Travel Courses to Expand

Faculty members Jill Petersen Adams 00OX 02C and Molly McGehee 07PhD (back row, upper right) accompanied a group of Oxford students to Japan this past May.

Some of the most electric moments of learning come when the concepts on the page leap to life. Saying, “Comment allez vous?” in the classroom is quite different from saying it on the streets of Paris and having a native speaker respond. Travel can be like a laboratory section in the study of science or studio time for art. It builds on and extends what students learn in the classroom. This can be so for many disciplines, and to that end, Oxford is quickly expanding its opportunities for experiential learning through international travel.

Incorporating travel into the curriculum is not a new idea at Oxford, however. In fact, the move is inspired in part by the success of long-term programs such as Professor of Geology Steve Henderson’s trips with students to study the terrain of the desert Southwest and Professor of Sociology Mike McQuaide’s travels to indigenous villages in Ecuador’s Amazon Basin with his course in socialization in developing countries. These have been in place since the 1990s, and in recent years, Alicia DeNicola, assistant professor of anthropology, and Bridgette Gunnels, lecturer in Spanish, have brought together students from their courses for travel to Costa Rica.

Says Jessica Todd 16OX, who went to Costa Rica this past spring, “I learned that Spanish is only a portion of understanding the depth of the culture and life surrounding the language. . . . [The trip] changed my life for the better.” Nathaniel Kranz 16OXadds, “I could see the theories and lectures actually coming to life in the actions and experiences of the people I met in Costa Rica.”

“We recognized the positive impact these programs were having on our students,” says Ken Anderson 89G 91PhD, dean of academic affairs and chief academic officer. “We want to make more such courses available to more of our students. Our goal is to make it possible for virtually any student to take advantage of these opportunities without a heavy financial burden.”

Previously, all students who took courses that included a travel component had to pay added tuition to cover the cost of the trip. Under the new structure, students will be expected to pay only for the actual costs of travel with the final amount determined in accordance with the students’ financial aid status.

In addition to the anthropology/Spanish course in Costa Rica and sociology trip to Ecuador, three other courses are under development for consideration as the first offerings under the new program.

  • Cuba: Evolution and Revolution is under development by Gunnels. The proposal is for students to take a literary journey to Cuba through narrative, drama, and film, with special attention to the history of migration to the US since 1959, the rise of the arts, and current economic and political complexities. Students will travel to Havana.
  • Art, Cinema, and Literature in France is a course envisioned by Matthew Moyle, assistant professor of French. Students will read literary texts and see cinematic works from French writers, artists, and directors. A trip to France will allow students to experience the places that informed the works they have studied.
  • Contemporary Political Economy and Sustainability in a Globalizing World is under development by Deric Shannon, assistant professor of sociology. This course would involve classroom work studying issues of sustainability, farming practices, and political economics. These focused studies would be followed up with a course component in Spain, with an emphasis on visiting cooperative enterprises.

Most travel will be one or two weeks in length and will take place during fall break, spring break, or immediately following the semester. Travel curricula will be overseen and assisted by Oxford’s Center for Academic Excellence. The Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement will lend financial support.

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