I once sat next to James Buchanan at a lunch. James is the director of Xavier’s Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue and one of those people who knows just waaaay too much. He’s got degrees from Yale and Chicago. He’s studied and taught in Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Hong Kong. He can talk over your head on just about any subject.
Once we finally got him off his favorite subject, music, we began talking about the Brueggeman Fellows Program, one of the most unique student programs at Xavier, which is endowed privately by the Winter/Cohen family. The program, which he oversees, has no set curriculum, no boundaries, no single purpose outside of learning. Students are asked to submit an idea for a research project they would like to do anywhere in the world.
If Buchanan likes the idea, he gives them a $3,000 travel grant and sends them on their way.
Unlike other study abroad programs that offer some comforts of having someone else do the planning and guiding, it’s up to the student to arrange for boarding, travel in the country, meetings, food, water, whatever they need. The language barrier is theirs to hurdle. They spend a year researching their topic and doing the planning, but then they’re literally on their own.
Which is incredibly uncomfortable for the students since many of them travel to places that aren’t politically stable, safe or on any kind of beaten path. Nepal. Iceland. Iran. Syria. Colombia. The Yukon Territory.
It’s also incredibly uncomfortable for Buchanan, as I found out during lunch. I asked him how he sleeps when the students are bouncing around the globe completely on their own. He doesn’t, he said. They’re required to check in via email every so often. Otherwise, he sweats it out until they arrive back on campus, which can stretch anywhere from five weeks to nine months.
Not sleeping can take its toll. But, he said, it’s worth it. The end result is a student who is completely transformed in a way unlike anything else they can get in college.
This will be Buchanan’s eighth summer sleepless in Cincinnati. The program has established itself pretty firmly, and through an email I received this morning, it has also established a new presence on the web—www.BrueggemanFellows.org.
The website offers profiles of Fellows and their projects, news, details about the program, yadda, yadda, yadda. But it also has a really fun feature: a map of the world that marks the locations of where the Fellows have traveled. So far, they’ve landed in 40 different countries.
The world is supposedly flat now. Small, and getting smaller. But as I look at the map I can’t help but think that it’s still a pretty large place. And venturing out into it—especially as a college student, alone—would be a journey filled with fear and fascination. But isn’t that, after all, what college is all about? Xavier offers many ways to achieve that. But it seems to me this is by far the best.