Geography department experience abroad

Anna Riggenbach

Thailand, Cambodia, Honduras, China, Japan.

They’re all places students can read about in books, but now they’re also destinations of Kent State’s geography department.

The experience abroad trips, constructed by the geography department, allow students to travel, learn about a country’s history and earn credit hours. Trips in the past have included Thailand, China, Europe and Japan.

Jay Lee, chairman of the geography department, enjoys taking students on the trips, especially after students have learned about the countries they will visit.

“Students get to see the places first-hand to better understand the culture and environment,” Lee said. “It has been receiving a lot of positive response.”

Faculty and staff members in the geography department pick the countries where they would like to take students. Members usually pick countries based on their own interest and experience, Lee said.

James Tyner, coordinator of Asian studies, will take students to Cambodia in January 2007. He traveled to Cambodia in 2002 and took students to Thailand last March.

Cambodia has a unique history, Tyner said, which is one of the reasons he picked the country for his next trip.

“I think Cambodia offers an opportunity to understand the achievements and failures of the government,” Tyner said. “Cambodia suffered one of the worst human atrocities in modern history.”

The history of Cambodia is interesting because the country has been ignored by the international community, Tyner said, adding that for 30 years, the country struggled with civil war, foreign aggression and genocide. Killing fields and torture facilities are a reminder of the tragedy that took place in Cambodia. Students will also visit monuments and mass graves during the trip.

“This is an opportunity to see how one country has attempted to survive,” Tyner said. “It’s a very sobering experience seeing shards of bone and teeth in the ground.”

Tyner did more than 12 years of research on Cambodia before deciding to take students there. Cambodia is not as tourist-oriented as European countries, which was a positive factor in his decision, he said.

“It is important to look at countries devastated by war,” he said. “Students come away with a different sense of empathy.”

Students will be expected to keep a journal of their experience on the trip. Most of the trip will be spent learning about the country’s history, Tyner said. Stops on the Cambodia trip will include Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia; Ta Prohm, a Buddhist temple; and Wat Phnom, a cosmic mountain sanctuary.

Lee started the experience abroad trips three years ago. He is organizing the trip to China that will take place during spring break in 2007. Highlights of the trip will include Beijing, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Ming Tombs, the Museum of the Terra Cotta Warriors and Shanghai, according to the trip itinerary.

Students going on the trip to China can earn two credit hours as part of the Geography Experience course by writing a report about their experiences.

The China trip is available to all students, staff, faculty and community members.

The department is also planning a trip to the Silk Road, an ancient trade route between China and the Mediterranean Sea.

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Anna Riggenbach at [email protected].