By Catherine Shanley
Humanities Faculty, Newport News Campus
I had always believed that I was most likely one of the luckiest people at ECPI University. For years, I have had the joy of teaching Humanities 205, Culture and Diversity. The first day of each term, I always know that I will be met with a few students who are not exactly thrilled to be enrolled in this particular class, “I want to be in a class directly related to my major!” they will cry. I then explain that this is one of the most important classes they will take in their college careers because to be a truly well-educated university graduate means much more than having completed a certain number of credits.
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It means learning to have an expanded view of the world and the many people and cultures who inhabit it. Since I teach at our Newport News campus, my class often includes visits to a local Mosque, the Hampton University Museum of African American Art, Greek Orthodox Church, and Peninsula Fine Arts Center. All of those places are wonderful and the students really seem to enjoy it. For me, it was one of the best experiences teaching had to offer. That was until I was asked to help chaperone our University’s Study Abroad Program, and that day that changed my life.
The trip that year was to Spain and Morocco. As we flew out of the Norfolk airport on the short flight to Atlanta, I was seated between two students who had never been on a plane of any kind before. They were nervous and thrilled. And that was the beginning of a series of marvelous “firsts” I was about to experience with our amazing students. That was the start of the most unbelievable “field trip” of my life.
How can I even begin to describe the thrill of standing in the magnificent Cathedral of Toledo, next to a young man with tears in his eyes, so moved, as we looked at the late afternoon light pouring through the stained-glass windows? Too beautiful for words. Or the laughter as we attempted to ride camels in North Africa. Or as we gazed at the enormous Mosque of Casablanca, and a student turned to me and said “I never knew that men could build something like this!” The food adventures alone were worth the journey as our rambunctious culinary students delighted in the variety of cuisines and kitchens.
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Those memories are only a small fraction of that grand adventure…traveling and bonding deeply with a very diverse group of ages and personalities. What a tremendous learning experience for us all!
This October, the study abroad program heads to Italy. All students and alumni, as well as their family and friends are eligible to go on the trip. For more information, please contact faculty coordinator Alvin Fowlkes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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