Collaborative learning experiences beyond the classroom prepare students for a competitive, global-career market. Here is one story that features such experiential learning.
The brazen racism shocked Amy Gugliemino.
While touring a village in Hungary, she and other UTC students walked past a group of children playing outside at what looked like an orphanage or community home.
“We waved at them and they waved at us,” she says.
But when the children were pointed out to the tour guide, she said, “Sorry, but all I see is those gypsies.”
“She thought it was like the funniest thing in the world,” Gugliemino says. “That was very jarring.”
A junior in anthropology and international studies, Gugliemino and 13 other UTC students traveled to Hungary over spring break as part of their studies for “Minorities in 20th Century Europe: Germans, Jews and Roma,” a class taught by Dr. John Swanson, head of the Department of History. Before going to Europe, the class discussed the prejudices that face the three minorities in modern-day Hungary; racism that, in many cases, has lingered from World War II.
The students were divided into four groups, three documenting the roadblocks and prejudice experienced by the minorities and developing a short film on what they found. The fourth group filmed a documentary about the overall tour.
Gugliemino and her film partner Madison Gaither focused on Jews while a second group looked at the Roma—also known as gypsies—and the third at Germans who’ve migrated to Hungary. The fourth group put together a film that took an overall look at the trip.
Even though they thought they were ready for what they would find, students admit they weren’t. Not really.
“It’s something that I’d kind of mentally prepared myself for, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting exactly what it would be like,” Gugliemino explains. “The systemic differences were very noticeable. It’s so normalized. It was not uncommon for us to hear people say very prejudiced or negative things in a way that’s extremely blatant.”
For Swanson, the goal of the trip was not to tell students what they should learn or what they should seek out, rather he wanted to give them the tools to find out for themselves.
“My job is to create the environment where they learn. I didn’t go into it with a particular thing I wanted them to learn about,” says Swanson, who has been to Europe so many times he says he can’t come up with an exact number.
“There are things I want them to know before we go, and things I’d like them to learn while we’re there, but more it’s about creating that environment where they are talking to people, either experts or people from various groups we’re talking about. They learn from that; it’s more like active learning.”
Paige Anctil, who spent several days with Romas, discovered that they are fiercely proud of their heritage. Some of that pride is a result of the way Hungarian society tends to pigeonhole them as a culture.
“They’re Roma, but they’re also Hungarian and how do they deal with that on a daily basis? What’s their identity?” said Madison Beckner, who was part of the filmmaking team with Anctil. “We realized that how society identifies these people and how society tries to tell them who they are and how they should be is a lot different than what these individuals think they are.”
Students also encountered the fierce anti-immigrant movement now going on in Hungary, a situation that echoes what’s going on in America, they say.
Mike Boehm, the third member of the Roma documentary team, says the rise of xenophobia and nationalism in Hungary “really forces minority groups like this to come together and exert their identity.”
Students noted that the far-right prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, was recently re-elected on a staunch platform against immigrants.
“I feel like it’s targeting anyone that’s Hungarian and what the current government defines as a true Hungarian, so it’s a very ‘othering’ type ideology,” Gaither says.
“One of the posters that we saw literally says, ‘The U.N. wants us to pay for migrants and they’re going to steal all our jobs,’” she recalls. “That rhetoric is very shocking.”