 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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Last month I talked about how we negotiate airports. I tried to describe what we can perceive in the transnational staging posts of airports. I wanted to illustrate what even an elderly, myopic traveller can learn through observation. However minimal my insights, that exercise represented something that is critical in education abroad: seeking to understand unfamiliar environments in ways that teach us what these places have to say to us and how they can impact upon our own sense of being an effective actor, or otherwise, within the spaces we inhabit.

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Photo: public domain

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Posted in: International Education, Global Cities

What to Do at the Airport: New Landscapes

Apr 28, 2017 1:30:00 PM / 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 spent a significant amount of time in airports just recently and have been thinking that for some of our students who have never flown before (more than we sometimes realize) this may be their first encounter with a “foreign” environment.

For even frequent travelers, the airport is a landscape worth observing for its strangeness. We tend to pass through airports eyes focused not on the now but on the ultimate destination. We are usually semi-conscious of the spaces we move through except in a highly-selective manner. We engage only with those locations that contain things we want to consume or own; in my case this involves the duty-free shop to buy life’s basic essentials (Scotch and cigarettes) and to spray the most expensive cologne tester liberally and indiscriminately about my person. My usual expenditure on after shave is around the $8 mark. An opportunity to salvage a bottle selling for around $120 is irresistible.

Airport Post 1.jpeg

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Posted in: Cultural Insights, Airports, Flying

The Idea of Africa in Study Abroad

Mar 24, 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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Beyond Tarzan

I was raised in an environment in which Africa was a place almost beyond our urchin imaginations. If we envisioned it at all, it was through the lens of that most colonial of figures: Tarzan, a “noble savage” with an English accent.

We were dimly aware that Africa was a real place: we had seen it in dog-eared atlases. Now and again bits of Africa would be in the news as places inexplicably (we thought) seeking independence from the British Empire. For most of us, though, Africa was a blank space we filled with fantasies. It was never real. It was an idea.

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Photo: public domain

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Posted in: International Education

Why We Should Teach the Bible

Feb 24, 2017 1:30:00 PM / 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 William Tyndale did

William Tyndale changed the world with words. His translation of the Bible into common English coincided with Gutenberg’s new printing techniques. The conjunction of a translation that was comprehensible to a wider population with the means of “mass” production reshaped the world. Tyndale was born in 1494 and executed for heresy and treason in 1536. The idea of extending access to the mysteries of religion ran counter to the elitist orthodoxies of the time. Nevertheless, Tyndale’s work paved the way for the King James translation and was responsible for the first step in a process that embedded the Bible into the consciousness of the English-speaking world for at least four centuries. He was a revolutionary.

The dissemination of the Bible did more than impact faith; literature in English reached deeply into biblical sources for creative energy and common reference. As a consequence, over centuries literature existed at two levels: the events and figures recorded in the works, and points of biblical reference commonly understood by readers. There was a shared context that, at a minimum, gave readers a field of common understanding. It is of course possible to read Shakespeare, Marlowe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, T.S. Eliot (and a myriad of other English and American writers) and enjoy, at some level, intriguing stories. However, without at least a rudimentary knowledge of the biblical references the work is diminished. The reader is disconnected from the full meaning and is able to engage only at a relatively superficial level. An analogy with the visual arts is appropriate. How would an art historian understand the tradition of Western art without some knowledge of its critical sources? Without that awareness, we have a bunch of pretty and horrible pictures.


Illustration: Early printing press, 1568 (public domain)

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Posted in: International Education