Dr. Rick Warner (written Friday night 5/19) - Something extraordinary has been happening to 39 of our students this week. They have become immersed in a society considerably different from their own, rubbing shoulders with ordinary people in a developing country. The students have been learning about community organizing and sustainable agriculture. They have visited an indigenous community, traveling by dugout canoe, learning first hand about the culture and history of the Embera people. Most importantly, they have reflected on the value of working toward an understanding of a different culture. They are developing international and cultural empathy and making multiple connections with their liberal arts experience at large.
No, this is not a course-related immersion trip. This is the football trip to Panama. Student blogs provide a fascinating window on their reflections – so far – on this remarkable venture. There is something about traveling abroad that opens up pathways of reflection about life at home, and their (our) realizations are inevitably couched in comparative terms. For my own part, I am reflecting on my previous trips to Latin America with students. Many of the same powerful synergies have emerged.
Yet there are some interesting differences to illuminate. For starters, the students have pursued and obtained their own fundraising for this trip. This is all the more impressive when one considers that about three days of our itinerary are devoted to service projects, which are aptly described in the student blogs. While many U.S. tourists visit Latin America with an eye to their own amusement and relaxation, our students are helping impoverished farmers make their way in the world. Forty football players can move a lot of dirt in a day. Additionally, our students have reached out to young Panamanians, through a school visit and a youth football clinic.
Everyone has had his own revelations on this trip. If you know one of these students or coaches, I encourage you to ask them what they have learned. In my own case I have realized that I can do a much better job in my international travels with students. The service component of the Panama trip sets it apart from others, and I am resolved to search for service learning possibilities for future immersion experiences. Our students are taking up President Ford´s charge to “save humanity,” or at least they are taking some steps toward “living humanely.” I would like to follow them.
Finally, I have realized that there are fruitful ways that professors and coaches can work as partners to bring the world to our students. Athletics and academics have common ground in the liberal arts experience. Not only do we teach the same students, but some important life lessons can be learned when such partnerships are forged. Much more can be done in this line.
Something extraordinary has been happening to 39 of our students this week. And to the rest of us here too.
In photo: Little Giant Coach Chris Creighton talks with the Panamanian children who participated in the camp.