Each year the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities offers a two-week international cultural immersion field trip, where social science students engage with, and learn from, local community-based experts. International fieldwork experiences enable geography students to practically apply theoretical and conceptual ideas in confronting and complex learning contexts. As such, we model a curriculum that values intercultural collaboration and the inclusion of diverse perspectives by connecting students with the expertise and lived experiences of people beyond the academy.
Students have travelled to the Andaman Islands, New Zealand, Bali, southern India and Thailand. Students typically focus on social and ecological change working with local experts to understand how individuals and community-based organisations are responding to social inequalities and environmental challenges. In February this year, a group of 18 UOW students travelled to the Western Ghats, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. Students visited areas of natural and cultural importance, engaged with Indigenous peoples including Soliga and Toda communities, and took part in activities including trekking, cooking, dancing, birdwatching, cultural programs and temple visits. In each of the locations, briefings were provided by facilitators from the Dakshin Foundation as well as local resource experts from partner NGOs. Students learnt about human / animal conflict, the complexities of elephant conservation and the implications that western conservation frameworks have on Indigenous peoples access to forest rights.
Student reflections indicate that embodied learning in cross-cultural contexts, underpinned by listening, sharing and exchanging ideas, enable students to gain a greater awareness of the economic, political, environmental and cultural dynamics shaping how we see, think and do. The pedagogical and transformative potential arises because students are challenged to think deeply about their own social positions and to recognise how intimately connected they are to the issues they encounter. Students participating in this international fieldwork are usually supported by grants under the Commonwealth Government’s New Colombo Plan.