The goal of the project Exploring Hamburg: Experiential learning through supervised research was to combine classroom learning with productive fieldwork in the city of Hamburg, Germany, all carried out in the foreign language. Similar to children who learn language by using language to learn 1, we were providing our undergraduate students with an opportunity to explore a new subject through the prism of another language and culture.The act of engaging with people who speak a foreign language and who communicate through a different culture fostered unconventional collaboration and learning. Language learning does not happen by itself.  Rather, it is embedded into learning in general: it is used as a tool to carry out the research and therefore has a purpose and a goal.  Such learning opportunities, employing a multifaceted approach to doing field research at the undergraduate level, are still rare in the humanities.

For students to derive maximum value from the few years they spend at Northwestern,
we must ensure a continuum of intellectual growth and personal development
that extends well beyond a sequence of classroom courses, academic quarters, and short vacations.
Students learn best when they apply knowledge to life. 2


  • Planning … students learned how to identify important issues and how to research and investigate solutions.
  • Exploring … students learned to perform and do hands-on experience with little help from the instructor.
  • Sharing — Reflecting … students learned to share their observations, results, and reactions with peers.
  • Processing — Analyzing … students analyzed and reflect upon the experience and relate them to future learning.
  • Generalizing … students learned to connect their experience to trends or real-life principles or new experiences.
  • Applying … students learned to apply what they discovered to future situations.
  • Presenting … students improved their speaking and presentation skills.

  1. See Gordon, Wells. (1985). The Meaning Makers: Children Learning Language and Using Language to Learn.

  2. Northwestern University Strategic Plan 2011, Page 27)