A changing campus and a changing world

Understanding the current situation for MILA courses

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Students meet here, at the Office of Global Education, to discuss their study abroad plans // Photo by Rebecca Clark '23

Study abroad programs are an exciting way for students to engage with global environments, so long as students can afford to spend an entire semester away from campus. Muhlenberg College offers a solution for students: Muhlenberg Integrated Learning Abroad (MILA) courses. These courses allow for students to reside on campus for the fall or spring semester and then spend time in a location that their class studies. 

Three of the MILA courses offered this semester are a showcase of Ireland, another highlights the intersection of religion and ecology in Japan and the last is focused on the Potomac region of the U.S.  The MILA courses operate like traditional courses with weekly sessions, but a multi-week trip at the end as well. 

Ashley Hilary ‘22 is participating in the Ireland MILA to learn more about the theatrical and creative writing elements of the country. Hilary described, “It’s creative writing and theater in Ireland – we’re examining plays and texts as inspiration for our own work as well as studying the history of the places we’re traveling to. In Ireland, we’ll do a lot of writing projects and then eventually perform a poem by W.B. Yeats!”

“With omicron we haven’t really spoken about what that means for the future of the trip but until then I’m going to matter what!”

– Ashley Hilary ’22

The course is taught by two professors of the college, Linda Miller, director of creative writing, and Brendon Votipka, adjunct professor of English. The course is adapting to the current omicron variant of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Hilary continued, “Brendon has also moved some of his classes over Zoom so everyone feels a little more comfortable.…With omicron we haven’t really spoken about what that means for the future of the trip but until then I’m going to matter what!”

Hannah Michelson ‘22, another student in the Ireland MILA, is excited for the course and the combination of theatrical and creativing writing elements. Some of the participating students were originally supposed to participate in the trip when the class ran before the pandemic, such as Hilary. Michelson described how “the same class was supposed to go to Ireland and because of COVID they never got to go,” but some of these students have joined this course to have the Ireland trip and the course in a unique manner.  

The new MILA course for this semester will hopefully remedy some of the lost opportunities of the past. Michelson also shared how Miller recently shared in class that the borders to Ireland have been opened and it is quite likely for students to travel across the pond. The same cannot be said for other programs, however. 

The Japan MILA is an opportunity for students to learn more about two areas of study that may seem exclusive, but are linked together in engaging and complex manners. The two areas interlock, thanks to Kammie Takahashi, Ph.D., associate professor of religion studies and Asian studies, and Kimberly Heiman, Ph.D., senior lecturer of biology, work together to bring both perspectives to every area of the course. 

“That integrative learning piece where the world is a complicated place, and there’s no way to fully understand it ever, but you certainly get a better understanding when you look at it from multiple perspectives. I think that there’s a power in bringing people from different views together to explore similar content,” Heiman declared.

The two professors will continue to update current students about the possibility to visit Japan with the country’s borders still closed for tourism. If the travel option is not available, the professors plan to offer extracurricular activities in the local area related to the culture and elements of Japanese culture. One of these examples is the Cherry Blossom Festival in both Bethlehem and Philadelphia, along with movie nights and cooking experiences for the students to collectively learn about the cuisine and culture of Japan.

This is also the second time this Japan MILA has been offered, and with a pandemic on top, it has been a challenge. Takahashi is also heartbroken for the people and resources being utilized in Japan for the possible trip and with the possibility of having to cancel bookings for reserved hotels or other spaces. 

“I’m sorry, I’m really sad if you guys can’t go, but all these people who are losing income in Japan or planning and waiting for us, and then maybe we can’t go, that’s really tearing on my heart,” stated Takahashi.

One of the most definite course trips for the semester is the first domestic MILA course, the Potomac River.

“The whole course is centered around the Potomac and its people and culture. Matt Moore, Jeremy Teissere, and Linda Miller are co-teaching the course, and the three of them have been planning our trip for 2+ years. They have visited the location so many times, finding new locations and landscapes to take all of us to on the trip,” said Lizzie Witek ‘23.

“Actually, teaching this MILA and planning this MILA is my favorite thing in the whole world.”

– Kammie Takahashi, Ph.D.

The future remains uncertain and a wide variety of factors can change in a couple of months, especially with global locations. Despite the challenges and obstacles for these courses, the professors still will expand the global knowledge and cultural understanding for students. These courses also help to enrich students’ relationship with Allentown and the ‘Berg community. 

“As part of the class we also have to go on short excursions to prepare us to go explore together and write about it when we go to Ireland. Last week for one of our assignments we had to go to the Allentown Farmers Market and find inspiration to write about,” Michelson finalized.

The work of these MILA courses are extremely important and no matter the global location of interest, Ireland or Japan or the Potomac, the professors get to team up to create an unforgettable course.

Takahashi mentioned, “Actually, teaching this MILA and planning this MILA is my favorite thing in the whole world.”

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Johnny '24 is a Theatre and Media and Communication double major at 'Berg. He loves to highlight the voices of artists across campus and to showcase the wide variety of events at Muhlenberg. He likes to think he is funny, but that is up for debate.

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