Minding the Curiosity Gap
May 07, 2019
- Southwestern University
Welcome to the spring issue of Southwestern magazine! You might notice that we’ve changed things up a bit: This serves as the inauguration of an idea you’ll be seeing realized for the foreseeable future, which is a magazine organized around broad themes. We think the concept reflects SU’s Paideia® approach to education: each section of any given issue will provide different but interconnected perspectives on a single topic, and we hope these themes will inspire you to make connections—with the stories, with the University, and with your fellow readers. This magazine’s theme is “Journeys”; future issues will bring you stories about “Transformation,” “Heart,” and “Tradition.” Consider this our invitation to you to be transported across time and space—to memories of your own experiences on campus or abroad, to distant places you’ve visited or dream of visiting, to areas of thought that can best be accessed through reading and imagination.
Our two alumni spotlights take us to Hong Kong, which Brad Reynolds ’98 makes his home base for managing a language learning center and writing his prolific TripAdvisor posts (more than 6,800 at the time of this writing!), and to northern Uganda, where Shauna Davidson ’08 cofounded a much-needed primary school last year and is currently working on building a second. Their stories inspire us not just to see the world but to make a difference in it.
Our first feature, Leah Nyfeler’s “Finding Common Ground,” follows three intrepid Southwestern alumni whose careers have taken them across oceans and continents. Nyfeler explores how Southwestern prepared Laurie Fitzgerald ’97, Mark Mayfield ’68, and Fanny Tang Cederberg ’06 for global citizenship—a term that refers not to denying one’s own nationality but rather to expanding one’s understanding to include respect for and advocacy of diverse perspectives. The piece includes helpful advice and reading recommendations for those seeking to expand their own borders.
“The Innocents Abroad,” by my lovely intern—nay, colleague!—Sam Rao ’19 and yours truly, has its roots in a series of conversations I’ve had recently with students who shared their giggle-worthy tales of missing trains in Milan and walking through the windy, rain-swept streets of London with an upturned umbrella. Among my own ridiculous misadventures, I could tell you about how I once got desperately lost in Rome until I accidentally found myself at St. Peter’s Basilica, where I hallucinated angels because I was on the verge of heatstroke while choir voices were echoing through the church’s hallowed foyer. Or how I landed in Oxford toting not just a backpack (like a savvy traveler) but also a carry-on roller bag and a giant suitcase that my beloved classics professor eyed with horror and referred to as “the beastie” when he met me at the bus station. The story also hearkens back to two brilliant comedic books by a couple of literary geniuses: Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad; or, The New Pilgrims’ Progress (1869), from which I deferentially stole our article’s title, and Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog, 1889), a fictional account of three vacationers embarking on a disastrous boating trip down the Thames. I highly recommend these 19th-century masterpieces, but in the meantime, I hope that reading about the mishaps abroad experienced by some of our students and staff in just the past few years transport you back to some of your own laughable moments, which I invite you to share with us. (And I hope that you’ll take some joy in recalling the memories that aren’t so appropriate for sharing with our global community.)
Our cover story, Debbie Ritenour’s “Incredible Journeys,” is a delightful trek through the various impacts study, research, and teaching abroad have on students, faculty, and staff—impacts that can’t always be replicated in a classroom at one’s home institution. Some of us will learn—and others of us can confirm—that such effects range from increased resilience and self-awareness in the face of discomfort to improved career prospects and a lifelong penchant for traveling. The feature is complimented by the reflections shared by Mark Barry P’21 on his daughter Lizzie’s recent semester-long sojourn in London, an experience that has clearly transformed her into a more confident, joyous version of herself.
A final word about our cover: This and some of the other photos included in this issue were discovered by our senior art director, Jeff Teicher, as he was exploring right here in our office in Cullen via that means of conveyance many of us use these days: the Internet. While watching a YouTube video on street photography, Jeff encountered the hauntingly inscrutable imagery created by London photographer Joshua K. Jackson—the kind of pictures that make you pause, that compel you to lean in because you can’t quite decipher what you’re seeing at first or even second glance. Jackson refers to his method as “the curiosity gap,” which we think is a perfect analogy for the learning that takes place both at Southwestern and abroad: Just as Jackson creates mystery and subverts expectations by photographing individuals obscured by the condensation on a glass pane or capturing shadows that mask reflections in a window, education challenges us to look at things differently and more deeply, to confront the unfamiliar, and to draw on our wells of patience to arrive at answers and interpretations.
We hope that through Jackson’s evocative photos, the contributions by our other wonderful artists, and the stories by our wordsmiths, you will allow us to transport you, if only for a while, and feel compelled to stick with us to the end of the journey. Then, we hope you’ll visit with us again. It’s a trip we think is worth taking.
Meilee D. Bridges, Ph.D.
Writer and Editor