A Window to the World


A Window to the World

J-term students in India

his January, more than 200 students participated in 19 January-term study abroad courses that took them to places as distant and diverse as Ecuador, the United Arab Emirates, India, Kenya, and Vietnam, among other places.

January-Term or J-term as it is popularly known meets at the start of the year and is designed to foster interest in diverse topics students might not have an opportunity to explore during the year. It concludes in mid-January.

UVA Global spoke to four faculty who offered the courses this year about their offerings.

Phoebe Crisman and students in Agra, India
Professor Phoebe Crisman, ISO's Ingrid Hakala and UVA students in Agra, India

Urban Transformations - Exploring Sustainability Past + Present. India
Phoebe Crisman, Professor of Architecture + Director of Global Studies / Ingrid Hakala, Director of Global Internships

This interdisciplinary program gave 14 students an opportunity to study Indian cities, architecture, landscape, and culture through a sustainability lens—examining how environmental, aesthetic, and socio-economic forces have shaped the built environments of Delhi, Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, and the sacred city of Mathura.

The students learned about sustainability challenges that all global cities face—climate change, the need for shelter, water, food, energy, transport, and waste management, along with ecological and heritage conservation, environmental justice, and how to imagine and design for a more sustainable future.

“In addition, we also engaged deeply with our new UVA partner, O.P. Jindal Global University, for a full-day workshop focused on urban equity and community engagement,” said Crisman.

“We visited places with local architects, urban planners, UVA alumni, and JGU faculty to learn past and current sustainable strategies for urban density, public space, building types, rainwater collection/storage, solar orientation, shade, plantings and microclimates, and natural materials.”

UVA Students in Kenya
UVA Students engaged in a lesson at Tsavo West National Park in Kenya

The Business of Conservation: Kenya
Kisha Lashley, Frank S. Kaulback Associate Professor of Commerce

The J-term course offered 16 students a perfect opportunity to visit Nairobi and Chyulu Hills, in Kenya and learn from people whose lives are impacted and who are working in wildlife conservation.

The 10-day visit included visits to government agencies, conservancies, NGOs, Maasai landowners, and business advocacy agencies. Students also visited a local Maasai school, a bead-making factory that supports single mothers, Nairobi National Park, went on game drives in Chyulu Hills, learned Maasai beading, had dinner in a cave, and experienced local and international cuisine.

“The students explored the grand challenge of wildlife conservation in the context of Kenya, which was far removed from their lived experiences,” said Lashley. “Their hands-on engagement with people and experts allowed them to appreciate diverse perspectives and interests, and the inherent trade-offs of proposed solutions.”

Lashley added that her key takeaway is that this nuanced perspective-taking in an unfamiliar culture is a valuable skill that students can take with them into any professional field.

UVA's Mark White ans Students in an art gallery in Australia
UVA students and Professor Mark Thomas in an art gallery in Australia

Australia since 1788: Australia
Mark Thomas, Professor of History and Economics in the Corcoran Department of History

The J-term course offered 16 students the opportunity to explore Australian history, politics, and culture in the warmth of a Southern summer.  
The 2-week visit focused on three vibrant cities—Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra—each with distinctive cultural and architectural styles, whose histories hold the answer to engaging questions about Australia’s origins and subsequent development.

 The course was organized around classroom meetings in the morning and site visits in the afternoon.  On one Melbourne morning, the students learned about Ned Kelly—the quintessential Australian outlaw and still a figure of fascination 120 years after his death—and then visited the gaol where he spent his last minutes, learning not just about Kelly, but also about phrenology (the idea that skull shape can predict criminality) and the penitentiary system of punishment.  
“A few days later, we visited the National Gallery in Canberra, where we viewed art produced by Indigenous Australians—as well as a collection of renderings of the Ned Kelly story, by Australia’s pre-eminent 20th century white artist, Sidney Nolan.   Such continuities—and contrasts—were a key part of the learning process,” said Thomas.
 “Australia is an incredibly beautiful place, and we explored Sydney Harbor, by ferry, the Blue Mountains and  the Gold Rush city of Ballarat, by train (looking—and seeing—wild kangaroos on the way), as well as hiking the cliff walk along the Pacific coast outside Sydney, ending  up at the legendary Bondi Beach (sunscreen and bathing suits in hand).”
“What an opportunity!  What an adventure!  Bonzer!”

UVA students eating lunch which includes insects as an option
UVA students looking at lunch which includes insects as a protein source.

Investing in a Sustainable Future: Germany and Switzerland
Mark White, Richard D. Wood Bicentennial Associate Professor of Commerce

The J-term course offered 19 students an amazing opportunity to engage with leading business practitioners working to address planetary environmental challenges.

The 12-day travel to Germany and Switzerland included museum tours, business visits, museums and cultural experiences in Berlin, Dresden, Zürich, and Luzern.

“The students engaged 110% in all of our learning activities, whether that involved eating insects to discern their feasibility as an alternative protein source, climbing to the top of the world's first direct air capture (DAC) plant to see how carbon dioxide can be sequestered, or creating impact-first investment portfolios under the guidance of experts at UBS,” said White, who led the course.

He added that the students became incredibly close-knit, treating each other with kindness and respect throughout the adventure, e.g. while participating in a city-wide Sustainability Scavenger Hunt or self-organizing a group outing to attend an Eisbärs' hockey game.

“We came, we learned, we got fired up to implement sustainable business practices in our future careers.  Mission accomplished!”