Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ten Years but Unique!

CapAsia began as a program for undergraduates in the College of Architecture and Planning at Ball State. Since then, it has grown into an extraordinary opportunity for north American students to experience the socially, culturally, and historically different South Asia and learn about oneself.

It is a unique field study. Many universities in America have foreign field trips, study abroad programs, collaborative studios, foreign internships, service learning programs, volunteering efforts, student and faculty exchanges, visiting scholar programs, foreign consultancy projects, and field work especially for doctoral studies. Many of these are of excellent quality. CapAsia is built upon select components from traditional field trip, study abroad, exchange scholar, center abroad, field research, and collaborative program models. It provides a guided experience of south-Asian cultures through immersion organized around locally-specific projects carried out collaboratively with local students with the help of local experts and educators. It combines experiential learning through immersion with pedagogies of learning from people and guided construction of knowledge, experientially and analytically connecting the USA and the larger world. Yet it is directed at reflectively learning about participants themselves through learning about a different culture, supported by an environment --made up of preparatory meetings, places of activity and lodging, timing of events and visits, classes, and assignments-- built upon a network of south Asia researchers, educators, and professionals. It is a rigorous program with components before and after the field visit. This multifaceted teaching and learning strategy is transformative; the program is life-changing.

As planing educator Robert Home highlighted in 1999 itself, “Training American Planners & designers in the Third World is a Radically new idea.”

According to a Fulbright-Hays review in 2004:
“The [CapAsia] project provides creative focus that is built on integrating South Asian world views into participant’s education; the focus on “learning from” rather than “learning about” as well as on learning from doing projects with host country peers rather than doing projects for them is refreshingly honest about where knowledge resides; it also models and reinforces a respectful intercultural attitude and global stance that is sorely needed.”

It operates at the boundaries of teaching and learning as well as planning and design. For example, it questions the limits put on learning through learning objectives and asks: what if we learn something that we cannot plan for? Questioning the notion of getting people to participate in planners’ processes, CapAsia V participants explored the possibility of taking part in people’s processes. They attempted to enhance the people’s recovery process in five villages built for 2004-Indian-Ocean-tsunami-survivors in the Hambantota District in Sri Lanka.

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