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EXL 594: Experiential Learning Travel Seminars 

As a passionate advocate of faculty-led study abroad learning, I have co-led more than eleven such

interdisciplinary Experiential Learning (EL) seminars with Allegheny College colleagues from various departments (Psychology, Geology, Art, Chemistry, Theater, and Neurobiology).


The seminars to different regions in India, East and South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Japan have sought to introduce students to non-western perspectives and experiences of neoliberal globalization. The three-week summer EL study abroad seminars have addressed topics such as:

  • the exploration of race relations and the experiment with peace and reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa,

  • environmental sustainability challenges in Kenya and corporate interventions,

  • the re-definition of democracy and secularism in postcolonial India, following the rise of neoliberal Hindutva (Hindu fundamentalist neo-nationalism),

  • the recovery of Sri Lanka from decades of civil insurgency,

  • the study of water ecology and eco-tourism in southern India, and

  • the postmodern hybridity of a reluctantly globalizing Japan.  

Most recently, in the summer of 2019, my colleague Professor Beth Watkins (Theater) and I co-led an El seminar to India. Here's a writeup on it from Athena magazine. My next EL collaboration, hopefully in the summer of 2020, will be with Associate Professor Dr. Lauren French (Biology/Neuroscience). Together, we will take Allegheny students from different fields of study (communication, economics, art, neurobiology, and global health) to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, to study the Mekong Delta in our seminar on "Wars and Waterways.

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At Allegheny College, the summer EXL 594 Experiential Learning (EL) travel seminars (for 2-4 credits) typically include travel in the U.S. or abroad, and incorporate a range of on-site explorations, intercultural activities, and lectures/workshops by local experts, that complement or illustrate the seminar topic. The seminars encourage students to integrate their intercultural and experiential learning with theory and research from their fields.

Students are exposed to diverse ideas, peoples, cultures, perspectives, and ways of life. The EXL 594

      courses are designed and team-taught by Allegheny faculty and/or staff educators. Individual EL Seminars        are reviewed by the Study Away and Campus Internationalization Committee and approved by the                  Curriculum Committee. For summer EL seminars, there is intensive academic preparation on the seminar            topic during the Spring semester prior to travel. Graded assignments include travel journals, reflective                blogs and papers, supervised research or community projects in the host culture, and re-entry presentations        to public audiences.

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The 2018 Summer Japan Experiential Learning (EL) Seminar to Japan (video above) co-led by Associate Prof. Darren Miller (Art) and myself, introduced students to how centuries-old traditions have shaped the consciousness of contemporary Japan.


We visited traditional gardens, shrines, and palaces. Then, we explored different museums -- watching robots play music at the Toyota Museum, before traveling to a village where we saw how feminine entrepreneurship (making life-sized dolls) can produce economic and social feminist empowerment. The art island of Naoshima was a lesson in how small towns can collaborate with industry houses to re-create themselves creatively and profitably.


We learned how to make our own fake food (shokuhin sampuru), took an intensive language course at Keio University in Tokyo, and discovered the importance of mascots in all aspects of Japanese life. From animal-cafes to open-air markets; from tea ceremonies and coffee houses to conveyor-belt sushi, fantastically fluffy egg sandwiches at Lawson's and the best desserts ever, Japan proved to be a gastronomic delight. Students were quick to spot links between the symbols in the historical kimonos on display in museums, and myths informing anime and video game narratives, and it all came together when we got to the modern marvel of Studio Ghibli, a wonderland producing media fantasies that enthrall contemporary generations.

However, the highlight was meeting the 103-year old survivor of the Hiroshima bombings, who you see towards the end of the video above. She insisted on meeting each member of the group individually, saying our names aloud and blessing us. After a day spent re-visiting the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, that encounter taught us more about peace and reconciliation than any exhibit, and it left us humbled.

As Americans, though, we were also moved by the respect that the Japanese felt towards President Obama for visiting Hiroshima and apologizing for the nuclear holocausts there. His gesture of reconciliation -- an origami peace crane -- can be found in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

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I have worked closely with students, guiding them through the application process for the prestigious Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships awarded by the U.S. State Department to help low-income students study abroad. Here are four of my success stories:

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Glimpses into previous EL Seminars I have co-led @

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apartheid museum-exterior

An amazing lesson in the construction of race and the classification of people as either 'native', 'colored', 'Asian' or 'white'

Robben island-South Africa

We learned about Apartheid and the Truth and Reconciliation Experiment in South Africa.

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The violence of divide-and-rule under apartheid that even decided rations in prison, based on one's race. @Robben Island, off Cape Town.

Hindu prisoner-Robben island

In one swoop of the pen, twenty years of a life gone. Incarceration under apartheid in South Africa.

Maasai making fire2-Kenya

Who says the most important survival skills can only be learned in college classrooms? Our Maasai tutors in Kenya teach us how to build a fire from scratch.

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Sri Lanka - learning to shimmy up coconut trees, a feat that only the women in our group achieved successfully.

SL-elephant crossing

A different kind of pedestrian crossing in Sri Lanka. The attempt for humans and animals to peacefully co-exist is something we all learned from.

Sri Lanka-media appeal

Our group appeared on Sri Lankan television to appeal for relief funds for flood victims in Colombo.

Kerala 2012-gatecrashing rural wedding

Forming new friendships and breaking down barriers and stereotypes while traveling in India

V Jose in action

V. Jose, the Periyar River Keeper, teaches us about his lonely crusade to stop this water lifeline from being irreversibly damaged by industrial pollution. Kerala, India.

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Learning the ancient martial martial art of Kalaripayattu in Kerala, South India.

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Naoshima is an art island town in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. The Chichu Art Museum has paintings from Monet's “Water Lilies” series. Benesse House Museum shows contemporary sculpture and installations. And one of Yayoi Kusama’s iconic pumpkin sculptures stands by Miyanoura Port. One of the most fascinating experiences of art blending with nature.

Nagoya-scarecrow couple

Ayano Tsukimi started making the life-sized dolls as a prank when she returned to her hometown of Nagoro, to look after her ailing father. Now, the dolls can be found all around the village and Tsukimi has found a new calling as an artist.

Hiroshima survivor

In Japan we met with a 103 year-old Hiroshima survivor whose blessings humbled us and demonstrated what reconciliation really means.

Hiroshima peace stork

At the Hiroshima Children's Peace Monument is a statue of Sadako Sasaki who died of atomic bomb disease radiation poisoning. She holds a wire crane above her head. Shortly before she passed, she had a vision to create a thousand cranes. Japanese tradition says that if one creates a thousand cranes, they are granted one wish. Sadako's wish was to have a world without nuclear weapons.

Saket Street Art and grp-2019 India EL

Taking a tour of street art with our new-found friends in New Delhi, India

Bangle maker

A twelfth grader whose family moved to India from Sind (now in Pakistan). She makes bangles braving the heat of the melting lac over the coal brazier, with bare hands. — in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Bishnoi weavers

A centuries-old tradition of weaving "dhurries" or rugs, where each family guards its own patterns. Bishnoi village, India

Marisol and Bishnoi potter

Appreciating the skill that goes into making a perfect clay bowl. Bishnoi village, India.

Gurudwara Bangla Sahib

Participating in the communal kitchen in a Sikh temple in Delhi, India. Worshippers cook meals that are then served to rich and poor alike. This tradition of "langaar" is a reminder that in God's house, everyone is equal.