Study Away in Tacoma

Spring Program

Tacoma, the City of Destiny, a location that is rich in culture, history, geography, and population. Find yourself exploring the many neighborhood surrounding the south Puget Sound region as you send a semester studying, living, and exploring all of the fascinating elements that make Tacoma a thriving location.


Open to all majors, focused on developing community engagement/partnership and advocacy, indigenous cultures, public education, sociology, and Puget Sound history.

Program Coursework

(16 credits)

GLST 301
RELI 393
SOCI 387
GLST 387
Internship or Research

Course Descriptions

GLST 301 (A  – 4 credits)
Tacoma: The Power of Place and Identity
Professor Jp Avila, Chair and Associate Professor of Art & Design
Program Director, Tacoma Immersion Experience Semester

Course Description:
In this course, students will learn to read the city of Tacoma  as a text through readings, observations, interviews, simulations, field trips, regular class sessions, written reflections and assignments, some peer review, and research. Together, we will explore identified challenges facing the city and how those needs are being addressed. We will also interact with residents and service providers from health, business, educational, environmental, arts and social service sectors. Students will learn about the history of Tacoma, how its geography and waves of migrants and immigrants have influenced the culture and future of this place. We will learn about poverty and wealth, what they look like, where they exist. We will also discover how to learn about a community. Our approach to these topics will be collaborative, integrating theoretical content with our daily experiences in the community, hearing from a variety of voices including faculty, community leaders, local residents, peers and youth.


GLST 387 (4 credits)
Indigenous Tacoma and the Pedagogy of Place
Dr. Troy Storfjell, Associate Professor of Norwegian and Scandinavian Studies

Course Description:
In this course we will work to understand Tacoma as a place rich with overlapping and contested stories and as a place of competing and complementary communities, claims and agendas. Recognizing that Tacoma is and has always been an Indigenous place, we will look to the place itself for our analytical framework, employing Indigenous methodologies in our work. This will involve careful reading, listening, and observation, as well as active participation and collaboration. We will study how the Puyallup, Steilacoom and Nisqually Tribes have developed their own sense of this place over the many centuries they have lived here, and how this place has been altered by colonization and successive waves of immigrants, many of whom have been diasporic Indigenous migrants themselves.


RELI 393 (RG, A  – 4 credits)
Topics in Comparative Religion: Buddhism and Asian Immigration in Tacoma
Dr. Erik Hammerstrom, Assistant Professor of Religion

Course Description:
This course is about Buddhism in East Asia and the adaptation of Buddhism in the United States. Students will focus their studies on two Buddhist paths to enlightenment: Zen and Pure Land. Different in emphasis, these are the two most prominent practices of Buddhism in East Asia, and they are well represented in Tacoma, the City of Destiny. In this class, students will first learn about the historical development of these two forms of Buddhist praxis in Asia. Following this, students will examine the often rocky history of immigration from Asia that brought these traditions to the U.S., with an emphasis on immigration to the Puget Sound. Building on our study of Asian immigration, we will examine the intersection of race and Buddhism in America today.


SOCI 387 (SO – 4 credits)
Case Study: Tacoma. A Critique of Education in the U.S.
Dr. Galen Ciscell, Visiting Assistant Professor of Sociology

Course Description:
In this course we will take a critical look at the American educational system, from kindergarten to university. This course will include an overview of education in the United States, with a specific emphasis on looking at educational inequalities and opportunities in Tacoma, WA. Together, we will examine how education reproduces the values and logic of the existing economic and cultural systems, and how it may also serve as a site of critical resistance to those systems. We will explore educational inequalities in terms of funding, racial segregation, and quality of teaching. Finally, we will learn about and apply critical pedagogy in the classroom, including engaging in praxis – theory translated into action for social change – outside the classroom, within the Tacoma school system (K-12).

PLU Course Equivalency

Pacific Lutheran University awards all credits earned in this program. Course and study tour offerings are subject to change.

Study Tours

Integral to the culture and society course, group study tours guide students through the cultural, environmental, religious, and artistic diversity that makes up Tacoma. Course lectures and readings come to life as students participate in the hundreds of events that happen throughout the course of a year. Some events include, Annual Wayzgoose celebration & Chinese New Year celebration.

Local Housing

Thanks to the support of local PLU alumnus, students will be housed a recently renovated house in Tacoma Hilltop neighborhood. Students will have access to public transportation to get to the thriving downtown area, Stadium district, South Tacoma neighborhoods and businesses, and Point Defiance.

Program Fee

The PLU comprehensive fee for Spring semester covers this academic experience (instruction and academic credit, housing and meal stipend, & study tours). To find the current comprehensive fee for one semester, divide the total full-year cost listed on the Admissions website by two. Please note that the comprehensive fee varies each year, and the cost of this program will be based on the year in which you study away. Financial aid applies.

Out-of-pocket Expenses

Books, personal excursions, and other miscellaneous expenses are not included in program cost.

Global Scholar Award

All PLU Gateway & Featured Programs are Global Scholar Award eligible. This need-based award can cover out-of-pocket expenses up to $500 on PLU’s TIES Gateway semester program.

Contact Us

Jp Avila
Chair & Associate Professor, Art & Design
Director, Tacoma Immersion Experience

Rachel Haxtema
TIES Coordinator
Center for Community Engagement & Service


First Year, sophomore, junior, or senior standing. Students must have a minimum 2.7 or higher G.P.A. (3.0 preferred). Must be a student in good standing.

Application Deadline

The inaugural Spring 2016 program is now accepting applications on a space-available basis. Download an application now!

The Fall 2016-Spring 2017 applications will be submitted online. Fall 2016 applications are due March 14, 2016 and Spring 2017 applications are due May 9, 2016. A $50 non-refundable fee is due with the application. A $300 non-refundable program payment to confirm participation is required within 10 days of acceptance.

Application Components

  • Online application (Fall 2016/Spring 2017, see above for Spring 2016)
  • Short essays
  • 2 recommendation forms (1 faculty, 1 professional)
  • Application fee

Why Study Away in Tacoma?

Read this interesting article, “Why a Global Education Doesn’t Have to Mean Going Abroad

Program Highlights

  • Fall and Spring Program
  • Currently accepting applications for Spring 2016
  • Courses taught in downtown Tacoma
  • Live in a historic Tacoma neighborhood
  • Experiential learning in local community
  • PLU faculty-taught courses
  • Local study tours related to program focus