Hunter Morris '15 samples a dragonfruit.
Randolph-Macon College Professors Mine Eren (German)
and Amy Goodwin (English) recently traveled
to New York City with their First-Year Experience
(FYE) students. The FYE program is an immersion in creative, critical thinking and
cross-disciplinary learning for freshmen. The weekend trip offered students a literal
and figurative taste of what the multi-cultural city has to offer.
Eren and Goodwin teach East-West Encounters, which examines literary and cinematic
texts and provides students with a broader understanding of the views, beliefs and
ideas of various cultures.
“The course examines how issues of identity, representation, race, gender and power
are articulated through film and literature,” says Goodwin. “Students conduct detailed
reading/sequence analyses of individual texts, and our discussions examine questions
such as: How do these stories represent the cultural ‘other’? How does the text
shape our perceptions of ourselves, others and the world in which we live?”
Students enrolled in the course are reading stories of immigration, travel, food,
war, disease, love, and urban and rural life.
“Some of the texts will take readers to the East—to war-torn Iraq, to Beirut, and
to Istanbul,” explains Goodwin. “Cultural boundaries can transcend geographical
boundaries. Some of our texts have settings in the United States but reach back
to homelands in the East, such as Laos, China and India. We are examining the difficulties
of communication across cultures, cultural values, cultural identity, assimilation,
alienation, and, not least, the dynamics of literary forms that express cultural
Eren’s focus is on cinema and how the question of East-West-encounters is presented
“The critical framework for our discussions is post-colonial and psychoanalytical
theories on identity, race, gender and issues of power,” says Eren. “Within this
context, students discuss how filmmakers articulate cultural difference, ethnic
identity, religious beliefs, and tensions in society in their work. Students are
also acquiring the critical tools necessary for the analysis and interpretation
of film and are learning the basics of film analysis by conducting detailed sequence
analyses of individual films.”
The trip to New York included a tour of the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI). The
MoMI includes images of actors, props and costumes used in movies, a Star Wars exhibition,
and interactive, soundproof rooms that allow visitors to replace the voices of characters
in famous movies with their own. An exhibition on Jim Henson’s life work was also
at the MoMI.
“Students viewed a film by Henson and a documentary about his contributions to television,”
explains Eren. “They learned the motivation behind the creation of ‘Sesame Street’
and ‘The Muppet Show’ and how both shows developed. It was a great opportunity to
view filmmaking from a historical and practical perspective.”
At OnThe Nile, a small, café style-restaurant in Astoria, students had their first
taste of exotic food in New York, including baba ganoush, hummus, stuffed grape
leaves, kebabs, saffron rice, baklava, and other Middle Eastern food.
They also toured the Tenement Museum, located on the Lower East Side in Manhattan,
and learned about the five-story brick tenement building that was home to an estimated
7,000 people from over 20 nations.
“We looked at the historical archives and learned about the garment industry and
the living conditions of the residents who shared these apartments,” says Eren.
“The visit provided students a glimpse into the migrant experiences in American
A tour of Chinatown was, according to many students, a favorite part of the trip.
Thanks to a savvy tour guide, students learned about architecture, immigrant life
and the “hidden” places in Chinatown. The weekend excursion also included trips
to Battery Park, the Fraunces Tavern Museum, the Brooklyn Bridge and Broadway. A
ride on the Staten Island Ferry capped off the trip.
“For many of the students, this was their first time to New York,” says Eren. “They
reported in their journals that ‘everyone on the trip had a different favorite spot,’
that Times Square was ‘breathtaking,’ and that the experience was something they
will remember for the rest of their lives. It was a great weekend.”