Travel Course Takes Flight

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As the English faculty gears up for a fall term, Johnson gears up for a travel course to the Navajo Nation.

Brent Johnson, an English professor at Pacific, is making plans for next fall instead. He’s working on a and is hoping students will be as interested in it as he is.

   Two years ago, a travel course would have been unheard of as Covid constricted the world in a pandemic. But with a normalcy returning, so are travel programs—and Brent Johnson, an associate professor in the English Department, director of Pacific’s First-Year Seminar Program, and Pacific’s faculty athletic representative, is laying plans for a travel course to northern Arizona to the Navajo Nation.

The Index: What is a travel course?

BJ: A short-term travel course is usually two to three weeks in length that engages students in a multicultural experience. 

The Index: And, what is your travel course?

BJ: ENGW 226/326 Travel Writing: Navajo Nation is a three-week service project that takes place on the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona.

The Index: When is your travel course happening?

BJ: The prep course meets once a week in the fall on Thursdays, and the travel portion takes place over three weeks in January 2024. 

The Index:  Will it be happening more in the future, too?

BJ: Yes, I hope to continue to take students on this trip in future years.

The Index: What can be expected to happen on a travel course? Is it just travel and exploration or are there assignments too?

BJ: Expect that anything can happen and will. That’s the beauty of travel: to trade being in control for being present instead. Travel courses often help us see our lives and culture more clearly through the lives and cultures of others that are different. Most travel courses are preceded by a prep course in the previous semester to introduce you to the culture as well as begin research that enriches your experience while there. It’s similar to the experience of learning about a painting before seeing it—its significance hits you on a deeper level than it just being something interesting to look at. There are often assignments with travel courses that involve reading and researching about the places prior to travel. For my course, we will learn how to keep a travel journal and use writing to help us process and think about the cultural experience we are having.  

The Index: What is it like to plan a travel course?

BJ: It’s a ton of work, from setting up accommodations and travel to reserving experts and guides while abroad. Time zones, language, and cultural barriers all add to the fun when it comes to planning. Not all cultures embrace America’s demand for efficiency and immediate response.

The Index: What got you interested in this travel course?

BJ: The Navajo Nation course is a new-old course at Pacific. Over a decade ago, this course ran for several years under the expert guidance of Ellen Hastay. I knew about the course back then and heard over and over again what a transformative, meaningful experience it was for the students. Chopping wood for elders, working with children in the local school, and spending time outside in winter sunshine in service of others syncs well with where I am in my life right now: seeking experiences and adventures that can benefit others as well.

The Index: Why should students be interested in travel courses? Or, more specifically, why should they be interested in your travel course?

BJ: Be interested in travel courses because they will change your life. That seems like hyperbole, but it’s the truth. You will come away more aware of assumptions that you never even knew you had—on life, on values, on the larger matrix that informs daily realities. My course will engage students in all these ways, but especially in how you will be giving your time greater value by the people you are assisting and what you will learn from them in return.  

The Index: Are travel courses usually popular?

BJ: Yes, for sure. I’ve never had one student say to me, I wish I had stayed home instead.

The Index: How do students participate in a travel course? Is it similar to a normal class for enrollment? BJ: You register for the course as you would any other course. Some travel courses have limits on numbers due to certain travel factors, but other than that, not much different from normal enrollment processes.

— Ashley Strobel


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