When the World Is Your Classroom, You Make Amazing Discoveries

Columbia College Chicago students take courses during January, or J-Term, that allow them to explore places such as Paris, Rome, and Buenos Aires, expanding their learning about culture, art, and themselves.

“As a film student, I'm constantly searching for new sources of inspiration,” says Haley Patton, a junior Cinema and Television Arts student at Columbia College Chicago. Surprisingly, she discovered an incubator for fresh ideas in Rome, known more for its ancient ruins and history than modern day innovation. 

But as she and 20 other Columbia undergraduate and graduate students travelled through Rome this past January, she realized that even in a city as old as Rome, designers and artists still find ways to reinvent and move forward. 

"It reminded me that nothing is ever set in stone, that art is constantly changing and evolving," Patton says. 

It’s one of those lessons that only truly resonates when students experience a place, its people, and its culture in person. And fortunately for Columbia students, there are plenty of opportunities to learn such lessons by traveling during the college’s J-Term, the mini-term that follows New Year’s and precedes the beginning of the spring semester. Columbia also offers faculty-led travel educational opportunities over spring break and the summer.  

This past J-Term students travelled to not only Italy but Argentina, France, and the United Kingdom. And in the U.S., students visited Los Angeles and New York City. While each student experience was unique, all students came home enriched with new awareness and understanding of the world beyond their backyard as well as highly desired college credits.  

Learn more about J-Term and other study abroad opportunities at Columbia.


Below read about the J-Term's  2024 international trips to Argentina, France, and Italy.

  • Exploring Latin American Culture, Arts, and Gender in Argentina

    Marcelo Sabatés and Gabriela Diaz de Sabatés, professors in Humanities, History, and Social Sciences at Columbia, led 20 students through Buenos Aires and Tilcara, Argentina. Students took one of two classes as part of the American Culture, Arts, and Gender in Argentina J-Term program: Introduction to Latin American Studies or Introduction to Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  

    This J-Term experience immersed participants in rich and vibrant Latin American settings. It combined experiences in Buenos Aires — a cosmopolitan, diverse, and multi-ethnic environment noted as a leading Latin American city in film production, music, literature, design, dance, theatre, and investigative journalism — and the indigenous community of Tilcara in the province of Jujuy. Tilcara provided a unique ground to learn about gender, ethnicities, colonialism and neo-colonialism, and regional cultural and artistic productions. 

    “For most of the students, it was their first time outside of the U.S. This allowed them to experience diverse forms of culture and the arts very different from what they are accustomed to — for instance, the tango culture in Buenos Aires and the indigenous music, textiles, and art in northern Argentina,” Marcelo Sabatés says.  


    Memorable parts of the trip included the following: 

    • An extended tango immersion class and practice session at neighborhood “milonga” square with locals 
    • Seeing the indigenous communities in northern Argentina impacted by the cultural and economic tensions surrounding the presence of multinational companies attempting to extract lithium from Great Salt Lakes in Omaguacas' native land.  
    • A visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Human Rights site, a former detention center where thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured, raped, and killed as part of "Operation Condor." 

    “The trip to Argentina gave me the chance to build upon my understanding of Latin American history and life by immersing myself in the culture. I enjoyed daily experiences of learning from practical landmarks and locations, branching out from textbooks and PowerPoints,” says Sophomore Lee Overton, a Cinema and Television Arts student. 

  • Creative Writing Students Engage in the Literary Side of Paris

    While in France, Creative Writing students immersed themselves in the work of acclaimed and influential writers, such as James Baldwin and Ernest Hemingway, whose creative development was impacted by their formative time spent in Paris. According to Kathie Bergquist — an adjunct faculty member in English and Creative Writing who, along with Adjunct Faculty Member Douglas Whippo, co-taught the course and led the group in Paris — students also developed their own creative work, voices, and identities as American writers in Paris.   

    “Through their study of other writers’ works and their own cultural experiences, students placed themselves within the continuum of writers who found creative community, personal development, and global awareness through reading, writing, reflection, and first-hand explorations,” Bergquist says.   

    In Paris, students could consider the impact of historical time and place on creative production, and by extension, consider the impact of their own time and place on their creative work.  

    “I think students were surprised to learn the extent to which historically marginalized artists sought and created community in Paris, and how that community sustained them,” Bergquist says.  


    Class highlights included the following:  

    • The tours: a Paris orientation tour of the major sites, an Artists and Jazz Age in Montmartre walking tour, and a left-blank literary culture walking tour.  
    • As a capstone to the class, students read from work they developed during their time in Paris at a literary salon hosted by a local café and art space. After a celebration of student accomplishments, the class visits a historic live jazz club for a fun and festive night of dancing. 

    As student Max Jaggers wrote in their end-of-session journal. 

    “It’s so refreshing to write in a space designated for just that: WRITING! And to write in a city with such rich creative culture, around the echoes of so much historical literature and art… invaluable.” 

  • Students From Across Columbia Discover Arts, Culture, and History in Rome

    Two classes traveled together to Rome: Topics in Writing Abroad taught by English and Creative Writing Professor and Chair Emeritus Randall Albers, and International Cultural Heritage taught by Robert Blandford, an associate professor in Business and Entrepreneurship 

    “We started talking about our courses and realized that story was central to both of our disciplines,” Albers says. “We decided that Rome would be the perfect place to explore our collaboration further and proposed a program that began in 2011 …  Being exposed to learning in Rome allows them to place their work in a world view, fostering a broader scope and a more mature sensibility.” 

    In January, the classes represented students from over 13 majors, including Creative Writing, Arts Management,Fashion Studies, Graphic Design, Film and Television, Music Business, Photography, Marketing,Animation, Fine Arts, Illustration,Art History, and Advertising. 

    Students gained direct exposure to the arts, culture, language, and natural environment of Rome, home to over 2000 years of human history,” Blandford says. “The mix of students and the connections between the two classes created a dynamic creative environment encouraging cross disciplinary collaboration and learning.” 

    “Despite our digitally connected work, there is no substitute for the cultural learning that takes place in every interaction and activity, from exploring Pompeii with a Roman archaeologist to mastering the nuances of coffee culture and etiquette in Italy,” he adds.  

    leaning-tower_pisa_jterm_m.pngHighlights included: 

    • A day in Pompeii with a working archaeologist and a day-trip to Florence. 
    • The extraordinary art at the Galleria Borghese. 
    • Small dinners hosted by Roman families in their homes. 

    “I learned so much about arts management from a new perspective by visiting all these cultural sites. I have typically been focused on visual and contemporary art, but this trip showed me the importance of preserving art and architecture from the past,” says Jennifer Kempf, who is getting her graduate degree in arts management or MAM.  

    “I was able to evaluate different approaches to visitor interaction and curation that I have not before been exposed to and am grateful for this experience to learn about arts management from a new cultural perspective,” Kempf says. “I think this trip was instrumental in my future adventures and gave me a great framework to experiencing new cultures.” 

For some students who participate in J-Term, the lessons learned are deeply personal and forever impactful.  

“During our visit to Jujuy in Argentina, I went through a journey of self-discovery and acceptance of my image, where I realized how Western beauty standards have influenced me since puberty, leading to a struggle with self-acceptance and dependency on beauty trends,” says Indira Roman, a senior in Communication.  

“This perspective changed when I discovered how much I admired the indigenous beauty and cultural richness around me, yet for years, I’d failed to see the beauty in mine … What I once believed would require years unexpectedly transpired within a few days during our stay in Jujuy, and for that, I will be forever grateful.” 

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