Blue is global — now more than ever in the university’s 150-year history. About 200 Sycamores pack their bags and join a faculty member to learn about the world.
Buddhist temples in Thailand, palaces in England, ancient ruins in Italy and bustling cities in South Korea — these are just some of many destinations that become global classrooms for adventurous Indiana State students. Each year, up to 200 Sycamores travel on faculty-led trips to explore different cultures and places.
But before State’s globetrotters ever arrive in foreign lands, more than a year of behind-the-scenes work can be required to create extraordinary global experiences.
“We have dedicated faculty who make these trips possible for their students,” said Zachariah Mathew, assistant director of the Center for Global Engagement (CGE). “They put in so much work before they even leave, and they’re constantly on their toes while they’re abroad. But they give our students amazing experiences that they might not have otherwise.”
State’s faculty-led trips are the most popular option for students who want to travel the world while earning college credit. Much shorter (and less intimidating) than the solo semester-long study abroad, faculty-led excursions include a group of students and faculty members who travel together for two to three weeks. Each trip centers on an existing course that’s augmented to include assignments that incorporate global perspectives and applications. To gain that global insight, the short trips always have a packed itinerary — the group might go to historical sites with local guides, attend lectures at foreign universities, visit organizations, complete community service projects and more.
And now more than ever, State is increasingly incorporating global learning experiences within academic programs. Support for global and domestic cross-cultural experiential learning is now an initiative in the latest university strategic plan, reflecting the understanding that global competency is a must for students’ professional and personal success. That support — which encourages greater accountability and provides additional resources — will help more and more faculty and students get involved in educational travel experiences.
“It’s a huge commitment for a faculty member to come to us in the Center for Global Engagement and say, ‘I want to create this trip,’” Mathew said. “They put in so much work — arranging for accommodations, arranging site visits, arranging local transportation, being ready for emergencies, coordinating with other faculty abroad. But we understand the commitment, and we’re always here to help throughout the process.”
That process often starts a year or two in advance with professors’ exploratory trips abroad. With financial support from CGE, State’s faculty members can travel to locations to explore potential sites, visit organizations or meet with other faculty abroad.
With information gained on those preliminary trips, professors can consult with CGE for assistance in planning trip activities, crafting an appropriate curriculum, understanding required documentation, learning emergency protocols and securing funding. Before departure, professors will hold information sessions with students to discuss the itinerary, review logistical details and complete paperwork.
And while the group is traveling, professors work tirelessly to manage the group and fully implement planned activities.
“It’s a lot of work, there’s no doubt about it — but it’s exciting work. It’s challenging, and every trip is different,” said Aruna Chandra, a professor in the Scott College of Business and a five-time veteran of faculty-led trips. “You have to choreograph so many elements that have to come together and work flawlessly from the beginning with the flight to the hotel arrangements to the local transportation to the business visits. Everything has to be coordinated, so it’s a massive challenge and I tackle one at a time. At certain moments during the planning phase I say, ‘Wow, why did I start it?’ But when it all comes together and I see students … enjoying it and I feel like, ‘Wow, this was really, really worthwhile.’ Teaching is rewarding, but this is rewarding in a very fundamental, unique and different way.”
That reward lies in watching students transform as the trip unfolds — when they learn something entirely unexpected, become visibly moved by what they experience or change their long-held perspectives.
“The core idea is being able to understand cultural differences, and the ultimate goal is to be able to interpret and apply that understanding. You could look at you and me and say, ‘Yes, there are cultural differences,’” Mathew said. “But there’s another level — knowing what those differences are. Then there’s yet another level — understanding why those differences exist. Now, take that to an even higher level by interpreting and applying your knowledge of those differences. But the thing is, you have to start somewhere. If you don’t know something exists, you won’t be able to do anything about it. What we’re really hoping for is to make students understand that there is something different, and encourage them to expand their knowledge from there.”
The best way to achieve that aim is often to give students the opportunity to emerge from the textbooks of a traditional course, and engage directly with the people of another place and culture. Faculty-led trips, Chandra said, become the most unforgettable part of a student’s college experience.
“They’re in a living classroom the whole time when they’re there. They’re learning — every single minute they’re awake, they’re learning about the country, its culture, they’re gaining a new perspective,” Chandra said. “It kind of shakes them out of their complacent worldview to see how a different country operates. So they’re learning without knowing they’re learning — how much better can it get?”
“I want (my faculty-led trips) to be high-quality, carefully curated experiences that combine the academic with the cultural, the historical, the interactions with people,” Chandra said. “This is what I want to be unforgettable for our students.”