Study Abroad & Frank Sinatra: Words of Wisdom

Feb 18, 2016 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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Editorial note
Dear Reader, shortly after the arrival of this manuscript, we received the following note in an unstamped envelope. We offer it to you without further comment:

“Dear Madams,

I am Herr Doktor Professor Helmut von Lipschitz (Freudian analyst, Monday to Wednesday; Jungian analyst, Thursday to Friday; Saturday by arrangement, Kash only).

I understand that my patient von Volf has ritten words on a Mr Zinatra.

If you publish, you kneed immediate kounzelliing. Please contact Kristopeher Knedelach (private assistant to  Herr Doktor Professor Helmut von Lipschitz) for appointment urgent (No kredit kards or czechs accept).


Herr Doktor Professor Helmut von Lipschitz

(Ph.D. Institute von Psycho Distress and Bewilderment, Berchtesgaden)."

Come Fly with Me: Sinatrian perspectives on the discourses of study abroad – towards a typology and classification employing deconstructive and Foucauldian methodologies – a preliminary investigation.

Introduction: Addressing Outraged and Disgusted

Some months ago I made passing reference to Frank Sinatra’s expert interest in study abroad. I mentioned that the lyrics that Mr. Sinatra chose to sing offer encoded analyses of our work and reflect a level of expertise on which we would do well to ponder. I suggested that this interest culminated in a profound analysis of the student learning experience embedded in the works represented, in particular, on the phonograph record, “Come Fly with Me”. The cumulative oeuvre we ought, rightly to designate as Sinatrian.

Image: Frank Sinatra album cover via wikimedia



Dear Reader (as George Eliot used to say), I have to tell you that the degree of abuse and ridicule that greeted this suggestion was both uncalled for and unexpected and, no, I will not do what one anonymous reader suggested (“outraged and disgusted” of London) which is, in any case, a biological impossibility.

I had initially decided that the best way of dealing with this verbal violence was with dignified silence but, at the urging of the East London Frank Sinatra Fan Club and with the blessing of S.P.O.D. [i] , I have decided to confound my critics (especially “outraged and disgusted” of London) and send them back into the obscure silence from whence they unfortunately emerged.

As I shall definitively demonstrate, Mr. Sinatra offers a deeply analytical and insightful view of the student experience abroad, with particular focus on such key areas as: pre-departure excitement; arrival, adjustment and engagement with the host community; homesickness; return and re-entry. Furthermore, he explores such issues as study in “non-traditional” locations and makes passing reference to short-term programs though these did not preoccupy him in the long term. [ii] The simple fact is that I alone have noticed this contribution to the field of study abroad. It is perhaps a consequence of the gypsy in me. I will, in short, demonstrate the depth and profundity of Sinatrian expertise in some key areas.

Pre-departure: tooting his flute?

As we are aware, at some level, study abroad is a collective experience. Mr. Sinatra addresses the role of university faculty in encouraging group participation in the afore-mentioned "Come Fly with Me" (Cahn, Van Henson, 1958). He suggests that study abroad in non-traditional locations is most encouraged by faculty-led programming. The “me” in the following discourse teaches Latin American Studies: “Come fly with me, let's float down to Peru. In llama land there's a one-man band and he'll toot his flute for you.” This exhortation is further intensified (note double exclamation marks): “Come fly with me, let's fly, let's fly, Pack up, let's fly away!!” We may further conclude that the faculty member in question is a relatively junior member of the department given the informal register (in particular the unconventional deployment of the phrase “toot his flute” and the repeated contraction of “let us”).


Rather similar dynamics (including the use of second-person discourse) are evident in "Let's Get Away from It All” (Dennis, Adair, 1958) though, as Mr. Sinatra observes, students are motivated both by the desire to escape from home as well as to explore foreign worlds: “Let's take a boat to Bermuda, Let’s get away from it all. Let's leave our hut, dear. Get out of our rut, dear, Let's get away from it all.” For these purposes, it is safe to assume that “it” refers to the unremitting grind of undergraduate study in the salt mines of American higher education.

He takes the argument towards a more sophisticated level of analysis in “It's Nice to Go Trav'ling" (Cahn, Van Henson, 1958). He notes the tension between the attractions of Western Europe (“It's very nice to go trav'ling, To Paris, London and Rome) where, indeed, “the mam'selles and frauleins and the senoritas are sweet” in contrast to the potential attraction of the exotic on “the camel route to Iraq,” [iii]

For all his interest in study abroad in exotic and outlandish places (see also, for further example, “The Road to Mandalay”, Speaks, Kipling, 1958), he repeatedly asserts the importance of study in Europe, typically: “it's something daring, the continental, it’s very subtle, the continental, it has a passion, the continental, it's quite the fashion, the continental (“The Continental”, Conrad, Magidson, 1964 [iv]).”

In the host community: magic abroad

Sinatrian analyses extend further to considerations of the student experience within the host community. He defines the excitement of initial engagement through a paradoxical collocation: “In foggy London town, the sun was shining everywhere” which is, however, followed by a diminution of enthusiasm as euphoria gives way to more realistic modes of engagement: for example, “the British Museum, had lost its charm.” (“A Foggy Day" Gershwin, 1954). Furthermore, he notes that “London by night is a wonderful sight. There is magic abroad in the air” (Coates, 1958). This might suggest, however, (as some critics have argued) that London by day is considerably less wonderful and bereft of magic: a view endorsed by much current, empirical research.


Mr. Sinatra does, however, argue that the cycle of euphoria, disillusion and adjustment is not inevitable and may, perhaps, be a characteristic of specific locations because (as he asserts) “I love Paris every moment” ("I Love Paris", Porter, 1962).

He goes on to propose that “non-traditional locations” should not be seen as intrinsically superior to “traditional” locations. Thus, while he has great respect for study abroad in sub-Saharan Africa (see “That Old Black Magic”, Arden, Mercer, 1961), he also sees intrinsic intellectual and monetary value of study abroad in Italy (“Three Coins in a Fountain”, Styne, Cahn, 1954) and (in Spring at least) in France: “April in Paris” (Burke, Harbury, 1958). [v]  He goes so far as to suggest that there may be value in studying “south of the border, down Mexico way” ("South of The Border", Kennedy, Carr, 1953). The rationale for studying in Mexico is, as he explains, “'cause it was fiesta and we were so gay.”

None of this should suggest that Mr. Sinatra is ignorant of the problems with which we practitioners grapple. “Dancing on the Ceiling” (Rodgers, Hart, 1955) uses an oblique, but vivid, metaphor to explore questions of students with mental health issues. Deviant behavior and resultant discipline issues are also considered in “Making Whoope” (Kahn, Donaldson, 1956) and “Anything Goes” (Porter, 1956) in which he expresses a moral and ethical difficulty with current student behavior: “The world has gone mad today and good's bad today. And black's white today and day's night today.”

Learning objectives are at the center of a number of Sinatrian discourses, framed (in Socratic fashion) in a sequence of profound questions, for example: How deep is the ocean?  How high is the sky? How many roses are sprinkled with dew? How far is the journey from here to a star? (“How Deep is the Ocean?” Berlin, 1960). At an even more complex philosophical level, he challenges the very nature of our perception: why shouldn't I? (“Why Shouldn't I?”, Porter, 1946) is counterbalanced with the introspective potential of: should I?. In that context, he asks the question that has preoccupied professionals in our field over many generations: should I recite beneath the pale moonlight? (“Should I?”, Freed, Brown, 1961). In leaving these core enquiries unresolved, Mr. Sinatra draws attention to the kinds of perplexing ambiguities that permeate the student experience.


He proposes a mechanism through which, through reflection, a student may turn these unresolved tensions into positive learning outcomes: the epistolary form as a means of self analysis: "I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter. I'm gonna write words oh so sweet. They're gonna knock me off my feet.”  ("I'm Gonna Sit Right Down (And Write Myself A Letter))”, Arlen, Young, 1954).

The breadth and depth of Sinatrian analysis is only lightly suggested here. Further research would consider the difficulties of creating programs in the challenging environs of “Lonely Town” (Bernstein, Camden, Green, 1957), and would explore his work on alternate study abroad models, as exemplified in “French Foreign Legion” (Schroeder, Wood, 1959). We have also not been able to consider in depth what “it” may mean in “It Happened in Monterey” (Rose, Wayne, 1956), [vi] nor have we grappled with the real meaning of “Blue Hawaii” (Rainger, 1958).

It behooves us, nevertheless, to contemplate, albeit briefly, his critique of the ways in which re-entry has become a critical issue in the discourse of study abroad.

Re-entry and other delusions: these foolish things

Mr. Sinatra understood with remarkable clarity that the problem of re-entry is, essentially, a matter of mawkish sentimentality. He notes, for example, a student evaluation in which re-entry angst is based upon the following trivia: “a cigarette that bears a lipstick's traces; an airline ticket to romantic places; a tinkling piano in the next apartment; the waiters whistling as the last bar closes.” He designates these concerns, rightly, as foolish (“These Foolish Things Remind Me of You", Link, Strachey, Marvel, 1961).

Photo: Frank Sinatra, a public domain image, 1957

Similarly, Mr. Sinatra offers a satirical version of the pain of re-entry in “They Can't Take That Away from Me" (Gershwin, 1954): “The way you've changed my life. No, no - they can't take that away from me”. Many years in advance of my own skeptical deconstruction of the proposition that “study abroad changed my life”, Sinatrian critique exposes the damaging impact of transformational hyperbole.

Conclusion: burn the passport

The value of Mr. Sinatra’s several analyses is not only in the fact that his arguments add ballast to my own research. In addition to admiration for the sophistication of the argumentation, Dear Reader, you should also note that absolutely no reference is made to infectious delusions such as global citizenship. Indeed, not all finishes well: “No more customs, Burn the passport, no more packing and unpacking, Light the home fires, get my slippers, Make a pizza.” [vii] From this, we may conclude that Old Blue Eyes saw things very clearly. [viii]

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[i] The Society for the Preservation of Obsessional Delusions

[ii] In the interest of brevity, I will refer you, Dear Reader, to “Something wonderful happens in summer” (Bushkin and De Vries, 1957).

[iii] This reference precedes more recent issues connected to health and safety issues in that particular region of the world.

[iv] For the sake of academic integrity, please note that the dates cited refer to when Mr Sinatra sang the song rather than to the time of writing.

[v] The attentive reader may note that this qualification contradicts the position taken in “I Love Paris.” This should not be seen as a contradiction but as a growing understanding of the ambivalence of all experiences in the capital of France.

[vi] Op. Cit

[vii] Op Cit. “it’s Nice…”

[viii] No further correspondence on this topic is welcome (the editors).

Thanks Mike! 

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Topics: International Education