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This summer, West Chester University students travelled far and wide to broaden their horizons both academically and personally. Communication Studies professor Ed Lordan took 12 students from a variety of majors to Dublin, Ireland, to study Irish media. Executive-in-residence, Bradley Allen, who teaches accounting at WCU, and some of his students travelled to Belize to teach financial literacy in that country's public schools.
Below are the faculty members' accounts of their students' (and their) experiences.
When 12 WCU undergraduates visited Ireland in July to study Irish media, they found winding rivers crossed by ancient stone bridges, traditional music in smoky pubs, and local characters eager to engage in conversation. But they also found a clash of cultures, as new communication technologies compete with traditional print media for the attention of Irish audiences.
The students brought a range of majors to the class, from business and marketing to English and communication studies. Each prepped for the trip by developing their knowledge of a topic connected to Dublin, Ireland's capital and largest city. Some learned about historic events, such as the 1916 Easter Rising and The Troubles of the 1970s. Others concentrated on specific media institutions, such as The Irish Times newspaper and the national radio network. They were also introduced to the complex religious and political relationships that are central to Ireland, and read textbooks related to Irish media history and media ethics.
In country, the "Dublin Dozen" enjoyed lectures and Q&A sessions with the authors of their texts – John Horgan, the ombudsman for Ireland and author of Irish Media: A Critical History Since 1922; and Steven Knowlton, chair of the journalism department at Dublin City University and author of "Moral Reasoning for Journalists: Cases and Commentary."
They visited Ireland's most important historic sites. At the General Post Office, the central building in the 1916 revolution, students asked questions of the museum curator during a private tour of the facilities. At the Kilmainham Jail, they stood in the cells that had held the patriots of the revolution.
Students were also assigned "man on the street" interviews with the men, women and children of Ireland to learn what they read, watch and listen to in modern media. They discovered more similarities than differences [versus the United States], as the older Irish continue to rely on newspapers and, to a lesser extent, television to learn about politics, fashion and sports, while Dubliners in their teens and twenties have transitioned to cell phones and mobile apps to keep up with current events.
Books and lectures are only part of international study. The students took full advantage of daytrips and nightlife to get the entire Irish experience. On the weekends, they spread out across the island, visiting ancestral homesteads to meet extended family and snapping pictures in Cork and Limerick and along the Cliffs of Moher.
They stayed in the Dublin City University dormitories, where they met students from all over Europe doing the same thing at the same time. By the end of the first week, they were adding Facebook friends from Spain and France as well as Ireland. Some of the Europeans plan to visit West Chester this fall and WCU students are planning additional study in Ireland in 2014.
As the Dublin Dozen flew back to Philadelphia, they realized that they were fundamentally different from the group that had departed three weeks earlier. Part of it was in-depth exposure to a different culture, one with its own unique phrases ("Good on ya, lass") and rules (a relaxed approach to being on time). Part of it was new friendships, not only with fellow Golden Rams but also with fellow students from around the world and Dubliners of different generations. And part of it was the confidence that comes from challenging yourself to go outside your comfort zone, to eat prawns and try to riverdance, to sit on top of the green double-decker bus as it drives down the left side of the road, into a city that you didn't quite know but were determined to understand.
As I stepped off of the plane at Belize City International Airport onto the wet tarmac, the heat and humidity that was promised made its welcome known. The flight from San Pedro was only 15 minutes, yet inconceivably it was not a nonstop flight. We touched down first at the Belize City Municipal airstrip, landing less than a meter from the water with no control tower.
I was met immediately by Ni and Hunter from the PeaceWork and whisked to our hotel in Belize City. PeaceWork is a business that pursues both profit and peace. Among other things, it provides business consulting services to social enterprises both in the US and internationally. In this regard, PeaceWork teamed with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to provide financial literacy training to upwards of thousands of Belizean youths in public schools over the past five years in the American equivalent of elementary, middle and high school levels.
Since 2008, PwC has sent partners, principals, staff, and interns to teach financial literacy in Belize. Project Belize is part of an innovative program designed to solve social and economic challenges in developing countries by integrating financial literacy and entrepreneurship into the public school curriculum. This year they sent 400 people in two waves of 200.
Since its inception, PwC has contributed over 15 tons of school supplies, awarded more than 600 high school equivalent scholarships so Belize students can continue their education, and delivered their financial literacy curriculum to more than 3,000 students with the help of over 760 talented and enthusiastic PwC interns, partners, and staff.
Since retiring from PwC, I have been the Executive-in-Residence and an adjunct professor of accounting at West Chester University. Three of my students, Sarah Bauknight, Caitlin Gardner and Jeff O'Brien, have interned at PwC and were selected to participate in Project Belize. Jeff was on the same trip with me.
There were three "tracks" to the Belize Project: financial literacy (taught to primary school students), scholarship (taught to previous winners of PwC's scholarships – all students were in middle or high school), and teachers and principals (primarily a "teach- the- teacher" program so that the teachers can begin to incorporate the principles into their curriculum). Jeff was in the financial literacy track while I was in the scholarship track.
The curriculum for each track was essentially the same, but with a slightly different focus, covering topics ranging from opening a savings account to preparing a budget to identifying a business you want to start marketing and advertising. The scholarship track also included resume building and interview skills, while the track for teachers and principals included a session where they had to teach the same concepts to the parents of the students participating in the camp.
For three days we worked with these students, taking them through financial building blocks ultimately leading them to the place where they could dream about their own business. This included the fundamentals of a business plan and financial projections. We also helped them prepare for a job by constructing a resume and going through a job interview.
On the final day, the class finished drawing their posters to advertise the business that they plan to create. Several students have already created their own businesses and were able to sell their products to us on the last day at the Belize Youth Store.
So what do we take away from this? As my student, Jeff said, he never realized how much he took water, food, and other basic necessities for granted. The Belize students and their families face these challenges daily, yet they approach each day with the creativity, enthusiasm and energy that they demonstrated for us.
I'm honored that I was selected for Project Belize, and I hope to return. I’m also proud of the PwC people with whom I worked and of the students from West Chester University that participated. They all mirrored the creativity, enthusiasm and energy of the Belizean students. They were all highly motivated and conscious of giving back to the community. Our community is now the world.