When most Arkansans think of international travel, they imagine a plane flight overseas. But for University of Arkansas – Fort Smith students taking Maymester courses this summer, an international trip took the form of a bus ride to Canada as part of literature and history courses at the university.
Maymester courses are condensed courses at locations across the country and the world held each May. Registration is currently open for 2018 courses.
Forty-six students in the Honors International Studies Program participated in the Maymester trip, which consisted of a bus ride north to Illinois before turning east to Ohio and culminating in a trip across the border to Ontario. The trip included two courses – “Writers in Their Place,” taught by Dr. Dennis Siler, and an introductory American history course, taught by Martha Siler. The trip satisfied the international travel requirement for students in the honors program.
For the literature course, students chose a book by a writer from the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada and were able to explore firsthand the relationship between literary works and the venues in which they are set.
“You can study Ontario for years, or you can go there for a week. I think you’ll learn more on the ground and it would be more beneficial than simply reading about it,” said Dennis Siler, who is the director of the Honors International Studies Program. “Goldfish can’t really examine water. The only thing that he knows is his bowl. So if you go to somebody else’s bowl for a while, then you start to get some perspective. When students went to the Fanshawe pioneer village and saw what daily life on the farm was like in Ontario, that helped them understand ‘Anne of Green Gables,’ or whatever book it was that they were reading, in a different way.”
Students also attended a Shakespeare festival in Stratford, Ontario – a city resembling Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace – in addition to other literary locales.
Students in the introductory American history class also attended and saw their fair share of history along the way. The group stopped at the St. Louis Courthouse where the Dred Scott Case was settled; Cahokia Mounds, a pre-Colombian city in Illinois that is a World Heritage Site; and Ontario, where they celebrated Canada’s sesquicentennial.
While in Ontario, the group also visited the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the historical attraction Casa Loma, a castle that has served as a filming venue for several television shows and films. On the way back, the group stopped in the Henry Ford museum in Detroit, where they saw the chair Abraham Lincoln sat in when he was assassinated, as well as John F. Kennedy’s limo he was in when he was shot.
Seeing and experiencing these sights firsthand deepens their appreciation of American history, according to Martha Siler, who is an adjunct professor of history at UAFS.
“Through travel, we were able to expose our history to our students through tangible items and places and discuss intangibles, like loss, fear, love, freedom, war, and death in a way we could never have done sitting in a classroom,” Siler said. “These sites brought these people, places and events to life for our students and made them very real.”
“This type of travel experience sticks with students, stokes their curiosity and ignites a lifelong passion for learning that you just cannot get inside the four walls of a classroom or through technology,” she continued. “That is why it is a critical part of the honors international study program.”
For more information about Maymester courses, contact the International Relations Office at 479-788-7267 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Honors International Studies Program, contact Dennis Siler at 479-788-7537 or email@example.com.
About the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith
The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is the premiere regional institution of Western Arkansas, connecting education with careers and serving as a driver of economic development and quality of place in the greater Fort Smith region. Small class sizes, dedicated faculty and staff, affordable tuition rates, and a diverse on-campus culture allow UAFS students to fully explore their areas of interest in ways that prepare them for post-graduate success academically, professionally, and personally. To find out what makes UAFS just right for you, go to www.uafs.edu.