Photos by Dr. Matthew Packer.

Photos by Dr. Matthew Packer.

Sept. 25, 2015

In June, a group of five Buena Vista University professors embarked on a journey to Vietnam and Cambodia as part of the McCorkle Fellowship program, interweaving their disciplines and personal interests and bonding as colleagues and friends. They found the area to be unexpectedly beautiful, filled with kind and generous people, and were impacted by each country's lengthy and often troubled history – Vietnam's filled with stories of war and hardship, Cambodia's with violence and trauma.

Dr. Dixee Bartholomew-Feis, professor of history and dean of the School of Social Science, Philosophy, and Religion led the trip, as she had previous experience traveling in the area while working on her dissertation in 1996. Accompanying her on the trip were Dr. Calle Friesen, assistant professor of education; Dr. James Hampton, professor of biology and Stine Endowed Chair; Dr. Kathryn McKinley, associate professor of social work; and Dr. Matthew Packer, associate professor of English.

The group visited a variety of cities and historical locations, including cruising in a basket boat on Ha Long Bay and seeing a few of its thousands of islands, exploring the Old Quarter of Hanoi by cyclo or bicycle rickshaw, visiting Ho Chi Minh's tomb and living compound, navigating parts of the Mekong Delta, and seeing the ancient ruins at the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. But the main experience that touched this team of educators was when their Vietnamese guide welcomed them into her home and took them to her family's village for a meal and conversation with Vietnamese citizens.

The travelers returned to Storm Lake carrying experiences and stories to share and incorporate into their academic programs, with many ideas spanning across disciplines.

Bartholomew-Feis is planning collaborative projects with the other McCorkle Fellows for her history classes, including a scientific discussion on Agent Orange, a presentation on the social issues U.S. Vietnam veterans have faced, plans for a possible Interim 2017 course on Vietnam in film and literature, and developing a "teaching box" for area K-12 teachers that will contain artifacts, tools, and items made in the area, with corresponding educational descriptions and lesson plans.

"The visit to Vietnam and Cambodia brought many new insights and opportunities. The experiences, materials, and pictures from this trip are adding new dimensions to my course," said Bartholomew-Feis. "As a professional historian, I look forward to working with my colleague in Phnom Penh on a reality series about U.S.-Vietnamese relations with a special focus on his time in Vietnam as a soldier and afterwards."

As someone specialized in cultural literacy and educational leadership, Friesen was intrigued by the role that stories have played in both countries' identity, culture, and national heritage. "I am fascinated by oral tradition and origin stories – everything has a story. Story is how we hand down our culture," says Friesen. "Our guide was very good about recognizing how the cultural literacy aspect was important to me, and she would stop and share stories about their culture and history with us during our travels."

Along with helping to develop the "teaching box" of artifacts and objects of daily life, Friesen is also planning to interact with teachers in the Storm Lake area. "It would be great to share what we learned about the Vietnamese culture and oral traditions with area teachers, as we have Vietnamese students living in our community," Friesen says. "We can share a unique perspective to help educators better understand some of the student population in their classrooms."

Vietnam and Cambodia gave Hampton a clearer understanding of tropical botany that he plans to bring back to BVU students. "A field trip to the local Sichanh Asian Food Market is in my botany students' future, now that I have a better sense of what I am seeing," says Hampton. Along with gaining knowledge for his students, he discovered quite a bit about himself. "The real benefit of this trip to my students and our community is in the new-found perspective, the sense of collegiality, and the enthusiasm for a splendid and complicated world that I have gained," he says. "An expedition to an exotic locale in the intimate company of diverse colleagues has been transformative for me as a human, a professor, and a contributor to our university."

As a first-time participant in the McCorkle Fellowship program, McKinley found that the experience deepened her understanding of Vietnam and Cambodia on many levels. "Vietnam and Cambodia are in a part of the world that is rapidly becoming a world focus. Had I not visited in person, I am not convinced that I could have understood the differences in culture of the two countries," she says. "The opportunity to see a country in person and interact with citizens in their own country and culture simply cannot be replicated. The experience has deepened my understanding of Vietnam and Cambodia at social, economic, political, and cultural levels."

McKinley is developing units to use this experience as examples of concepts that she teaches in social work classes, and she also plans to speak in the community to share this remarkable experience with as many people as possible. "I want to encourage others to travel and to consider visiting this part of the world, as it is both fascinating and increasingly important to the world," she says.

Packer found the trip to be an exciting and enriching experience and is planning to teach some Vietnamese literature to classes and to look at the current situation in the South China Sea, where relations between Vietnam, China, and other countries are tense. He also hopes that BVU students might one day be able to see Vietnam for themselves on an Interim trip.

"We got to see one of the busiest, most rapidly developing countries in the world," says Packer. "We met wonderful, friendly people and came to understand more about Vietnam's story and how the indigenous, French, Indian, Chinese, and American influences have produced a fascinating hybrid culture that's unique at the same time. The Vietnamese, on their own terms, have responded quickly to globalization, despite the difficulties in their recent history."

This was the tenth year of the McCorkle Fellowship program, which was established through the generosity of the late Drs. Paul and Vivian McCorkle, Class of 1959, who were both Life Trustees of BVU, to provide selected faculty members with an opportunity for international travel to enhance their scholarly knowledge and to add international dimensions to the curriculum. Previous locations selected for McCorkle Fellows have included Argentina and Peru (2006); India (2007); Israel and Egypt (2008); Turkey (2009); Japan (2010); South Korea (2011); Kenya and Rwanda (2012); Spain and Morocco (2013); and Rapa Nui (2014).

An expedition to an exotic locale in the intimate company of diverse colleagues has been transformative for me as a human, a professor, and a contributor to our university.

Dr. James Hampton