Posted by: Date: February 7, 2008 In: ,

Sojourners return to campus

One month and seven continents later, Lutes returned to campus from J-Term and semester study away experiences.

Some were faced with crushing poverty. Others were exposed to extreme decadence. And still others experienced the most breathtaking scenery on Earth.

All were welcomed back to campus at the Wang Center’s Returner Welcome Party in Hong International Hall.

Through regular dispatches on the Sojourner blog, eight groups chronicled their experiences. The travelers were asked to address questions about sustainability, health, peace and justice in their host country, while also describing their impressions of the people and culture. Many posted photographs depicting their host country as well.

One group traveled to Tanzania, scaling Mount Kilimanjaro and camping on a safari. Less than a week after returning from Africa – where the group’s Internet access was spotty at best – student Autumn Leir recalled the physical toll of climbing the mountain.

“There was a point where every part of my body was telling me to stop; if you just turn around, it will all be better,” she wrote. “But I wanted that summit so bad that nothing was getting in the way.”

Leir credited the support of her fellow Lutes with getting her to the top of the mountain. At one point, she said several of them linked arms and counted their steps up the final ridge, whispering words of encouragement to one another.

“It’s still so unreal to me that I was actually standing on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro –all 19,685 feet of it,” she wrote. “What a challenging and rewarding experience.”

Meanwhile, in Argentina, Callie Zuck was among those who visited two cooperative shoe factories, each started with help from microfinance companies. Owned by the workers with profits split evenly, the businesses opened in response to the staggering unemployment in the country.

One of the cooperatives operated out of a family home, and the PLU delegation ate lunch with the workers there.

“Pretty much every person I met yesterday greeted us with an ‘Hola!’ and the customary single kiss on the cheek, even the little boys did,” Zuck wrote. “These families were so incredibly welcoming and opened up their homes to us.

“It was the most amazing food and the most interesting conversation I have had in a long time. Also quite possibly one of the most amazing times I have had in my life.”

At the bottom of the world, in Antarctica, Andrew Guinn was having his own life-changing experience. A fan of seafood prior to J-Term, Guinn re-evaluated his food choices when he learned about the strain the current fishing industry is having on the environment and other species.

“After having personal experiences with penguins, with whales, with albatrosses, all of which rely on the ocean for food, I feel an intimate connection to the Southern Ocean and its ecosystem,” he wrote. “How can I justify eating fish because it tastes good, when the process that delivered it to my plate either directly or indirectly caused the death of any of the animals I saw last month?

“After this class I have had to reevaluate my entire relationship with nature and animals,” he continued. “I’ve found that living sustainably takes a lot more thought and care than I had previously believed.”

The Wang Center hosted a Returner Reflection Series throughout spring semester, where students could reflect on and share their experiences.

Learn about future J-Term, semester and yearlong opportunities at the annual Study Away Fair, on the Wang Center’s Web site or by contacting the center at ext. 7577 or