Cross cultures, cross-country and across the northern border: Honors students take Vancouver

Sarah Parks and scenery
Sarah Parks, a junior marketing major, surveys the snowcapped mountains and lush wilderness just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. She and six classmates in FDU’s Florham Campus Honors Program traveled north to Canada for study abroad over winter break. (Photo courtesy of Parks)

By Kenna Caprio

February 13, 2018 — They saw snowcapped mountains from afar, and then stood atop a snowy plaza and park. They visited the rainforests and hiked above the city and gorges. They opened umbrellas to shield themselves from the downpour.

And all the while, they never traveled far from downtown Vancouver.

Cameron Shaw, tree hugger
Freshman communication studies major Cameron Shaw takes ‘tree hugger’ literally, as she reaches out to embrace some Vancouver flora. (Photo courtesy of Shaw)

“Vancouver is so connected to nature. You can drive an hour from the city and be in the mountains or the rainforest,” says freshman communication studies major Cameron Shaw.

Seven students, all in the Honors Program at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Florham Campus, traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, for short-term study abroad over winter break.

“If you don’t travel and experience cultures other than your own, it’s easy to be close-minded. Be curious. You’ll hold better conversations with people,” says Samantha Polidoro, a junior marketing major. “There are many different kinds of normal.”

The trip — connected to the University Core class Cross-Cultural Perspectives — focused on academic seminars and cultural excursions.

“It’s hard to explain the feeling of watching students as they absorb something that is often so different from home,” says April Patrick, lecturer of literature and director of the University Honors Program at the Florham Campus. She coordinated and then chaperoned the trip with Ryan Stalgaitis, Florham Campus director of career development. “More than anything, I want a trip like this to infect them with the travel bug and to make them more curious about the world. I hope that the time exploring on their own empowers them to feel more independent in trying new things.”

Each morning started with a seminar; Patrick and the students would discuss the coming day and destinations, learning about the many cultural influences seen in everyday Vancouver. “We explored First Nations history and cultural components. We talked about the Chinese influence. One class we talked about food. It’s such an eclectic mix of culture that it leads to a really great food experience,” adds Connor Miles, a freshman studying hospitality and tourism.

“We took a bus tour of the city with incoming Vancouver students. We went to the Museum of Vancouver and toured the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Nitobe Memorial Garden, a Japanese garden,” says Polidoro. “At the garden, we went over the crooked bridge. The belief is that evil can only pass through something that’s straight. So once you cross the zig-zag, the evils and bad things in your life can’t go with you.”

Crossing the crooked bridge
Once visitors cross the crooked bridge, so the Japanese tradition goes, evil falls away, leaving only the good. Here, the group crosses a zigzag bridge at Nitobe Memorial Garden University of British Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Samantha Polidoro)

To connect with First Nations communities, the group visited the Museum of Anthropology at UBC and then traveled to the Squamish Lil'Wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. “We made bracelets out of red cedar trees. We soaked the bark and twisted and braided it,” says Polidoro. Their tour guide shared his personal history — one of the canoes on display was carved and built by his late father. He also talked to the group about fishing for salmon and taught them a welcome song and dance.

Totem poles
Totem poles carved by Vancouver’s First Nations artists represent the indigenous peoples’ long-established roots and deeply held cultural beliefs. (Photo by Ryan Stalgaitis)

First Nations people are “so reliant on the natural world,” says freshman biology major Mylan Detting. “They still use traditional methods for almost everything with the addition of some modern tools. The culture itself hasn’t necessarily evolved the way people have. It’s very cool that that could be preserved, that no one forced them away or to try and change.”

In front of Olympic rings
Connor Miles, a freshman studying hospitality and tourism, snags a selfie in front of the Olympic rings in Whistler. (Photo courtesy of Miles)

In Whistler the group also went to the Olympic Park, to see the Olympic rings and slopes from the 2010 Winter Olympics. “We went hiking [on a free day]. Everything is surrounded by mountains and when the clouds would part and the sun shone, it was surreal. I FaceTimed my dad because that’s his dream destination,” says Shaw.

On the suspension bridge
On an adventure 230 feet up in the air — Samantha Polidoro casts a look over her shoulder while walking across the famed Capilano Suspension Bridge. (Photo courtesy of Polidoro)

Also surreal: The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in Vancouver. The bridge stretches 450 feet across and is 230 feet above the river. “I was really looking forward to it even though it looked a little scary,” confesses junior marketing major Sarah Parks. “I knew I’d be really proud of myself if I crossed it. When I was on it, I didn’t even want to get to the other side because I looking at the river and just thinking, ‘This is beautiful. This is amazing.’” Some of the students also went on the park’s cliffwalk, man-made walkways of glass and metal extending out from granite cliffs. “Going through the cliffwalk with the lights lit up at dusk was almost magical,” says Polidoro. “It was amazing to be submersed in academics and nature.”

Mylan Dettling
For freshman biology Mylan Dettling the trip contained many firsts, including her first time on an airplane and first time outside of the United States! (Photo courtesy of Dettling)

The students are eager to return to Vancouver — “One student was already trying to figure out how she could fit a semester at the Vancouver Campus into her degree,” says Patrick. She plans to offer the trip again to Florham Honors students next year.

“I went without expectations,” says Shaw. “I’m willing to try new things and now I know it — on free days, we wandered the city — and found ourselves ice skating one day and near the harbor the next. I feel like I can do anything. Go to places you’re not familiar with.”

Vancouver waterfront
The Vancouver waterfront beckons. (Photo courtesy of Parks)