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 Jacque Smith, Director of Public Relations

Outlook - October 2005

Union students find international inspiration beyond the classroom

Union’s Tuscany travelers explored Florence, one of Italy’s most culturally significant cities, for two days. The literary walking tour theme of the trip allowed the group to explore the sites, smells and sounds of Tuscany’s countryside.

by Kate Simmons
Traipsing through Tuscany
        Osa-Karin Berg had an idea. After accompanying her Harvard Alumni Association fellows to Tuscany, the records director and assistant academic dean at Union College knew she had to share the experience with students. Over two years, she developed A Literary Walk in Tuscany, a course with two parallel tracks. One track covered the history, culture, arts and literature of the region, while the other focused on reading the literature of European and American authors who lived in and wrote about Tuscany. In May 2005, a scholastic tour of Tuscany was introduced to follow the second semester class.
        Over 10 days, 19 students and three faculty members (including Berg) toured some of the most beautiful historic sites in the world. At the beginning of each day, a lecture helped acquaint students with the significance of what they were about to see. Those who had taken A Literary Walk in Tuscany were already familiar with several sites. For example, while approaching Brunelleschi’s Dome of Florence, one student raised her arms in the air and yelled, “There it is!”    
         “So much information was stuffed into our heads about Tuscany that we thought we might burst. But it all paid off when we got there because of one small fact: we recognized Tuscany,” Katrina Emery, a junior communication major said. “The trip meant so much more to me because I already knew about the area.”
        Also in Florence, the group toured the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo at the Basilica of Santa Croce and the baptistery where Dante was baptized. In the Chianti region the students visited the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci. Later they traveled to Siena, the richest city in Italy during the 13th and 14th centuries, where they viewed Gothic Siena, formerly an independent republic. The well-preserved frescoes inside the Dome of Siena depict the life of Pope Pius II.
        While many of the historically and aesthetically significant locations of Tuscany lie within well-known cities, some lie in the countryside. The group walked to the lovely medieval town of Cortona one day and viewed the plains of Valdichiana. Another walking tour took them to Pienze, the “Pearl of the Renaissance,” after which the students embarked on a steep uphill climb to reach a breathtaking view of the Tuscan countryside.
        The group spent the last full day of the trip exploring the old town of Abbadia San Salvatore before wrapping up with a tour of Rome at night and a “Dinner with Tenors,” where students were favored with fine Italian food and opera music.
        “This experience was one of the most satisfying things I have done in education,” Berg said after the trip’s conclusion. “To observe the students have the level of prior knowledge, and therefore be able to have interest and enthusiasm for what they saw was unbelievably rewarding.”
        ~For an in-depth look at Union’s Tuscany tour, view Rachel Turner’s class project, “A Classroom with a View: A Literal Walk through Tuscany,” at

Nursing in Nicaragua
        Abscesses, worms and lice aren’t too bad on the pages of a textbook. They may even be slightly interesting. But when a team of nursing students traveled to Nicaragua in May to provide health care to the Miskit Indians, they had the opportunity to put textbook knowledge into practice.
        Frontier Nursing was added to the nursing curriculum in 2004. This spring was the first time a follow-up course, Frontier Nursing-Field Experience, has been offered. Students received academic credit for the mission trip, developing the skills learned during the spring semester in the Frontier Nursing classroom setting.
        The nursing students spent part of the first full day in Francia Sirpi preparing medications and becoming familiar with the language and history of the area. Natives of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region of Nicaragua speak Miskito, not Spanish as most would expect. “The language lesson was very confusing, but I’m sure it was very helpful,” said Kirsten Bascom, a senior nursing student at Union.
        The nursing team, which included eight nursing students, two non-nursing students serving as videographers, three registered nurses from outside Union College and three nursing faculty, encountered challenges other than the language barrier. “Some assessment questions asked in the United States are rather irrelevant in Nicaragua,” Bascom said. “Like, does your urine smell stronger than usual? How should they know when the whole outhouse reeks?”
        The last full day in Nicaragua, the team worked in the village of Santa Clara. One little girl came for treatment of what may have been injuries due to sexual abuse. Laura Karges, who teaches pediatric classes at Union, handled the gynecological exams during the trip. She said that if she had encountered this girl’s case in the U.S. she would have seen to it that the home situation was investigated. Under the circumstances, there was nothing to be done but care for the girl as well as possible.
        Over the two-week mission trip, the nursing team treated more than 1,500 people, including 500 students at a school in Francia Sirpi. Vitamins, antibiotics and antibacterial soap were distributed to those in need as long as the supplies lasted. And while the residents of Francia Sirpi and its surrounding villages benefited from the work of the nursing team, the nursing students gained a great deal as well. They added practice to knowledge for a fuller understanding of their field.
        “Checking for lice wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be,” Bascom said. “Now I know what I’m looking for.”
        This was the second year Jeff Joiner, director of Union’s nursing program, has taken students on a mission trip to this region of Nicaragua. The group endured daily thunderstorms, a termite swarm and high temperatures and humidity as they performed eight to nine hours of clinical care per day. Joiner was satisfied with the way in which the group used the knowledge they had gained the previous semester.
        “On this trip the students were able to put their skills into practice,” he said. “The entire team performed flawlessly amid all of the trying conditions and challenges they faced.”