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Pieces of Eight

Bob Ebendorf, an ECU professor of metals/jewelry and India trip participant, haggles with a toy vendor on a train platform in Agra, India. (Photographs by Erica Plouffe Lazure)

Learning Happens Here

By Erica Plouffe Lazure

This summer, East Carolina University’s study abroad program has helped students realize that getting an education doesn’t always mean sitting in a classroom or conducting research in the library or lab. With nearly a dozen ECU professors taking roughly 130 students to countries as diverse as India, Argentina and Ghana, the students’ laboratories were the streets; their sourcebooks were their interactions with new people and circumstances; classroom discussions took place on rooftops and dimly lit restaurants and in rickshaws.

Derek Maher, ECU religious studies professor and India trip leader, visits with ECU student James Tyndall in front of the Taj Mahal.

Derek Maher, a professor of religious studies at ECU who directed the trip to India, said he enjoyed watching his students learn about themselves through their interactions and conversations with others on the month-long journey.

“For many reasons, it is so valuable for American students to study in a foreign environment,” Maher said. “The little glimpses they gain into alternate ways of living life end up being so meaningful.”

As part of their tour of India’s sacred spaces, Maher and his students sailed along the shores of the Ganges River in Varanasi and stood inside the inner temple of the great Taj Mahal in Agra. They visited Jain temples in Delhi and spent a week in Dharamsala, the Tibetan exile community, and celebrated Saca Dawa, the life, death and enlightenment of the Buddha under a full moon.

Other ECU students spent the summer learning Spanish in Argentina; traveled to Kyoto, Japan, to study its art and history; practiced their business acumen in Australia. While many returned with new language skills or an appreciation for new food, some students returned with artwork of their own making. Students who spent the summer in Italy studying art and art education with ECU art education professor Cynthia Bickley-Green, created works of art. An exhibit of their work is at the gallery of the Mendenhall Student Center through Aug. 30.

Students also found ways to give back to the communities they visited. Several brought donations of medical supplies from area doctors and delivered them to the Delek Hospital in McLeod Ganj, India. Other students brought school supplies and gave them to village schools or to children in lieu of coins.

ECU students Jamie Jackson and Nabeel Arastu take a spin through Delhi in an auto rickshaw.

Technology has also found its way into the curriculum. Accompanied by tracks of Podcast lectures, ECU English professor Gregg Hecimovich led a group of students through ‘Literary’ England. Plugged into MP3s or iPods, the students were able to listen to Hecimovich’s lectures as they traveled through England.

Learning does happen, whether it’s through Podcast lectures or discussions among classmates on buses and in restaurants.

“One thing I’m definitely going to get from this trip is that there are so many different ways to learn,” said Geoff Handsfield, 20, a physics major at ECU who went to India.

“You’re taught in high school, stay in public schools and get straight A’s, and then go to college. But I’ve learned so much being here, just by seeing it.”

The ECU in India group visits Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.


Above, ECU theater student J.T. Pitt makes friends by making music in McLeod Ganj, India.  
This page originally appeared in the July 28, 2006 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at