The following is a sneak peek of the 2014-2015 abroad programs recently announced to the Principia community.
England – Fall 2014
Chrissy Steele, a theater professor, and Heidi Snow of the English department will embark on another trip to England in the fall of 2014.
The program will look much like it has in previous years, including acting classes at the Globe Theatre in London, individual research at The British Library and a full-cast Shakespeare production on campus following the in-country experience.
But according to Steele and Snow, these traditional programs will place heavier emphasis on the question of what it means to be an artist – both in Shakespeare’s lifetime and in today’s world. Steele acknowledges that the question will largely center around the performing arts, but she also adds: “I think Heidi and I have talked about wanting to also be aware of art in other places and the inspiration that comes from seeing the world through an artist’s eyes.”
Snow highlights the unique nature of the Principia abroad by explaining that other schools sponsor programs that allow students to study at the Globe or at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon. She adds that very few programs allow students to experience both and none she has heard of expect abroad participants to return to campus and put on a play. Snow says: “Even if students are feeling that they’re completely out of their comfort zone in terms of their acting, they know they have no choice. They’re going to come back on campus and they’re going to have to stand on stage and they’re going to have to present this character in a believable way.”
Both Steele and Snow point out that the England Abroad is open to all majors, as everyone should be willing to challenge him or herself and each other and try new things in terms of performance and study.
Steele explains: “You really do have to work together, support each other, challenge each other so that there’s this group dynamic that develops that’s really special.”
The Middle East – January 2015
Janessa Gans Wilder, founder of the Principia-based Euphrates Institute, and Barry Huff of the religion and philosophy department will tag-team a four-week abroad to the Middle East in January 2015.
Wilder explains the theme of the pilot program as central to the concept of peace and transformation, which ties “the ancient and historical piece to the modern-day conflict that’s actually going on.”
Wilder served for five years as a U.S. government political analyst on the Middle East and has recently led two separate trips to the region – one with Euphrates and the CELL program and one with an adult group earlier this year. As a diplomat, Wilder first traveled to Israel in 2006 and crossed into Bethlehem without a military escort to talk with Palestinian shopkeepers about the conflict. Wilder explains that she was “totally hooked” from that moment on.
As a religion professor, Huff is looking forward to watching students see the Bible “come alive” as they explore the sites featured in the New and Old Testaments. Huff explains that he is excited “to study the Bible not just in a classroom in School of Government 201, but to actually study biblical texts in lands where they were written and where many of the events they portray occurred.”
Huff first experienced Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan as part of an independent course in college. Huff returned to the region while working on his Ph.D. and “has taken 49 courses related to the history and literature of ancient Israel, taught fourteen courses on this topic, and given over 250 talks on the Bible,” according to a brief professional biography presented to the Abroad Office.
Both Huff and Wilder explain that the January 2014 program will provide an interdisciplinary look at a region and a conflict “that more than any other in the world needs healing,” as Wilder explains it.
Argentina – Spring 2015
Paul Van Slambrouck, an associate professor in the mass communication department and co-leader of the Spring 2015 Argentina Abroad alongside language professor Cecily Quintanilla, says the trip is centrally focused on the question of leadership in a country with a long history of violence and upheaval. He explains the period of military rule between 1976 and 1983 as a “hugely convulsive period” for Argentina in which many young people were disappeared and targeted by the government. Van Slambrouck poses the question: “If you do that to your next generation of leaders … how do you recover?”
According to Van Slambrouck, who says he has a strong interest in South American culture, Argentina is currently at a critical moment in its history. The country is coming out of the extreme economic meltdown of 2000 and is currently under the government of a woman president, which suggests a kind of progressive trend within Argentine culture. By the time the Principia group travels abroad in 2015, the country will be ramping up toward yet another pivotal election.
Van Slambrouck explains that the issue of leadership extends beyond the world of politics into civic organizations, non-profits, and the arts community. He also notes that students may find this demonstration of leadership culturally different from what we’ve grown accustomed to as Americans.
Although in-country travel plans have yet to be finalized, Van Slambrouck explains that while the group will spend time in Buenos Aires – a high fashion, European-style city with a strong café culture – he hopes to experience “the other Argentina,” including possibly rural Patagonia or Igauzu Falls on the border between Argentina and neighboring Brazil.
While Van Slambrouck and Quintanilla are affiliated with specific departments on campus, the Argentina abroad is open to applications from all majors and class levels.
India and Nepal – Spring 2015
Sociology professor Sally Steindorf and philosophy professor Chris Young will team up to combine two abroad programs – India and Nepal – for the first time in Spring 2015.
Although details of the trip have yet to be finalized, Steindorf and Young envision a fairly even split in time spent between the two countries. Although both programs will be abridged to make room for travel between the two countries, Young says he would love to repeat a two-week trek in the Jumla region of Nepal, which he describes as having been “an overwhelming success” on the 2010 abroad.
The fall 2010 Nepal Abroad also included a week of travel in India, and Young explains that the thought of spending more time in that part of the world is exciting to him.
Steindorf says one of her favorite parts of the India Abroad experience is the variety of research opportunities students have, including extensive interviews with locals. In addition to academic, ethnographic research, both professors envision this experience as a chance for students to use a medium of their choice – radio, video or writing – to document the stories they discover while abroad.
Steindorf says she hopes students will develop a stronger global awareness on this abroad. Steindorf reflects on her experience as a student on a Principia Abroad with John Williams as a moment when she first realized she would like to study and live abroad after college. She adds: “And so I just feel like if that part of the abroad can inspire someone else in the same way to want to live abroad, whether it’s through a P.h.D program or through the Peace Corps” that would be a special benefit of having led another abroad.
While Steindorf and Young are still working to determine final courses for the abroad, Young says in the meantime: “I look at the classes on abroads as having a primary responsibility of getting students completely involved in the culture instead of being a passive tourist … the classes should offer ways of getting them to immerse themselves completely.”
Kazakhstan – May 2015
John Williams, a professor in the political science department, will lead a trip to Kazakhstan in May 2015. The four-week abroad will give students an opportunity to better understand the concept of nation building as it applies to a country established just twenty ago. Williams explains that when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Kazakh people suddenly had the chance to create their own sense of nationhood after having been “absorbed” into Russian culture and heritage for several hundred years.
According to Williams, the people of Kazakhstan inherited a number of problems from the Soviet regime, including the atrocious degradation of the Aral Sea and use of land for nuclear testing, which left strips of land barren and unusable. Consequently, Williams explains that the problem-solving skills which have emerged in Kazakhstan demonstrate that its people don’t “paper over what they’re facing.”
Williams hopes to introduce students to a culture and a setting most Americans know little about – especially if their understanding of the country is informed largely by the movie Borat.
In reality, Kazakhstan has developed into a dynamic, multifaceted and multicultural nation. The new capital, Astna, was developed just within the past ten years. Williams describes it as a “boom town” that developed seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The big city of Almaty and the mosques and madrasa of the south help to illustrate the range of experience Kazahkstan has to offer.
Williams says: “It’s that entire span of almost modern European to a throwback to the old Kazakh tribes.”
Williams, who developed a global perspective as a child growing up in India and Thailand, says he is always looking for ways to expand his horizons. As much as the abroad will provide students with historical, political and cultural knowledge, Williams explains that his true purpose for traveling is character development and spiritual growth.
While the Principia community winds down toward the end of yet another school year, the Iceland Abroad group ramps up for a three-week trip starting two days after commencement. Lauren Hinchman, who is leading the trip with support from Anderson House Resident Counselor Reid Charlston, explained that the students participating in the abroad have been enthusiastically preparing all term.
In an effort to help the group get to know one another, Hinchman explains that each student has been paired with a new peer group each week and expected to spend some time together socially outside weekly abroad preparation classes. Hinchman says that everyone is expected “to write a short paragraph about each person from their group that week and talk about why they’re excited to get to know that person better…”
Hinchman adds: “Most of the classes we … start with some kind of teambuilding or bonding icebreaker-type activity.”
In addition to group bonding, Hinchman noted a focus on readings about Icelandic culture and lessons on geography, history and the environment. The focus of this mini-abroad is sustainability and conservation and will include in-country coursework with Dave Oakes of the CELL program – otherwise known as the Center for Ecological Living and Learning. According to Hinchman, Oakes “has led many abroad groups in Iceland and is looking forward to teaming with Principia for this program.”
Vincent Herr, a junior and Iceland Abroad participant, explains the ecological focus of the trip with great enthusiasm. He says: “The abroad will focus a lot on the idea of sustainablity and ecological living, something everybody can and should learn about. I am excited to see new ideas of how to live with our environment in a sustainable and peaceful way and how to use this knowledge to progress a specific society as a whole – whether the Icelandic society or any other in the world.”
As much as the group has already prepared to travel abroad, Hinchman adds: “At the same time I’m intentionally keeping it a little bit mysterious. I’m not telling them everything. I don’t want to set in stone any preconceived notions.”
One thing that is firmly established is the group’s “home base” at the Solheimar EcoVillage, a small, largely self-sustaining farming community for mentally challenged adults. Hinchman noted that the men and women who live on the farm are treated very kindly, “as though they don’t have any limitations.”
In addition to experiencing life on the farm, the abroad students will have the chance to participate in several day trips, including an all-day hike up a Snæfellsnes glacier, which happens to be located on top of a volcano. Hinchman notes: “This all-day challenge, where students will be wearing crampons and carrying ice axes, will certainly push students both physically and metaphysically.”
The group of seventeen will also stay overnight on the Westman Islands, home to the largest breeding puffin colony in the world. Another highlight includes planting enough trees to offset the group’s carbon footprint for the entirety of the program, including air travel.