Domestic travel courses provide honors programs/colleges a variety of educational opportunities to immerse students in a culture different from their own. This essay presents one example of an honors-sponsored domestic travel course and discusses its differences from and similarities to study abroad courses. Additionally, we discuss the various elements that go into conceiving, developing, and executing such an educational experience. The essay is structured to provide a roadmap for creating a domestic travel course.
Over the past several years the Honors Program at Western Kentucky University (WKU) has seen a growth of over 200% in its freshman class while at the same time increasing its admission standards and building a reputation for its innovative courses. Expansion in the number of students has also occurred in the university at large, which has undergone a decade-long growth trend and continues to be one of the fastest growing institutions in the region, reaching 19,215 total students in the fall of 2007. The combination of a larger, stronger institution and the ongoing development of the Honors Program led to the transformation of the program into an Honors College in the summer of 2007.
Like most honors experiences, the WKU Honors College encourages and supports a range of study abroad courses and experiential learning opportunities for all its students. The Honors College is distinguishing itself through its willingness to be experimental in its course offerings. The summer of 2007 featured a new addition: an honors course designed like a study abroad course but focused domestically. This course, Literary New England, was what we call a "domestic travel study."
DOMESTIC TRAVEL STUDY VS. STUDY ABROAD
Literary New England personified the values of the WKU Honors College by combining features of experiential learning, critical thinking, and creative activity with a conscious effort to develop collegial associations between students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, successful completion of the course required reflective analysis (through a blog-based personal travel journal), independent thinking and research (manifested in a post-travel research paper), and team-based participation throughout the travel itself. The course was co-organized and facilitated by a longtime honors faculty member from the English department and a graduate intern from the Honors College (the essay's second author). Because Literary New England drew upon the Honors College's philosophy of engaging students, it depended heavily for pre-travel advice and support from the Director of the Honors College (the essay's first author), who served as a sounding board for ideas, assisted in getting much needed administrative assistance from several departments on campus, and provided financial support for the trip.
The trip featured experiential learning spread out over fourteen full days of travel in New England visiting various American literary, historical, and cultural sites. Students were asked to go beyond analyzing the literature (as they would do in a classroom) by linking literary ideas to place, culture, and time. One student made the connection evident when he wrote, "I was walking where Thoreau and Emerson walked on the shores of Walden Pond, I breathed in the cold ocean air as Melville once did, and I traced the curves and angles of Hawthorne's own handwriting with my index finger. How much closer can someone get to these literary geniuses of nineteenth-century America?" On completion of the course, students earned three hours of honors credit, the same as a three-week, concentrated May-term course on campus.
The course organizers, realizing that one of the primary advantages of education abroad is experiential learning, sought to apply this immersion pedagogy domestically. Domestic travel courses involve almost every element of planning that a study abroad includes (minus passports, money exchanges, and sometimes language barriers). …