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Geography Comes to Life for Students Traveling East Asia

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Geography Comes to Life for Students Traveling East Asia
Students at the Demilitarized Zone between South Korea and North Korea. Photo courtesy of Professor Sasha Davis.

Hong Kong, Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Shanghai, and Seoul. Those are some of the incredible locations that students traveled to as part of the field studies course in Keene State’s Geography, Outdoor Recreation, and Planning Program. The two-week trip gives students the opportunity to travel, explore new places, and experience an unfamiliar culture.

Studying geography is a lot more than looking at maps and memorizing the locations of countries and cities. It’s a more integrated way of looking at what places are like and the ways in which the world is connected.

As Geography Professor Sasha Davis explained, “There are four things geographers are interested in: where is it, what is it or what’s actually at that place, how did it come to be that way, and should it be that way.”

In preparation for the trip, students learned two of the Japanese syllabaries and Hangul, the Korean alphabet, so they would be able to pronounce signs and do simple navigations. Students also did coursework on current events and contemporary politics in East Asia so they would have background knowledge of the places they were visiting.

“For example, we watched videos looking at different aspects of environmental issues with flooding in Tokyo,” said Professor Davis. “We also studied the Korean War, setting up to visit the Korean Demilitarized Zone. We also went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Students read about the bombing and watched videos about what had happened so when we went there, there was context to the museum.”

The 14 students who traveled to East Asia were not all geography majors. Gillian Shannon ’20 is a psychology major and decided to take the class because she has an interest in geography, but hadn’t had the opportunity to explore it. “Going to East Asia was something so dramatically different than anywhere I’ve ever been,” she said. “As someone who’s not a geography major, don’t let that stop you from taking a course like this.”

For Cindy Clausen ’20, a triple major in geography, criminal justice studies, and sociology, it was her first trip outside the US. “Every few days we were thrown into a completely different culture, which was shocking, but it was interesting to see how places differ and are also similar,” she said.

“One of the great things about this course is you make a lot of friends,” Cindy continued. “I’m a geography major but never really knew the other students in my classes. Getting to go on this trip together was a great opportunity to get closer and get to know them better.”

“The big things I wanted the students to come away with from this class is an enhanced ability to be in multi-cultural settings, but also to be brave. To do something that’s out of your comfort zone, to learn things from it, and feel like you’re rewarded for doing that,” said Professor Davis.

Next spring semester, the geography field course will be studying and traveling to the Southwestern US, visiting the San Diego border, the Navajo reservation, Las Vegas, and more.

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