Jess Swanson

Ciao! ¡Hola! I'm a senior in Columbia College majoring in Human Rights and concentrating in Art History. As a recipient of the Presidential Global Fellowship, I studied art history and Italian culture in Venice, Italy for six weeks of the summer following my first year. Taking two field-based research courses, my days were spent not in a classroom but instead throughout the floating city’s various islands. Every class, we rode the vaporetto boat along the Canale Grande from one site to the next, ranging from palazzi to churches to government buildings, in order to study works in situ. We were able to engage in dialogue about the work’s physical and cultural context only possible standing before the masterpieces. Outside of classes, we were immersed in Italian culture from the delicious cuisine of pastas and fresh fish to the various customs of daily life. My studies in Venice proved instrumental in developing my art historical skills and informed my understanding of my classical coursework at Columbia following my return. Seeking experience studying a language abroad, I explored how indigenous peoples in Peru are adapting in the face of globalization through SIT’s program in Cusco, Peru this past spring semester. Studying content courses in Spanish was one of the most challenging and rewarding academic experiences of my life. Though daunting at first, my skills rapidly improved as I practiced Spanish for hours each day in conversation with those on the street, in my classes, and especially with members of my Peruvian host family. They provided me with an understanding of current social and political issues as well as a direct view into Peruvian culture. My historical and investigative coursework led me to travel throughout Peru on site visits to Madre de Dios of the Amazon, Isla Taquile of Lago Titicaca, and the cities of Arequipa and Lima. These classes culminated in a month-long independent research project which I conducted at Proyecto Valle Sagrado, a dormitory and academic support program for indigenous Quechua-speaking girls in the Peruvian Andes to obtain a high school education. Together these two experiences have defined my time at Columbia and instilled in me a passion for intercultural learning. If you have any questions about my time studying abroad, please send me an email and I’d love to talk with you!