Students Explore Easter Island and Immerse Themselves in Rapa Nui Culture
During this year’s January Interim, a three-week program that offers opportunities for unique campus and travel experiences, several Buena Vista University students traveled to the Polynesian island of Rapa Nui.
Dr. Swasti Bhattacharyya, professor of philosophy and religion, and David Boelter, professor of art, first led eight students through the streets of Valparaiso lined with street art, the city of Santiago, and the gardens of Viña del Mar. However, one of the most engaging parts of the trip was the time spent on Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, known for its large monolithic human face structures called the moai.
"When you form a personal connection with the people, then you experience a place in a different way. You build relationships, gain knowledge, engaging diverse communities to develop a better understanding," says Bhattacharyya.
“By building relationships with other people, you increase your capacity to understand one another; you share in each other’s experiences.”
Dr. Swasti Bhattacharyya
The course focused on topics like religion, art, culture, history, and sustainability of the Rapa Nui people. Some of the activities the students participated in included exploring the moai statues, cooking a traditional umu, and cleaning up the shore of microplastics from the large garbage patches in the ocean. The group stayed on the island in the home of a couple of Bhattacharyya’s friends, providing students a unique experience in comparison to that of a typical tourist.
Boelter says, "We lived in their homes, met people, and established friendships. We were not looking through the lens of somebody else; we submerged ourselves in the culture and history of the island, giving us more understanding about this particular group of people."
Aaron Pluym, a junior graphic design major who went on the trip, said that the trip opened his mind to understanding the importance of preservation and sustainability. He said that the opportunity to connect with the Rapa Nui people is something he will never forget.
"I learned that connections are pretty much everything," Pluym says.
Bhattacharyya says, "You can only learn so much from a book. By building relationships with other people, you increase your capacity to understand one another; you share in each other’s experiences."