When the 72 percent of Elon University students who study abroad come home, many of them experience a phenomenon known as “culture shock.” The students in Thomas Arcaro’s class “GST 433- Coming Home: The Impact of Study Abroad,” have written a book to ease students through this transition. Proceeds from the book will be used to fund a scholarship for Elon students who want to study abroad but cannot afford it.  ABC news reporter and former “60 Minutes” correspondent Byron Pitts is writing a forward for the book.

Idea behind the book

“Our purpose is to provide students with an experience that is highly academic but also action and service based,” Arcaro said.

Students in the class have the opportunity to tell their stories about studying abroad and coming home through posts on a class blog and class discussions.

Alexis Spearman, a senior who studied abroad in Australia, said she “really loves” being able to reflect on her experiences with students who have similar stories.

“Studying abroad was the best experience of my life,” Spearman said. “It’s really hard coming back home though, because nobody can relate to what you went through.”

While most of the class returned from studying abroad within the past two years, Alex Goeldner, a junior from Germany, is still on her study abroad adventure Goldener also studied abroad in high school five years ago, and draws on her experience from that trip as well.

“When you go abroad and come back, it’s all you want to talk about,” Goeldner said. “But nobody wants to hear every detail. That’s why this class is so great, because everyone wants to hear your stories.”

Goeldner said this class helped her to “pay attention more to cultural differences” while she is in America.

“I notice more things now,” she said. “And now I understand the concepts behind them. I can actually analyze the differences, and that’s really cool.”

Arcaro said the “lion’s share of the credit” for the success of the class and the book goes to Emily Delaplane, the teacher’s assistant for the class. Delaplane was in the class last winter term and said she wanted to be involved again this year.

“Emily really orchestrated so much,” Arcaro said. “She’s very professional and has worked very hard on this book. She does what she does extremely well.”

Putting it all together

The book is titled “Desks to Destinations” and was written on a nightly updated class blog. The blog posts are then compiled into chapters based upon the subject.

“We get prompts for each chapter, and we have to write at least 1,500 words for each prompt,” Goeldner said. “Almost everyone goes over the word limit, though. There’s always so much more to tell.”

The students in the class were broken up into teams based on their specific skills and interests. Teams included an editing group, both internal and external marketing groups and a creative group.

The editing group consisted of several students and Delaplane. They read every post and decided which ones to include in the final publication.

The marketing teams worked on getting information out to the general public about the book, both at Elon and beyond.

“The external group worked with Elon’s partners at FIE [Foundation for International Education], Semester at Sea, CIEE [Council on International Educational Exchange] and so forth,” Delaplane said.

Meanwhile, the internal marketing group focused on selling the book to Elon students. They plan to have a table in Moseley Center and also at College Coffee to promote the book.

On one of the last days of class, Arcaro said he walked around class supervising, and “every group was 100 percent on track.” Arcarco said he was very proud of them.

“They were all zeroed in on what they had to do,” Arcaro said. “It really was amazing as a teacher to see them working so hard and see them step up to the plate like this. They really get it.”

The book is being published by Create Space, a company that publishes books by the individual order instead of en masse.

The first proof of the book was sent at the end of Winter Term. Create Space then sends back the proof, edited for formatting purposes only. Copy editing is solely the responsibility of the class. Then, when the proper changes are made, the proof is sent back and will be ready for publication shortly afterward.

Last year’s class

This is the second year Arcaro has taught this class. Last year during winter term, the class wrote a book entitled “#Cultured - A Guide to Study Abroad for Students by Students.” It is currently available for purchase through Amazon.

“Last year was like our beta test,” Arcaro said. “This year, we know what we’re doing and have most of the kinks ironed out.”

Delaplane said the atmosphere is “very different than last year.” She also said her personal experience was very different as a TA as opposed to a student.

“Last year, it was a very homogenous group,” said Delaplane. “It was almost all girls who had studied abroad the year before, and this year, there are so many people from all different years and backgrounds who have studied abroad at different times.”

Delaplane also compared last year’s class to being like “group therapy,” while she said this year is more lecture based, and “there are higher expectations.”

Byron Pitts

The students in the class came up with the idea to try and get someone who is considered “high profile” to write the forward for the book. Pitts, who visited Elon last year to give a speech, was one of the first people who came to their minds.

“He’s someone influential who has gone abroad and would have something important to say,” Spearman said.

Pitts is an award winning journalist who has covered 9/11, the fall of Saddam Husain’s statue, the war in Afghanistan and the refugee crisis in Kosovo.

“We thought that if we had someone who was recognizable to write the forward, we could sell more copies,” Arcaro said.

To get ahold of Pitts, the students in the class all tweeted at him multiple times within ten minutes. They all said the same thing, “@byronpitts Elon students seeking a favor. Writing a book on study abroad experience for class. Will you write the foreword? DM @edelzzz”

Arcaro also tweeted, “@byronpitts Dr. Arcaro here, professor of all the students messaging you. Let me know if you’d like to talk.” Within half an hour, Pitts tweeted back, “@tarcaro happy to help. Let’s get in touch next week.”

Delaplane said she was very surprised Pitts responded so quickly, and it was “so cool” to have him contribute to the book.

After a few days, there was no further contact with Pitts. He had not direct messaged either Arcaro or Delplane on Twitter, nor had he emailed Arcaro.

“We tweet-blasted him again a few days later,” Arcaro said. “It was really getting down to the wire, and we needed to talk to him.”

Arcaro then used his contacts and coworkers to find Pitts’ ABC email address. He sent him his phone number and a brief explanation of what they needed from him.

“Then after I emailed him, I got this phone call in the middle of class one day and it was Byron Pitts,” Arcaro said.

Arcaro said that the atmosphere in the class changed after Pitts was on board for the project.

“It was so neat to see how amped up the class was when Pitts called,” said Arcaro, “They were excited before, but this just took it to a whole new level.”

Arcaro said it was that moment that changed things. “It wasn’t just a fantasy anymore,” Arcaro said. “We could actually do this.”

After checking with his supervisors, Pitts officially agreed to write the forward and have it finished by the end of Elon’s Winter Term so they could send it off.

Book publication

Arcaro said he is hopeful they will sell lots of copies and be able to create a sizable scholarship fund for Elon University students. Delaplane said she thinks they will be able to outsell last year’s book.

“Just from our Twitter push and tweeting at Byron Pitts, I got people tweeting at me, wanting copies,” she said.

“Desks to Destinations - 25 Students, 49 countries, 217 pages of Reflections” will be available for purchase within the next month on Amazon.  The price is not yet finalized. It will be available both in print and as an e-book for Kindle.


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