Global treks pack loads of learning into weeks

July 16, 2015

Short-term faculty-led international trips aren’t new at Saint Michael’s College, but never before this year have so many professors taken so many students to such an interesting variety of places for multi-week mini-courses — and all but one over the same recent period.

The lineup of destinations this year, the first during Christmas break and the others for a roughly 2-3-week period in late May/early June following Commencement, included: Ghana (6 participants), China (15), Tanzania (8), Wales (11), France (18) and India/the Himalayas (13).

Peggy Imai, director of Study Abroad, says the college for years has been sending students on similar short-term study trips, but they’ve been fewer and farther between: for instance, multiple trips in recent years to Pontigny, France, with humanities professor Terryl Kinder, to explore the origins of the college’s founding Edmundites; or to Guyana with Katie Kirby for service and pondering philosophical questions. Some of this year’s leaders also had led trips before to the Himalayas and Africa. Imai says another notable trip the year before last was to Cuba for studying coral reefs and culture, with a team that included Karen Talentino, vice president for academic affairs, and several other faculty/staff.

“I think what’s exciting this year is that there were some new faculty who expressed interest and followed through by leading a study trip we hadn’t done before,” says Imai. For instance, Dean Jeffrey Ayres, a political scientist, and Jonathan Silverman of education, led for the first time a trip to Wales to study political and environmental issues. “It was an unusual grouping of destinations for Saint Michael’s,” says Imai. In total, 71 current students and a few alums participated in these programs.

Here’s an at-a-glance breakdown of the countries visited, special topics of study, and professor-leaders:

Ghana (Music and Dance):  Josselyne Price, Brian Dukehart

China (Chinese Media and Culture):  Traci Griffith, Rob Williams

Tanzania (Applied Health & Development Approaches in East Africa):  Patricia Siplon, Jon Williamson

Wales (Environmental Study of Sustainable Places):  Jonathan Silverman, Jeff Ayres

France (Culture & Society of Medieval Burgundy):  Terryl Kinder, Marie-France Nelson

India (Media Nomads: Youth, Television, Trekking in the Buddhist Himalayas):  Adrie Kusserow, Robert Lair

And following are more detailed summaries of the trips and coursework associated with them — including descriptions of destinations, activities and highlights. A few also include vivid first-hand accounts from the participants or leaders.


Summer 2015

Music and Dance in Ghana (West Africa)

MU272 (2 credits)
Prerequisite: MU 376 or 271 (must be taken before or after trip)
December 18, 2014 – January 7, 2015

Ghana, West Africa is a country rich in traditional music, dance, and other arts that are vital to social expression and identity. This study trip brought students to Kopeyia, a village in the Volta Region of Ghana on the border with Togo. There they had a rare chance to explore the rich musical traditions of the Ewe (pronounced “EH-vey”) ethnic group under the guidance of master musicians and dancers of the Dagbe Center for Arts and Culture. Additionally, they had time to explore the Volta Region via its beautiful traditional ceremonies, food, and daily life of the village while creating friendships that bridge the gap of distance and individual identity. Returning to Saint Michael’s, the group presented their studies in a final concert/presentation at the end of spring semester.

This course was approved to fulfill the Liberal Studies Curriculum: Artistic Experience. (summary based on pre-trip itinerary/syllabus)

Environmental Study of Sustainable Places – Wales Field trip: Wales, UK

ES 244 (2 credits)

Prerequisite: Spring 2-credit course – ES 243 Environmental Study of Sustainable Places
May 14-28, 2015

Environmental Study of Sustainable Places, Wales, United Kingdom Academic Study Trip, took place from May 14-May 28 2015, and involved 11 Saint Michael’s students and two faculty, Jeffrey Ayres, dean of the college and professor of political science, and Jonathan Silverman, chair of the Department of Education and Associate Professor of Education.

This two-week study abroad trip focused on the ways in which the nation of Wales, in the United Kingdom, has integrated ecological sustainability throughout its art and culture, institutions and politics and economy. Cultural and environmental field studies, on-site guest lectures, collaboration and exchange of research and artistic projects with University of Wales-Trinity Saint David students and faculty on the Carmarthen, Swansea and Lampeter campuses, complemented coursework. The course creatively combined two Liberal Studies Requirements at Saint Michael’s–the Artistic Experience and Global Issues Liberal Studies Requirements –giving students participating in the course the option of fulfilling one or the other requirement based on projects completed during the trip. Students also fulfilled the Experiential Learning Liberal Studies Requirement participating in the trip, which included visits to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff, the Swansea Tidal Lagoon project, the National Big Pit Coal Museum, and the Centre for Alternative Technology.

The essential question shaping the study trip was: What makes a “place” sustainable? Saint Michael’s faculty and students had an opportunity to hear presentations from leading figures in the Welsh sustainability movement, with Wales being only one of three nations or states in the world with sustainability written into its constitution. Half-day academic presentations at the campuses of the University of Wales were spread throughout the two weeks to include sessions on “Sustainability of Place: Connections in and through Anthropology, Geography, Politics, Art, Education and Literature” in Carmarthen, “Practicing Sustainability: Inspiration from the Field” in Swansea. The trip concluded with a full day research symposium of University of Wales and Saint Michael’s students and faculty presenting contributions to either the Artistic Experience or Global Issues projects. This academic study trip not only involved an innovative team-teaching approach to an interdisciplinary understanding of sustainability, but moved students out of their comfort zones of traditional political-economic perspectives on sustainability, encouraging a paradigm shift to artistic and humanistic understandings of sustainability and environmental degradation. A month following the trip, Professors Ayres and Silverman delivered a joint presentation on the development of the course and study trip to a panel entitled, Sustainability Education Across Boundaries, A Pedagogy of Complexity, at the annual meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences, on the campus of the University of California-San Diego.

In this study abroad trip, students linked ecological and aesthetic perspectives to witness how the Welsh have integrated a green sensibility to their cultural identity. We examine “place” by residing in a geo-global national park, interacting with environmental policy makers and artists, and walking within a historical landscape full of inspiring topography ancient relics and timeless villages.  Students will have the opportunity to engage in a research project (that may include an artistic inquiry) developed in the spring half course and implemented in Wales.


Post-trip write-up provided Dean Ayres and Professor Silverman


Applied Health and Development Approaches in East Africa: Tanzania                  PO 353/MJD353 (2 credits)
Prerequisite: PO 352/MJD 352 (2 credits; spring 2015)
Prerequisite for PO 352: PO 351
Prerequisite for MJD 352: MJD110
May 12 – June 2, 2015 (tentative)

This service learning course included an intensive two-week field course based at the Ilula Orphan Program (IOP) in Iringa, Tanzania. Students traveled to Tanzania to observe first-hand the development challenges related to HIV/AIDS, water scarcity, education, and poverty being addressed by the IOP. The service learning component of the course involved updating the IOP’s educational and development materials, including the website, and producing at least one completed grant application. Students were expected to complete this work in a one-week work session following completion of the two weeks in-country. (summary based on pre-trip itinerary/syllabus)

Chinese Media and Culture: China
MJD 226 (2 credits)
Prerequisite: Sophomore Standing and Permission of Instructor
May 14 – May 26, 2015

The Beijing, China trip was the culmination of a semester-long course in a Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts program on 21stcentury Chinese media and culture. The trip involved a comparative cross-cultural perspective on the ways in which 21st century Chinese media users use new digital media platforms for work and play, news and information sharing, and how different Chinese individuals and organizations – the dissident artist Ai Wei Wei, the LongBow documentary film group, or the Chinese Communist Party – utilize the Internet for information sharing and surveillance. (summary based on pre-trip itinerary/syllabus)

Culture and Society in Medieval Burgundy: France
HI/RS/AH/HU 280 (4 credits)
May 2015


This program offered students first-hand experience of living in the place of Saint Michael’s College’s origins – a 12th-century abbey – while studying medieval history and culture in its original context. Classes held every other day in Pontigny prepared students for site visits the next day to castles, churches, cathedrals, battlefields, abbeys, archeological excavations, towns and cities, museums and libraries. In this way reading, studying and exploring the material remains of this culture are integrated. Terryl Kinder (Distinguished Visiting Professor of Fine Arts), a practicing medieval archeologist, lives in the town of Pontigny and speaks fluent French. The places the students visit on this recurring trip are an integral part of her research and some are not otherwise open to the public. (summary based on pre-trip itinerary/syllabus)


Media Nomads: Youth, Television, Trekking in the Buddhist Himalaya
 (2 credits)
Prerequisite: SP15 2-credit cultural anthropology course – Youth, Global Media and Indigenous Culture in the Himalayas
June 7 -24, 2015

Ladakh is a high-altitude desert on the Tibetan Plateau in the trans-Himalayan area of northern India between Pakistan and Tibet. It has often been described as “Little Tibet” and is predominantly Tibetan Buddhist.  Until the mid-1960’s when a road was built to link the region with the rest of the country, Ladakh remained almost totally isolated from the forces of modernization.  In 1975 the region was opened up to foreign tourists and the process of development began in earnest. This course involved anthropological field work on the current processes of globalization and the pressure to modernize among Buddhist youth in Ladakh, primarily focusing on the influence of television. What perceptions of “the West” do Ladakhi youth have? How do these influence their conception of self, daily behaviors and visions of their future? What kinds of pressures to modernize does television now have on Ladakhi youth and how can a more critical awareness of many of television’s myths be taught?

The leader and a student each provided vivid accounts of the experience. Read them here.

Follow us on social.