Long before I became a professor of tourism at East Carolina, I actually worked in the industry as a travel agent. So I understand the importance of travel and tourism, both for the individuals who take trips, and for the communities they visit. And it’s why I am a great supporter of study abroad programs for students. They are a wonderful way for students to see the world and gain a greater understanding of where they fit in it.
This past summer, we took a group of students to Australia and Fiji for a two-part course offered through the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies called Sustaining Human Communities. The great thing about studying sustainability is how the concepts related to it can be applied to so many areas of study. We had students from the hospitality management program, a biology major, an exercise science major, and even an audiology major on this trip. By looking at sustainability from a cultural standpoint, any of those majors can make a connection.
My absolute favorite moment on the Australia/Fiji study abroad took place aboard the S.S. Kalinda, our home for four days while our students studied the Great Barrier Reef and collected data for research projects on topics of their choosing. After a morning of snorkeling we held class on the deck with our field guide, a PhD in marine biology. As he’s explaining the reef ecosystem and the marine life we just spent a few hours gazing at through crystal blue water, I’m looking around at our students still wearing their swimsuits, sitting on towels on the deck of a boat on a gorgeous day, and I’m thinking to myself, “This is the most amazing classroom ever!”
Our time at the Great Barrier Reef gave us the opportunity to see first-hand the toll of environmental
pressures on the coral reef and the marine life it hosts. What better way to understand an ecosystem than to see it? As I spent time with our students during that time, I could see that what they were learning was really having an impact. Experiencing one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World is life changing. What better way to promote protecting something than by having a connection and wanting to make sure it is there for generations to come?
Another memorable moment came in the Australian Outback. We were visiting an old gold mine that was transformed into a tourism operation by the family who lived on it. They offer tours to educate folks (students and others) about the history of the area and issues families in the Outback face. But what I’ll never forget is the family’s three young children who loved to play cricket. Normally, it was just the family living alone at this mining station, so when we showed up the children immediately began teaching our students how to play cricket. They played for hours and just had the best time. Study abroad offers informal moments like these that cannot be reproduced in the classroom, and facilitate a connection that we could never realize from our desks.
We also learned about the indigenous culture of Australia. We spent time with an aboriginal family who taught us all to play the didgeridoo. The didgeridoo is a wind instrument developed by indigenous Australians of northern Australia at least 1500 years ago and is still in widespread usage today both in Australia and around the world. But you don’t want to hear me play it–think wounded elephant. Check out this video to hear what playing the didgeridoo or “didge” SHOULD sound like!