Feb 10, 2014Vol. 44, Issue 3

Passport to Learning Study Abroad Program Opens Doors

Just how far can a Chico State education take you?

Well, what about the West Indies for the summer? Or, if you’d rather, West Africa?

Regional and Continuing Education’s Passport to Learning program offers students the chance to travel and learn in unique short-term, faculty-led study abroad trips designed to enhance their education through practical experience and cultural immersion.

The two summer programs currently offered were created by faculty members Georgia Fox, Anthropology, and Lindsay Briggs, Health and Community Services.

Fox has taken students to the Caribbean island of Antigua for the past seven years to her award-winning Betty’s Hope Archaeological Field School, where they get hands-on training in archaeological field work.

Briggs, on five trips since 2008, has traveled with students to The Gambia, Africa, where they explore health and developmental issues in one of the world’s smallest and poorest countries.  

Students hike to windmills once used to crush sugar cane on Antigua.

Students hike to windmills once used to crush sugar cane on Antigua.

Betty’s Hope Archaeological Field School – Antigua

There were several good reasons Georgia Fox eventually settled on Betty’s Hope Plantation in 2005 as the site of her next project.

She had already decided she wanted to go back to the Caribbean, where she had done her doctoral work. And, once she connected with Antigua’s resident archaeologist and visited the island, she was forced to concede that the absence of an artifact-preservation lab made the possibility of an underwater project out of the question.

What she hadn’t yet considered was something at the heart of it all—sugar.

“Sugar changed the world,” Fox says.

There are many old sugar plantations in the Caribbean, but Betty’s Hope, the largest on Antigua, was perfect. Firstly, unlike many archaeological sites, it was easy to access. “You could really just drive up to it,” she says. Second, it had 300 years’ worth of documentation, a crucial component for historical archaeologists like Fox. The plantation was owned by the same family, the Codringtons, from 1651 until 1944. “That’s a long time,” Fox says.

And lastly, “it was just a fantastic site,” with still-standing structures and situated on the tourist route. “A great opportunity,” she remembers thinking.

She brought her first group of Chico State students, eight of them, to the island in 2007. And from there, the program grew.

Recognized as the Best Field School of 2013 by the Archaeology Division of the American Anthropological Association, the course teaches students how to do field methodology, how to map and survey using high-tech equipment, how to excavate, and how to process artifacts.

The students who participate in the monthlong program include both undergraduates and graduates, from Chico State and other schools, some archaeology majors, some from other disciplines. They stay in cottages that overlook the English Harbor, with gourmet meals cooked by Nicola Murphy, the wife of the island archeologist, Dr. Reginald Murphy. They try to make it out into the field by 7:30 each morning. Some days Fox or visiting scholars will give evening lectures. On weekends they go on field trips. It’s a very full month, she says.

“Not all students that go down there will have a career in archaeology and that’s fine,” Fox says. “And some of them find out they don’t want a career in archaeology. It’s hard work, but some fall in love with it.”

Over the years, Fox and her students have made important discoveries. Most recently, it was the location of slave villages, which up until last summer had not been found. On the upcoming trip they will continue work on those sites as well as the plantation’s rum distillery—rum was yet another important commodity in the Caribbean.

But the field school isn’t just for the students; it’s also Fox’s research.

“It’s the classic teacher-scholar model for Chico State,” she says. “I share my research in my classes as a teaching tool. I share what I’m finding with my students. I teach them about colonialism, and slavery, and sugar, and all these sorts of things—all these things that really revolutionized the world.”

She has a contract to write a book about their work at Betty’s Hope, which she hopes to begin after finishing another writing project.

She says she can see herself running the field school for another five years, maybe.

“I love it,” she says, “but I think at some point I’ll have to stop gathering data and write my book.”

Students eat with residents of a local village in The Gambia.

Students eat with residents of a local village in The Gambia.

International Development in Africa – The Gambia

When Lindsay Briggs’ college mentor asked her if she would like to work over the summer as his assistant in The Gambia—travel expenses paid in addition to a stipend for her work—she didn’t have to think hard about accepting.

“Um, pay for me to go to Africa and give me a salary?” she said. “Yeah, I think I’m totally interested in that.”

So she went, and she continued to work with him on his summer study abroad trips there for two more summers while she was a graduate student.

When she was hired at Chico State in 2008, she told people that she wanted to run her own student study abroad trip to The Gambia. “OK, OK,” she said people responded, as if they thought it was something she would talk about but never do.

But she did do it, her very first year.

What she didn’t anticipate was what it would take—all the questions she would have to answer and aspects of the trip she would have to justify before the program truly got off the ground.

“It’s a little bit foreign to us, because faculty members, in terms of our own classrooms, we have way more autonomy in figuring out what we think is the best course of learning for students,” she says. “Whereas when you are taking students out of the country, obviously there’s a lot of risk and just a lot of stuff that the University worries about, so I answer far more questions about my Africa course than I do about any other class that I teach here on campus.”

But now, with a track record of five successful trips, there are fewer questions. And the time and effort the program requires is worth it because it’s such a meaningful experience for the students who go.

The three-work course, titled International Development in Africa, explores social, health, and development issues in The Gambia through experiential learning. There are no classrooms; rather, the world is their classroom.

The students go to markets and cultural sites, including a sacred crocodile pond. To understand the spectrum of health care available to Gambians they first visit the main hospital in the capital to see the best quality of care and medicine. Then they go to a regional hospital, farther out from the city. The one they visit has a solar field that was donated by a U.S. nonprofit and provides 80 percent of the hospital’s electricity. Before the solar field was installed, people would die simply because they didn’t have electricity at certain times. And finally they go to a health clinic in a small village. “What happens if you don’t live near the main hospital or one of the seven regional hospitals?” Briggs said. “If you’re a pregnant woman and having some sort of delivery distress, you might have to ride seven hours on a donkey cart to get to a local health clinic.”

Center left, Ronnee Peralta and Courtney Engle help a Gambian woman pump water from a well in the village of Bullenghat Futampaf. Because the country is so geographically small, the Chico State group often randomly sees the president. He’ll drive through heavily populated areas in his armored Hummer with the sun roof open, throwing cookies to children in the street.

The slogan for the country is “the smiling coast of Africa,” and Briggs, or “professor bosslady” as the locals call her, says it’s one of the nicest places she’s ever been. There are some cultural differences, sure, particularly in terms of the way men and women are respected, but nothing that’s ever disrupted the experience for her students.

“I’ve never had a student say, ‘I wish I wouldn’t have spent the money’ or ‘I wish I wouldn’t have gone,’” Briggs said. “Every student I’ve ever had has said it’s a life-changing experience.”

Applications for this summer’s trip to The Gambia, scheduled for June 2–23, 2014, are open now through March 14. The Betty’s Hope Archaeological Field School trip is scheduled for June 7–July 5, 2014, and applications are open through March 28.  If you are a faculty member who would like more information about setting up your own Passport to Learning program, visit http://rce.csuchico.edu/passport or contact Elaina McReynolds, special session and extension program director, at 530-898-5681.

Kacey Gardner, Public Affairs and Publications