Far Beyond the Western Mountains

Introduction by Jessica Day

Photographs by Peter Nilsson (Turkey, China) and Lydia Hemphill (Africa)

Deerfield is beautiful, comfortable, and safe. And sometimes, for those very reasons, faculty need to leave. Not forever, of course, but long enough to have the opportunity to see outside “the bubble,” experientially expand their knowledge of global issues and culture, and sample the academic climate on continents other than North America. Then, bursting with new knowledge, they return to campus—ready to share their experiences in the classroom.

As of this year, Deerfield students come from 39 different states and 31 foreign countries. Many are savvy, worldly-wise young men and women who are equally comfortable at home and abroad; even on campus, they literally have the world at their fingertips thanks to today’s technology. It is becoming increasingly clear that in order to remain relevant to these sophisticated young people, Deerfield’s faculty must also be exposed to a more transcontinental life.

Summer 2011 was a season of prolific faculty travel, thanks to generous donations from Deerfield families and friends, including a grant from the Chen family, the Cisneros Fund, and others. All together, over 20 faculty members took advantage of the opportunity for foreign travel—some attended conferences, some explored tropical environs, and some literally went to the other side of the world. 

They returned with diverse experiences as souvenirs, but everyone agreed that it was their perspective that had been shifted in some meaningful way. Whether it was history teacher Mary Ellen Friends who wrote, “In addition to helping me remain current with courses I already teach, this summer’s faculty trip to China fueled my work on two new courses I hope to teach beginning in the fall of 2012 . . .” or English teacher and Assistant Dean of Faculty Karinne Heise who commented, “My time in Costa Rica reinforced my plan to include in my classes more creative nonfiction writing projects, calling upon students to experiment with nature writing and to write profiles about local people they don’t know—maybe even the student from Africa who lives down the hall!” And science teacher Heidi Valk added, “Having the opportunity to work and travel with my colleagues was another benefit of this experience.”

What follows are three reflections from three faculty members who went on extraordinarily different excursions but returned to Deerfield equally inspired . . .