Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2010 (November 8, 2010 at 12:00 am)

Bound for Brussels


Share this
November 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm
By Amy Elliott'06
To see recent students' photos of their time abroad, visit What They Saw: Study Abroad in Pictures; a film about the history of study abroad at Beloit College is available on YouTube.

Brussels SproutsIn 1957, the Treaty of Rome established the European Economic Community (EEC) to promote peace and economic growth between its members. Three years later, Beloit College sent a delegation of ambitious young scholars to Brussels, Belgium, to study emergent common markets in Europe.

“We were watching the thing get off the ground,” Joan Lindhorst Cathcart’61 says of the EEC.

Cathcart was one of 12 students, most of them juniors and seniors, to be selected for the program. Dubbed the “Brussels Sprouts,” they represented a range of disciplines and a spectrum of worldliness.

Beloit students had studied abroad before 1960, either individually, through other universities, or with independent programs like the School for International Training. But the Brussels seminar—along with the opening of the World Affairs Center and the development of an International Relations program—formalized and expanded Beloit’s commitment to international education. Under what was then known as the World Outlook Program, Beloit made its earliest moves toward what has now become a respected, 50-year-old program of comprehensive study abroad and global learning opportunities.

During that first fall semester in 1960, students took a crash course in French and a short class on the foundations of the EEC and its implications for peace, global diplomacy, and an integrated European economy. They donned suits and dresses and boarded a prop plane for a 14-hour flight to Brussels in mid-October. Once there, they stayed with host families recruited through the Experiment in International Living, a pioneering international exchange program.

The student-participants had a diverse range of international experiences before completing the semester. Robert Houdek’61, for example, had already decided to dedicate his life to the foreign service; he’d even run into Nikita Khrushchev on a mountaintop during a cultural exchange program to the Soviet Union. Frank McClellan’61, on the other hand, was “a little farmboy from Delavan, Wisconsin” who thought an experience overseas might enrich his small agricultural community when he came back to establish his business there after graduation.

Fifteen years earlier, World War II had ravaged the continent and frayed relationships between EEC member countries. Cathcart remembers her host family struggling to adapt to post-war realities. The father, she learned, had fought for the Nazis and had been a prisoner of war for several years.

“After they let him out in the late ’40s, his family disowned him, so he went to Argentina for another six years,” she says. “Then they contacted him and asked him to come home and support them, because they weren’t able to do it on their own. Two wars had pretty much wiped them out.”

Led by Professor of Geography John “Old Dad” Kemler, the Sprouts met with business leaders, government officials, and diplomats, including William Walton Butterworth, one of the first U.S. representatives to the EEC, who held a dinner at his home for the Beloit students.

“We were really talking to people who were trying to put this idea together, to make the common market work,” says Cathcart. Side trips throughout Northern Europe included excursions to Bonn, Cologne, Rotterdam, Dusseldorf, and The Hague.

Brussels provided a rare window on the early years of the EEC and Europe’s post-war reconstruction efforts, and that made a lasting impression on the Sprouts. Many Sprouts are still fascinated by Europe’s ongoing experiment in international economics and government.

“Everyone in Europe saw the necessity of making the community work,” says Cathcart. “That’s the idea we came away with: You can bury a lot of bad feelings if survival is the question.”

“We saw this dream of coming together—it was so real and so strong—when it was just forming,” says Patricia Hamilton Gyi’63, another Brussels participant. “To see how it has matured and been implemented and in some places is fraying, it’s really sort of a life cycle. It will be fascinating to see how it continues to evolve.”

Brussels also presented a unique global context for current affairs throughout the world, including what was happening back home in the United States. Gyi remembers voting in the 1960 U.S. presidential election from the American Embassy.

“It was an exciting experience,” she says. “When we returned in January, President Kennedy was beginning to announce his goals and objectives, which were very world-oriented, such as establishing the Peace Corps.”

Less remarkable pursuits abroad provided learning opportunities, too. McClellan, for his part, joined a city basketball team in Brussels. Gyi, a longtime lover of classical music, attended operas in Brussels and Milan. Houdek even bought a car, a Karmann Ghia, from the Volkswagen plant in Essen, Germany.

“Brussels was profound,” says Houdek, who went on to a distinquished career in the foreign service, national intelligence, and the U.S. Department of State. “Beloit always nurtured, developed, and directed my inclination to international affairs and the foreign service.”

McClellan farmed in Delavan for 11 years after Beloit, before joining a Madison, Wis.-based manufacturing company and traveling the world as a training manager.

“It gave me confidence,” he says of his Brussels experience. “I wouldn’t have traded any classroom time for it.”

Today, about 45 percent of Beloit College students spend a semester abroad, according to Elizabeth Brewer, director of Beloit’s Office of International Education.

In recent years, the college has emphasized the integration of study abroad experiences with students’ individual courses of study. That could mean strengthening language skills, learning how to do field-based research, or writing a travel memoir. With Web-based technology, it’s suddenly possible for students to connect with Beloit in real-time when they’re abroad: blogging, reporting to classrooms via video-phone software like Skype, even taking classes that are taught on-campus while studying on the other side of the globe. And each fall, students who have done academic work in another country have the opportunity to share it with the campus community during International Symposium.

“The value people place on international education, whether or not they study abroad, has really increased,” Brewer says, noting that faculty support is on the rise, too. “It’s becoming much easier for us to say, ‘yes, this has value.’”

Amy Elliott’06 is a Detroit-based freelance writer and editor. She writes irreverently about pre-automotive Detroit history in her blog, nighttraintodetroit.com.

Add a comment

Please login to comment.