Nearly 80 Wingate juniors will ring in the new year overseas during W’International, the University’s signature, 10-day travel-study program, now headed into its 40th year.
W’International students take part in a one-semester seminar about a topic they’ll study further on location. Groups will leave for Costa Rica and Malaysia on Dec. 27, with a third cohort headed to London on Dec. 29.
Wingate professors have taken classes to these destinations before, but each excursion will include new experiences.
“We’ll be going on a day trip to Cambridge for the first time and also adding a tour of Bletchley Park, the center for decoding German communications during World War II,” said Keith Cannon, associate professor of journalism and chairman of Wingate’s Department of Communication and Art, who will be leading his fifth W’International excursion to the United Kingdom.
“Given my professional experience and academic interests in news media, I have always been interested in London as a worldwide center for business and communication,” Cannon said. “It’s enough like the U.S. in terms of shared language and culture for students to have a comfort level with the city, but different enough to be interesting.”
With their focus on the media, past and present, Cannon’s 23 students will spend time on Fleet Street and will visit the Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising as well as the Victoria and Albert Museum. Tours of the Tower of London and of Bath are also planned. The group will spend New Year’s Eve at “The Magic of Vienna,” concert at London’s Barbican Center.
At home in the great outdoors
While the students in London are enjoying Strauss, the Costa Rica group will have arrived in La Fortuna de San Carlos, where they will take in waterfalls and hot springs.
Melissa Fox, assistant biology professor, is leading the 30-member group, which has studied the region’s role as a crossroads of ecotourism, conservation and culture. It will be her fourth visit to Costa Rica, where she spent two summers as an exchange student.
“I instantly fell in love with their kind, generous and good-spirited culture,” Fox said. “Costa Ricans live by the ‘Pura Vida’ mentality, where they live productive yet low-stress lives and genuinely enjoy the smaller things in life.”
Costa Rica earned HappyPlanetIndex.org’s “happiest country” designation in 2009, 2012 and 2017.
“As a scientist, I enjoy bringing our students to Costa Rica to experience how this cultural dynamic intertwines with their care for the ecosystem,” Fox said. “Every choice they make in their day-to-day lives has an immediate impact on the preservation of their beautiful, biodiverse ecosystem.”
Foz said that with the influx of international visitors for the ecotourism industry, they funnel these revenues back into the environment to ensure the human footprint is minimized in these remote locations.
Her students, many of whom have never flown or traveled outside of the U.S., will visit biological-research stations, explore the rainforest and take night-time hikes to discover nocturnal animals. Another special feature of this W’International experience will be a homestay.
“The students have already received their host family’s information and photos so they can begin developing a connection with them,” Fox said. “Homestays are a wonderful way to learn more about the Tico way-of-life and taste authentic home-cooked meals.”
Fox addes that hopefully they’ll even stay in touch long after the W’International experience is over.
Jennifer Armentrout, the University’s director of international programs, said students on W’International in Cuba last year said the homestay was the best part.
A mini-tour of Asia
It’s difficult to predict what will be the most popular feature of James Hastings’ excursion to Singapore and Malaysia. An associate professor and the chairman of the Department of History and Political Science, Hastings has made educating people about Asian societies his life’s work.
“This will be my fifth W’International to these two Southeast Asian countries; I will have taken around 125 Wingate students to this region since 2007,” said Hastings, who describes Singapore as a “safe, clean, English-speaking area with one of the best public transportation systems in the world.”
Hastings added that migration during its past as a British colony makes Singapore a perfect stop for a “mini-tour of Asia.”
“In just a few days, students can experience not only the legacy of British imperial rule but also a variety of authentic Asian cultures through walking tours of Singapore’s Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam (aka Arab Street, the Malay Muslim neighborhood of the city),” Hastings said. “From my first W’International, we also traveled a few hours into neighboring Malaysia to visit the historic city of Melaka. Later, and again this time, we also included the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.”
Originally an Islamic sultanate that attracted Arab, Indian and Chinese traders, after 1511 Melaka successively became a Portuguese, Dutch and finally an English colony, Hastings explained.
Each time his groups have visited Melaka, they have spotted architectural remnants of Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and English occupation. In addition to understanding the ethnic and cultural diversity that characterizes Singapore and Malaysia, Hastings also wants his students to explore how each country is making efforts to create ethnic harmony.
“Though each has somewhat the same ethnic mixture, the proportions differ markedly: Singapore is 60 percent Chinese and Daoist, while Malaysia is 60 percent Malay and Muslim, so their approaches to harmonious relations differ as well,” Hastings said.
Another focus of the journey will be visits to museums such as the Islamic Arts Museum in Kuala Lumpur and the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore. Hastings, who has worked as a professional chef, will also encourage students to experience the variety of cultures through their cuisines.
“This region is noted for the variety and quality of its street foods,” Hastings said.
They will spend New Year’s Eve in Melaka.
More travel to come
Spring W’International seminars will include travel to Spain and Catalonia, Germany and France, Italy, the Netherlands, or Scotland and Northern England. Topics run the gamut from ecotourism to the Vikings. And cost is roughly $1,000 for most options. W’International groups will depart in mid-May, as will students headed to Costa Rica for Wingate’s three-week Spanish immersion program. Thanks to these and other programs, about half of Wingate students wind up studying outside of the U.S. Wingate has been named among the top 25 master’s institutions in the United States for undergraduate participation in study abroad.