September 06, 2013

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By Christina Masciere Wallace

Bucknell University students take in the view after hiking up Mount Errigal in Northern Ireland.

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Imagine sharing a meal with babies and toddlers who sit at the table with adults, use real silverware and drink water from real glasses they filled from glass pitchers. It's routine in Denmark, where parenting philosophy stresses competence from the earliest days of childhood.

Bucknell in Denmark gives students the opportunity to compare and contrast Danish and American culture by observing education practices. "The Danish believe that learning through exploration and direct experience is best," said Bethany Reynolds '14. "In the United States, we focus more on learning from the experience of others."

Laura Even '14, a biomedical engineering major who wants to be a pediatrician, said she was fascinated by the cultural difference in approaches to child safety. "Danish playgrounds are built with an element of unpredictability so children have to understand and face a bit of risk," she said. "American children don't face that."

Helping students realize how culture shapes our behavior and worldviews is the goal of Professor Chris Boyatzis, psychology, who leads the trip. "At the end of the course, students have a much deeper understanding of not only Denmark but also their own country," he said.

In fact, each of the seven "Bucknell in" programs that ran this summer transformed students' perspective in some way — whether it was through fieldwork in the Caribbean Sea or witnessing political unrest in Turkey. The programs took students to Denmark, Nicaragua, South Africa, Northern Ireland, the Virgin Islands, Greece, Turkey, Costa Rica and Argentina.

Serving while learning
The Bucknell in Northern Ireland group explored Belfast, heard lectures at the University of Ulster, studied Catholic and Protestant murals and explored archaeology in County Galway.

"There's nothing like speaking to someone who was actually at Bloody Sunday when it happened," said Professor Bill Flack, psychology, who co-led the trip. "Hearing about this awful period from people who lived through it pushes some pretty strong emotional buttons. That's the kind of deep learning students remember."

Students also performed community service with area organizations. Mary Morris '15 worked at the Derry Journal, which gave her opportunities to interview locals. "I thought I was in tune with what was happening in Ireland, but I found out pretty quickly that it was different than I'd expected," she said. "The Northern Irish people live very similar lives to what we are used to in the U.S. — even with the existence of these larger political tensions. They may have grown from a violent past, but they still run to the grocery store, keep track of kids and manage their finances."

Service-learning on the Bucknell in South Africa trip helped students understand the country's post-apartheid challenges. The group heard morning lectures at the University of Cape Town and spent afternoons consulting with local service agencies. Some designed an environmental curriculum for young children, while others developed a marketing and fundraising plan for a local school.

"This was not a canned experience," said Professor Geoff Schneider, economics, who co-taught the course. "They had to solve real-world problems in a real-world manner."

Bucknell has long made a difference in Nicaragua through annual weeklong Bucknell Brigade winter- and spring-break trips. The three-week Bucknell in Nicaragua program is "a Brigade on steroids," said Professor Paul Susman, geography. Students studied grassroots development, political and economic conditions and the causes of poverty. They worked with Nicaraguans, laying sidewalks, a driveway to a worker-built factory and water lines.Bucknell students studied grassroots development, political and economic conditions, and the causes of poverty in Nicaragua

Spending three weeks among some of the poorest people in the Western hemisphere gives students more time to process what they see and ask deeper questions, said Susman. "We see people literally trying to build their own futures by creating factories and cooperatives, and we join in some of that effort. We also witness some of the harshest scenes such as people scavenging through garbage — it is always a tremendous shock," he said. "I know what to expect, but I never get used to it. Together, we seek to understand what we are seeing."

Points south
Non-science majors went on a marine adventure in Saint John and British Virgin Gorda as part of Bucknell in the Virgin Islands, where snorkeling and scuba-diving through coral reefs is tremendous learning opportunity said Professor Elizabeth Evans, biology and animal behavior. "This is a habitat that will probably not be around in 30 or 40 years," she said.

While the reefs may vanish, Evans has no doubt students will retain what they learned long after the trip. "We know students don't forget what they learn in the field," she said. "They master the names of the corals and fish on their own. That kind of curiosity comes from real-time learning, not lab learning, and it is super satisfying."

Further south in the hemisphere, the College of Engineering for the first time offered two sections of its summer course, Engineering in a Global/Societal Context. Students studied economic aspects of engineering in Argentina, while others explored sustainable energy and eco-tourism in Costa Rica.

"The students gained new perspective on engineering and life in the U.S.," said Professor Peter Jansson, electrical engineering, who co-led the Costa Rica course. "Their eyes opened to completely different approaches to the development of natural resources and protection of the environment."

Luciana Salles '14 enjoyed the tour of the world's largest hydroelectric power plant, on the border of Brazil and Argentina. "It was a full plant tour," she said. "We went down several floors to see the shaft of one of the turbines that spins to generate power. We got to see how it was really run."

Gateway to the east
Half a world away, students on the Bucknell in Greece and Turkey trip considered the region's place in the Western imagination. "On our first night in Athens, we ate dinner on a rooftop and could see the Acropolis all lit up in the distance," said Liz Walker '14. "That's when we realized we were on an intellectual journey together."

Political unrest in Istanbul during the trip provided an unexpected learning opportunity for the group, who discussed the situation with a Turkish professor and local university students.

"It was a challenging trip for our students, as our travels made their readings come to life," said Professor John Rickard, English, co-leader. "I'm confident that they were able to think about what constitutes a nation and how our own history forms our sense of who we are as Americans."