AIFS Study Abroad Blog

Life & Culture: Explained

In addition to courses taught by US faculty, one cost-efficient way to offer a wider selection of courses on a Faculty-Led program are those offered by local adjunct faculty. One of these courses is the very popular Life and Culture, a “civilization” course focused on the program country. 

The AIFS Life and Culture course seeks to develop students’ understanding and appreciation of key aspects of contemporary cultures and society within an historical context. Through a combination of lectures and activities outside of the classroom, students will be encouraged to make informed, critical comparisons between what they observe and learn about their host society and that of their home culture and community. Students will be introduced to significant cultural and historical sites in their host city. It then gives them the ability to visit those sites individually later on in an informed and analytical manner. 

Guide Nigel Hake giving a tour to students.

Suggested Format for a Semester Program:

AIFS curates the 12-week course and suggests a range of topics to the home institution in advance; we can adjust to meet specific areas of interest and will do our best to match topics to local events depending on the season, so students get the maximum benefit.  

The course is usually mandatory for all students, so on a typical 12 credit semester, students would have it as one of their four courses. Given the expansive choice of classes students often have, it is often the one opportunity a week to gather the entire cohort together!  

Typically, and across locations, a 3-credit course model comprises a weekly lecture with a local professor, and bi-weekly field trips including museums, walking tours, and specialist visits. In between the field trips, students meet with their home faculty for discussions, quizzes, and prepare assignments such as critical journal entries, topic papers and group presentations.  Home faculty will act as teacher of record and provide evaluations, assessments, and the grades required for the provision of academic credit.  Within a consortium setting, each faculty grade their own students, but collaboration with other faculty is important for consistency in workload and expectations.  AIFS can facilitate these discussions in the planning stage, prior to confirming the syllabus.  

Suggested Format for a Short-term Program:

For J-Term or Winter Intercession and Summer Programs, it may not be viable to offer a 3-credit culture course over 3-4 weeks. We are happy to collaborate with schools to create a 1-credit course, or simply to arrange a small selection of guest lectures and visits during the program to give students an insight into the local culture and enhance their experience.  Topics can be general, or can be tailored to suit the course of study; we have an extensive network of local speakers and are happy to make suggestions that will complement faculty teaching.  

Topic Highlights

In London, the British Life and Culture course covers topics on the Monarchy, Multiculturalism, Immigration and Ethnicity, the National Health Service, Education and Social Class, and Theater. Visits include tours of Parliament, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, and the Imperial War Museum.  

Students at Buckingham Palace.

Italian Life and Culture students in Florence learn about the Renaissance, Italian Politics, the role of the Church and the Pope, the Mafia and Organized Crime, and Immigration.  They visit the Uffizi and the Palazzo Vecchio, enjoy Italian Film nights in the Study Center, and meet with local refugee organizations. We can also offer the course in Rome.  

Students at the Italian opera.

In Spain, where we have many locations, Spanish Life and Culture themes include Flamenco, Bullfighting, Spain’s Moorish heritage, the Spanish Civil War, and particularly in Barcelona, Catalan’s unique culture and discussions on independence.  Students will experience museums such as the Prado and the Palacio Real in Madrid or the Picasso museum in Barcelona, Flamenco dance classes and walking tours.  

Flamenco class in Seville.

Over in ParisFrench Life and Culture, students learn about French Politics, Black Paris, Franco-American Relations, France in WWII and Fashion. Groups visit the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre Museum, enjoy movie nights of classic French Films and participate in walking tours of historic neighborhoods such as the Marais and Montmartre.  

Students during their tour in Versailles.

In DublinIrish Life and Culture covers topics such as the 1916 Rebellion, Irish Language, Literature and Theater, The importance of Irish Sport, and Irish-American relations. Students will visit a traditional farm, have a Gaelic Games experience, go to the theater and tour Trinity College Dublin, home to the Book of Kells. 

In BerlinGerman Life and Culture students are taught about German History and Mythology, the Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany, the Berlin Wall, and Popular Culture.  They visit the Reichstag, Potsdam, the Opera, and the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen.  

Students on a street art tour.

Students in Prague with a Czech Life and Culture course will discover Czech Media and Cinema, Czech Sport, Contemporary Czech History, and learn about local holidays and traditions.  Visits are arranged to the Senate of the Parliament of the Czech Republic, classical concerts, and an historic coffee house, as well as architectural and literary walks.  

Last but by no means least (anywhere is possible!) over in San Jose, groups with a Costa Rican Life and Culture course will learn about Biodiversity and Environmental Politics, the Costa Rican healthcare system, the Importance of Sustainable Development and National Demographics.  Visits include the National Museum, excursions to Manuel Antonio National Park, Coffee Plantations, and meetings with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation.  

Students learning about Costa Rican plants.

If you have questions about Life & Culture courses, please feel free to reach out!

Paula Messina (Pacific, Rocky Mountains, Southwest states): pmessina@aifs.com

Susanna Shigo (Eastern, Southeastern & Midwestern states): sshigo@aifs.com

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