Cairo, Bentley to teach second Suriname field school next summer

Assistant Anthropology Professor Dr. Aminata Cairo and Theatre Professor Kathryn Bentley will take a select group of SIUE junior-level undergraduates for a field school in Suriname from June 1 to July 8, 2012. The field school will include classes before the students depart, starting on May 22, and following the students’ return until July 15.

Dr. Cairo and Prof. Bentley with students at 2012 Suriname field school

Dr. Cairo and Prof. Bentley with students at 2012 Suriname field school

The field school is an interdisciplinary experience that connects anthropology and theatre to give students a unique opportunity to be immersed in the Surinamese culture and to make deep connections with others within the culture.

As an anthropology field school, the trip allows students to partake in ethnographic research and to “teach them hands-on what anthropologists do,” says Cairo. Students who go on the trip may also choose more specifically what area of anthropology they would prefer to focus on.

“Students can get involved either focusing on culture, which is working with culture organization, or I have the medical anthropology track, where students can choose to work with HIV/AIDS programs,” says Cairo.

While the anthropology side of this interdisciplinary trip teaches students how to do cultural research and analysis, the theatre element of the trip trains students on using theatre games and techniques to communicate with the Surinamese people in a creative, collaborative and effective way.

“[The theatre] portion of the trip is set up as an opportunity for our theatre students to go to another country and make a theatrical piece with people from Suriname,” says Bentley. “They’re creating something unique and original with people from the country that we’re visiting.”

Suriname field students in a classroom, 2012

Suriname field students in a classroom, 2012

When they are in Suriname, one of the activities students will partake in is a service learning project where students work with a school in a village to teach some English to the Surinamese people. During this project, both the theatre skills and the anthropological skills students learn will help them to make necessary connections to the Surinamese people.

Along with the service learning project, researching the culture, and rehearsing and performing a theatrical piece, students will be so immersed in the Surinamese culture that they will be expected to participate in any way needed within the community.

“We’re not going to just go sightseeing. We are rolling up sleeves and getting down and dirty to do whatever needs to be done in the community,” says Bentley. “If they need the floors swept that day, that’s what we’re doing.”

Students will also be attending the trip during Surinamese national celebrations, so along with working with the Surinamese people, SIUE students will have the opportunity to share in their celebrations as well. One of the most notable celebrations the Surinamese are recognizing this summer is the 150th anniversary of the country’s abolition of slavery.

Students joined Cairo and Bentley on the first Suriname field school just last summer. After this first trip, Cairo heard students say that the field school had been a “life-transforming experience” and just a precursor to more international experiences they hope to have.

Students with Surinamese children, 2012

Students with Surinamese children, 2012

“What really pleased me was when I heard students say, ‘Now I’m ready to travel the world.’…That fear [of international traveling] was taken away,” says Cairo.

While the field school has its disciplinary focus on anthropology and theatre, all junior-level SIUE students are welcome to participate. The application process for each student includes submitting an essay and two letters of recommendation (one from a professor and one from a personal contact) and being interviewed by Cairo and Bentley.

Students who wish to be a part of the Suriname field school must display a passion for connecting to different cultures, be willing to participate in a theatrical performance and very importantly, embrace adaptability.

“I’m looking for people who are excited about being somewhere different than their home, meeting people and working closely with people that are from a different country,” says Bentley. “And they are creative and flexible in environments that are very different than here, as far as performance and rehearsal spaces.”

Interested students must complete the application process by early December, before winter break. If they are selected to go to Suriname, each student will begin mandatory monthly classes in January, during which students will be trained and prepped for the field school.

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