TAKING STUDENTS BEYOND BORDERS
It's been two years since Moravian College launched "Moving Beyond Borders: Cross Cultural Exchanges," an initiative to provide opportunities to learn about different cultures, communities and social justice issues. And Sharon Brown, director of the office institutional diversity and multicultural affairs at Moravian, already has many stories to tell about trips she's organized. Perhaps two of them best illustrate the breadth of experiences made possible by the program. The first took place during a trip to Washington DC. "After our walking tour, we noticed that there were eight different ethnic restaurants nearby," she says. So the group split up, went into the various restaurants and brought their dinner choices back to the bus. "On the way home, we all passed our food around and everybody got to try different things. One student bought a whole fish and we all sampled it. It was a really nice sharing of food, laughter and talk." Another standout memory is last fall's tour of Amish and Mennonite communities in Lancaster County—just a few weeks after the horrific shooting that took the lives of five Amish schoolchildren. The recent events added an unexpected layer of poignancy to the experience. "Our tour guide had once been part of the Amish community and had an amazing repertoire of knowledge," Brown says. "The students became really engaged in talking with her and asking questions. It was powerful."
Key to its success is careful planning, says Brown, who directs the program with assistant professor of history Fran Ryan. The use of local experts allows participants to get a deeper appreciation of the setting than a typical tourist would. "We spend lots of time researching each trip, setting it up, and making sure we have really good tour directors who know the community," Brown says. The program also sponsors "dinner and dialogs" that bring students to ethnic eateries in the Lehigh Valley to sample the cuisine and learn about the culture that produced it. Both types of events have proven to be very popular with students and others in the College community (faculty and staff are welcome and encouraged to come along); the bus trips tend to attract 30-40 people. Dinner and dialogues are limited to 15 participants and typically have a waiting list. The biggest measure of success, Brown says, is the effect the trips have on the students and others who get an insider's look at culture and history. "When we were at the African American Civil War Museum," she says, "The historian giving the talk was so engaging that the students didn't want to leave. That was really good."
The next Moving Beyond Borders trip is a walking tour of New York City's lower east side on November 10. Contact Gloria Guth for details. Bus trips are free for students, $15 for faculty and staff.