Embracing cultural experiences takes Rider students around the world

Travel courses offered this spring by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences included trips to China, Columbia, Peru and L.A.
Jonathan Millen

China. Columbia. Los Angeles. Peru. What do all of these locations have in common? Each is the destination for a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences travel course this spring, providing students with unique, rich and unforgettable engaged learning opportunities.

I was fortunate to join a group of students for part of their visit to L.A. during spring break. In support of the Semester in L.A. Program in which seniors studying in the Department of Communication and Journalism spend the entire spring there, younger students visit the site for a week to build interest for the following year. During the trip, students visit a number of Hollywood area facilities where they are introduced to the heart of the entertainment industry. On the final night, Scott Alboum, the faculty member leading the trip along with Shawn Kildea, chair of the department, hosted a dinner for the students participating in the semester-long program, the students visiting for the week and 12 area alumni.

There also were two spring break trips run through the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. Maria Villalobos-Buehner went abroad to Columbia with a group of students in her Spanish class who had the opportunity to put into practice their knowledge of language and culture learned during the seven weeks before their trip. They were not only able to improve their language skills but also their cultural knowledge about the host country by researching a question related to the community. They learned about the origins of salsa music and how to dance this dynamic rhythm. They explored the vallenato rhythm as a cultural identity expression for people from Barranquilla. They tasted a variety of dishes influenced by indigenous, African and Arab flavors and learned how to cook a regional dish called arepa de huevo. Finally, this group of students presented the results of a researched question that demonstrated a deeper understanding of family values, the importance of sports in the region, the concept of beauty, and the people’s perspectives on violence and immigration.

Shunzhu Wang from the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures offered a class that included a trip to China over spring break. Students visited cultural and historical sites including The Great Wall of China, the corporate offices of Microsoft China, Sanda University, with whom Rider has a long-standing exchange partnership, and families of ordinary citizens. This engaged learning opportunity gave students an exciting, intimate and personal experience of Chinese culture that is both ancient and modern, and provides them a chance to interact with Chinese people from all different walks of life. In addition, it has proven to be a unique opportunity for Rider students to interact with each other, learn from each other and grow together.

In May, a group of Rider students and alumni will trek to Peru as part of the study abroad course, BIO-290 Special Topics: Nature Photography in Peru. The course is offered by Todd Weber of the Department of Biology, Behavioral Neuroscience and Health Sciences and Professor Jessi Oliano of the Department of Communication and Journalism. Students are currently honing their photography skills and their background in the evolution of biodiversity prior to travel. In Peru, the group will hike through numerous microclimates along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and areas surrounding Cuzco prior to descending to the Amazon rain forest, where they're expected to encounter a diverse array of plants, animals and other organisms. The course will culminate in a marriage of photography and biology in each student's construction of a field guide or other creative work using their photographs. For many of the students, this is both their first exposure to digital photography and their first travel abroad.

Each of these travel courses demonstrates the commitment in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to Rider’s Engaged Learning Program in which students are required to earn points in high-impact experiences across six categories, one of which is study abroad and cultural experiences. I look forward to seeing this program expand in the future as faculty continue to explore such travel experiences as part of the College curriculum.

Dr. Jonathan Millen is dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences