Charles Bergman and his students huddled for study in a corner of their vessel's cabin in Drake Passage, near Antarctica. Outside an albatross glided majestically among still iceberg mountains.
The group read from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 1798 poem: "God save thee, ancient Mariner! From the fiends that plague thee thus! 'Why look'st thou so?' 'With my crossbow I shot the Albatross.' "
Just as in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the world continues to slay the albatross as it fishes for Chilean sea bass with ensnaring longlines, Bergman explained to Pacific Lutheran University students during this J-term (January 2012) study-away class. The horrified students had no idea.
"Those are the transformative moments, especially when they are connected with carefully chosen readings," he said. "It's no real accident; you've got to set them up."
When the longtime PLU English instructor first took a group to the Antarctic in 2006, the ELCA-affiliated school in Tacoma, Wash., earned the distinction of being the only one with study-away students on seven continents simultaneously.
PLU has ranked consistently among the nation's top 10 master's degree universities in the U.S. for including study-away opportunities. Forty percent of its students study away — about 500 in 2012-13 — compared with 3 percent nationally. It is the recipient of the Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization, which honors outstanding efforts to engage the world and the international community, both on and off campus.
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