Students Trade Chambers for International Learning Experiences

Drew Eastland-

The students who took part in the early summer trip to Austria visited the United Nations Office in Vienna with their professors. Photo by Caroline Roddey

About 80% of the student body studies abroad at some point in their Davidson careers. The typical study abroad program at Davidson encompasses a full semester; however, shorter study trips involving Davidson faculty and students have been growing in popularity. On these trips, Davidson professors are able to directly guide students’ studies.

Each year, faculty rotate in offering different trips to students. This is due to limited funding, as well as the college’s goal to diversify study trips among many different disciplines. Most study trips will only come around once, so the opportunities are unique to each class and student.

Some departments do have the funding for more regular trips. For example, the Art Department allows its senior majors to travel to a unique location each year; last year, the destination was London, England. The group traveled over Easter break, led by Dr. Larry Ligo, and the students presented their semester long theses in front of a location fitting to their topics.

The destination each year is confidential. “[The location is a] big surprise on the first day of class,” explained Morgan McGrath ‘17. “Everyone flips the syllabus over and sees what the capstone is.”

This trip is not the only study tour on which Ligo brings students. In his Modern Painting and Sculpture class, Ligo’s students visit a variety of modern art exhibits in New York City. He also teaches a class in 19th-century art and architecture that travels to Washington D.C. and Chicago.

Ligo believes that the trips are crucial to understanding the art beyond a computer screen. He finds that students do not fully appreciate the quality of the art until they can see the real piece that the artist touched.

“It makes all the difference in the world to do so,” Ligo said. “The first time they walk in and see the paintings and architecture [that] they’ve been studying, they get so excited.”

Last May, a group of students from West European Politics and Imagining Berlin (political science and German studies classes, respectively) traveled to Vienna to study the growing political extremism and refugee crisis.

“It was different from study abroad in that we were with Davidson faculty and students the whole time,” reflected Caroline Roddey ’20. “While we weren’t taking classes we were learning from different organizations and museums.”

For a social science class, this trip was an opportunity for students to observe theory, which they had studied at Davidson, in action. It was a direct application of their studies. The trip attempted to address issues through cultural and historical lenses.

“One goal was to actually have students on the ground talking to people who are dealing with refugee crises and the stakeholders…that is something you cannot get in the classroom,” explained Dr. Besir Ceka of the Political Science Department. “It is essentially the lab for our social science and humanities classroom.”

The trip to Austria was interdisciplinary. It included five faculty of varying disciplines and seventeen students from two separate areas of study. This provided a mix of perspectives, thus making the trip worthwhile.

“This trip to Vienna was invaluable to my Davidson experience and education,” reflected E.J. Canny ’19. “Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the trip, both in programming and in participants, we were able to explore the aspects of Austrian culture and history that interested us the most.”

“It was a very interesting experience to learn both from my colleagues and students,” commented Dr. Roman Utkin of the Russian Studies Department. “It was very valuable.”

“We had the luxury of breaking the students into small groups with faculty after each event,” said Ceka.“We [were able] to work with student’s closely throughout the whole trip.”

Last December, Dr. Scott Denham of the German Studies Department took a group of students to Germany to study German culture. Seven students and four faculty members embarked on the mission, which involved a student-created archive composed entirely of tweets.

Funding for these trips comes from a variety of sources: Dean Rusk, Davidson Research Initiative, the Spencer-Weinstein Foundation, and the Bacca Foundation. Additionally, private donors fund other trips. In general, students do not have to cover very much, if any, of the cost of these academic study trips. Usually, they only have to pay for their food.

Unfortunately, some study trips that had been planned for this year have been cancelled due to recent political developments. Davidson College attempts to keep equal opportunities for students to participate in trips, and President Trump’s recent cancellation of DACA and the introduction of the travel ban have threatened this goal.

“We are not doing any study trips due to the DACA decision,” explained Utkin. “When we plan a study abroad trip, it has to be fair to everybody who can go, and when we have students who can’t leave the country, it’s just unfair.”

Overall, faculty and students regard these trips as wonderful ways to learn beyond the classroom and escape the “Davidson bubble.”

“I call it an opportunity,” commented Ligo. “It’s an amazing opportunity for the students to be there and see the real thing.”

Utkin agreed with Ligo, stating, “It offers an opportunity to do something you can’t do on campus. It is, in a way, extending Davidson’s campus to whatever country that we’re going to.”