Study abroad program features National Geographic explorers

Mason’s school for Conflict Analysis and Resolution recently announced a new study abroad program in collaboration with National Geographic Explorers.

For the first time ever, the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution will include National Geographic Explorers on their yearly trip to Israel and Palestine in Jan. 2014.

CRDC Executive Director Aziz Abu Sarah helped establish this collaboration between National Geographic and Mason.

“CRDC already runs travel classes for Mason, so it seemed natural to try to bring National Geographic into the picture as well,” Abu Sarah said. “I reached out to National Geographic Explorers to see if they would want to be part of these classes and got a lot of positive responses, so that’s how the collaboration came about.”

Dr. March Gopin, the founding director of the CRDC program, will lead the class, which is called “Interdisciplinary Approaches to Social Change.”

“This course is unique because it combines our original program with National Geographic Explorers,” Gopin said. “It’s an experience of reflection and practice. Students will be engaged in study, in the context of meeting and supporting people and communities in conflict.”

Professional tour guides and peace builders will lead students to sites across Palestine and Israel.

“They will have access to people who are doing cutting-edge research and practice in social change, and they will learn about the importance of an interdisciplinary approach in this field,” Abu Sarah said. “They will have exclusive access to the field where these explorers and Dr. Gopin are doing their work. They will see examples of how social change happens on the ground -- they’ll understand the problems and challenges but also learn about the solutions from multiple points of view.”

Abu Sarah has been working with National Geographic as an explorer for the last two years and has ideas for the future of the collaboration.

“I would like to create a new kind of study abroad that focuses on practical approaches, where students can learn from a variety of National Geographic explorers who do cutting-edge work in their discipline -- be it science, humanities, business or what have you -- and have access to things that students don’t normally have access to and learn from people who are the best in their fields, even if it’s only for a short period of time,” Abu Sarah said.

According to Gopin, the January 2014 trip is the beginning of possible future programs.

“This is a pilot class and a future collaboration will be based on explorations underway,” Gopin said.

According to Abu Sarah, this program is a combination of fields dealing with social change that has not been seen before.

“The plan is to have an intense program on social change that focuses on religion, business, archeology and biology,” Abu Sarah said.

Students will have the opportunity to learn about the National Geographic explorer’s studies and research, as well as hands-on experience.

“The explorers will be sharing more than their studies and research. For example, Beverly Goodman will be taking us to her archeology site to have a day of fieldwork there. I will lead discussions on business, conflict, and social change -- how they work together, how we can work within that approach,” Abu Sarah said.

According to Abu Sarah, future classes may feature different explorers and prominent faculty.

“These classes, their content and the explorers featured in each will likely change every year, so each of these classes might be the only chance for students to enroll in them -- the one chance to meet the explorers and work with them and study with them,” Abu Sarah said. “For our first trip, to Israel and Palestine, we will be bringing together people who work in Princeton and Haifa but also George Mason -- people who it’s rare to have teach together for one university class and build off of one another’s expertise.”

According to Abu Sarah, the CRDC plans to run classes over spring break and summer.

“The goal is to have a few more classes this year and eventually to have many more in the years to come, to create a variety of classes that offer these unique experiences,” Abu Sarah said.

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