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Unearthing history

Experiential learning offers unexpected treasures for students

March 8, 2013

Unearthing history
Western students unearth history and a whole lot more on an archeological dig in northern England.

In an unforgettable moment, Lauren Flynn touched something time had forgotten.

As she pulled apart a clump of soil dug from an archeological site in northern England, she discovered a nearly 2,000-year-old boot. Or more accurately, she found the sole of a large boot once worn by a Roman soldier.

“I was almost in tears to be able to touch something from the ancient world,” says Lauren, BA’12, “and to see the footprint of the Roman soldier on the sole, that was a phenomenal experience that I will never forget.”

Experience is what the Vindolanda Field School at Western is all about. In the summer of 2012, Lauren and seven of her classmates dug through mud at the Vindolanda site in northern England to unearth artifacts at a first-century Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall.

“The ancient world can be a distant subject to some, but when students venture out of the classroom and participate in archeological digs, history comes alive,” says Beth Greene, assistant professor of classics at Western. “They experience where people lived, ate, worked and even threw birthday parties – and how these people are quite similar to us.”

While giving students the chance to practice excavation techniques such as how to hold a trowel and how to take environmental samples, the School offers evening lectures and weekend field trips that ground the hands-on archeological experiences, while also teaching life lessons.

“At Vindolanda, the students quickly discover they are outsiders who need to respect the cultural significance and sensitivity of the place and people,” says Alex Meyer, assistant professor of classics at Western. “This awareness can translate into so many different areas of their lives.”

Fourth-year classics student Sarah Taylor agrees, saying she became more confident in her studies through her Vindolanda experience.

“Every day I woke up grateful to have such an amazing adventure as a student – learning what it means to be an archeologist and realizing this is something I want to do,” says Sarah, who’s now exploring options to attend graduate school.

Making it possible
For Lauren and Sarah, getting to Vindolanda was a team effort. Part of that team included donors such as Audrey Amo, BA’69, MA’70. She contributed to the Global Opportunities (GO) Awards program, which provides scholarships for Western students to learn outside of Canada.

“My heart belongs to the ancient world,” says Amo, a retired teacher and principal in Toronto, who once took her students on field trips to Rome. “Knowing what going to Vindolanda could do for students by offering them concrete learning, I knew I wanted to help them experience the wonders of art, history and archeology – and make a difference.”

Every day during the Field School, Amo followed their adventures on the student blog. “I watched them blossom as they discovered the Roman world coming alive right before their eyes,” says Amo, whose GO Award made it possible for Lauren to hold history in her hands.

“That scholarship meant everything to me,” says Lauren, who hopes to volunteer at Vindolanda in the future. “Because I could go, I’ve become more sure of myself and I realize now how much I want to work with artifacts.”

For Greene and Meyer, the Field School’s co-ordinators, contributions to student awards are epic. All of the students who travelled to Vindolanda last year received a scholarship.

“They were acutely aware of the generosity that made their experiences possible,” says Greene, “Having someone standing behind them, supporting them in their studies is priceless.”

As priceless as holding an ancient shoe in your hand.

Read firsthand accounts at the Vindolanda Field School on the student blog.

About GO Awards
Global Opportunities (GO) Awards provide scholarships for Western students to experience learning through international field schools, exchange programs or study abroad semesters. These awards support one of our Be Extraordinary goals: to enable 10 per cent of students to spend part of their Western education outside of Canada. In recognition of the value of international learning to our students, Western is offering matching funds to alumni and friends who support GO Awards.

This article appeared in the Winter 2013 edition of Impact Western
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