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Resident Directors Return from Norwich & Bologna

We extend our sincere thanks and gratitude to Professors Mark Ruhl and Ben Edwards for having served the College with distinction and dedication as resident directors of the Bologna and Norwich Science programs, respectively, from 2006-2008.  In response to a series of questions, they offered the following insight into the RD experience.

From Mark Ruhl, Professor of Political Science

What were the most memorable experiences from your time overseas?

The most memorable experiences both involved academic trips with the Bologna Program students. In 2006-07 and again in 2007-08, Associate Director Clarissa Pagni and I took the students by bus to the Puglia and Basilicata regions of southern Italy.  This part of Italy is very different from prosperous, cosmopolitan Emilia-Romagna where the Program is located.  Few American students ever venture that far south. We explored the contrasts between southern and northern Italy through guided visits to Lecce, Matera, and other cities.  Professor Cosimo Perrotta of the University of Lecce helped us to develop some explanations for the enduring regional differences we observed. We also, of course, enjoyed sampling unfamiliar kinds of pasta and wine!

In April of both years, we took a week-long trip to Poland generously funded by Helen and Eric Nelson and linked to our Bologna Program course on Eastern European Politics.  We attended a series of lectures in Warsaw, at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and at Auschwitz-Birkenau and visited a wide variety of historical sites.  I was amazed by how much we were able to learn about the history and politics of this understudied but important country in such a short time.

What do you think is the most valuable thing that students on the Bologna program learn?

Students become much more knowledgeable about European history and contemporary affairs especially as they pertain to Italy.  They also learn to integrate successfully into a very different cultural and linguistic environment.  At first, many struggle just to survive in Italy; even simple daily chores (shopping, cooking, doing laundry) are challenging in unexpected ways.  But, in time, nearly everyone thrives in Bologna, although each person does so in his or her own way. By the end of the year, almost no one wants to go back to the states. Bologna has become a second home.

What is the most difficult thing about being back in the States for you and your wife?

Bologna is our second home too.  We miss the city and its people especially the close friends we have accumulated over the many years we have lived there together (1977-78, 1984-86, 1992-93, 2006-08). We also miss our F.C. Bologna soccer team that has just returned to Italy's top division serie A.  We had to give up our season tickets!

What is the most pleasant thing about being back in the U.S.?

The best thing about being back is being able to see our three children more regularly.  All three (Kate, James, Christina) visited us in Bologna on multiple occasions.  We even held Kate's wedding there in October 2006.  But we see them much more often now.


From Ben Edwards, Associate Professor of Geology

What were the most memorable experiences from your time overseas?

It's hard to single one thing out. I loved the London program and teaching History of Science. It reminded me of how important it is to think broadly about science, and about the long list of people, many of whom I learned about for the first time, who played significant roles in shaping modern day science. As a family we very much enjoyed visiting with the students at our weekly teas, and hearing about their travels and adjustments to life in the UK. And I loved train travel.  I'll miss that maybe the most.

The most challenging?

Keeping tabs on the budget, especially during/after the London experience and having to collect hundreds of receipts!

How is teaching abroad different from teaching in Carlisle?

Partly the course material is much broader than what I was used to teaching. Lots of opportunities to learn new things, but a challenging amount of material to learn. The course I helped to teach at UEA was team-taught, which was an interesting and fairly successful experience. I think we should try more of that here.

What do you think is the most valuable thing that students on the program learn?

Definitely independence, both socially and academically. Professors at UEA expect students to be in charge of much more of their own learning. This attitude is great for making students take responsibility for their education. I also think traveling around the UK and Europe opened many of their eyes to different lifestyles and how other parts of the world perceive the challenges we're all facing.

What is the most difficult thing about being back in the U.S.?

Poor public transit and adjusting our family to a busier lifestyle.

The most pleasant?

The weather! It's nice to be warm walking around in shorts, although we've also definitely had a few 'too hot' days as well since returning in late July.

Is there anything you wish to add, or say to your colleagues?

I think in the sciences we are falling down on the job with not being more proactive and accommodating for students doing study abroad programs. We should be trying to get all science students into abroad programs, as it really does broaden their horizons, especially the Norwich program, which combines rigorous academics at UEA with unique opportunities to relearn and rethink the development of science and its importance to society. I think we probably need to ferret out some of the programs that are less academic and more based on spending lots of time at the beach...those programs certainly do help students mature socially and personally, which is important, but they should be done over the summer or possibly during a 'leave of absence' semester, so that students don't end up wasting one of 8 terms that are each critical for their academic experience and training.

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