MU
Oak Leaves

February 17, 2017


Students Study Religion & Mathematics in 9 Countries


Destinee Boutwell

Although math and religion may seem like unusual traveling companions, students and professors from those courses took a successful trip to Europe over January Session. They stopped in Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy, all of which adds up to a memorable educational journey.

During the trip, Professor Justin Lasser taught his Religious Classics class, and Professor Tim Brauch offered his Math in Culture.Lasser and his students toured different religious centers and other cultural highlights in each city to learn about the history. Senior Tiana Maclin was enthusiastic about her experience. “We toured castles, monuments, museums and took in the breathtaking scenery,” she said. “My favorite part of the trip was seeing structures that were built when they thought the world was flat and not much else existed. Many of the buildings have seen fires, war and protest.” 

The course material was presented by tour guides and audiobooks, while class discussions were held in the evening. “Students didn’t expect to have class, but they got it, even after a long day,” Lasser said with amusement.

Brauch and his students toured Europe to learn about how math has influenced the culture of many of the countries. They learned about the difference between two eras in eastern European history: the Austria-Hungary era and the reign of the Soviet Union. “Before World War II the Austria-Hungarian empire was a world leader in mathematics, but after World War II, many of the countries fell under the influence of the Soviet Union,” Brauch explained. “The Soviet Union considered mathematicians their enemies of the state and were executing them. This was a huge culture shock: Suddenly these countries went from 150 years of seeing math as an essential part of their culture to math being the enemy.  

“Something new for me was seeing the difference between countries that had been under soviet control and countries that hadn’t,” Brauch continued. “Those that hadn’t, like Hungary, had beautiful architecture that was complex and reflected the skills of the mathematicians that thrived there. On the other side of that, the countries that were under Soviet control had very square and basic architecture because the presence of math wasn’t there.”
 
Sophomore Emily Savage enjoyed the link between math and travel. “I learned that every country places a different importance on different subjects, and it was interesting to see which countries placed a high value on mathematics,” she said. 

While the trip was for a college class, the time spent overseas wasn’t all studying and learning. There were times when students were allowed to roam the cities to shop and visit sites and museums of their choice. “I stood in the spot in Sarajevo that started WWI with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand,” Maclin said. “It is hard to choose my favorite place because the whole trip was absolutely amazing. I loved Croatia for the views, Bosnia for the history, Slovenia for the best time with friends and Italy because it has always been a childhood dream for me to go there.” 

Math student Nick Johnston appreciated the variety. “All of the different countries had unique identities and histories," he said. “I really enjoyed the ancient ruins in Rome.”

Lasser was surprised and excited that Italy was not the only place that students loved. “Many people think that Italy is a must-see, but they don’t realize that there are other countries that are just as beautiful and special,” he said.
 
In fact, many students had seemingly obscure favorite locations. “My favorite part of the trip was when we visited Ljubljana," Savage said. “It was amazing and Lake Bled was the most beautiful, scenic place that I have ever been. It was picturesque and magical.” 

Brauch encourages all students to consider studying abroad or taking a January class overseas. “January Sessions seem expensive, but actually, they are a lot cheaper than if you were trying to do this on your own. The reality is you aren’t going to have many chances in your life to take three weeks and go somewhere, to be able to afford that or take time away from your job, or time away from your family. You just might not have that opportunity after you get out of college.” 

Lasser also expressed the value of studying abroad. “I think I as a student learned more in one semester traveling than I did in my whole college career," he said. “It’s not that I had bad teachers, but there is something about emersion and it also gives a sense of humility, and an acknowledgement that some people do things better than we do and that cultures express what it means to be human in our search to be human.” 

It was not just a popular opinion with the professors either. “I would definitely recommend a Jan-term trip for students because it is a once in a lifetime opportunity and is was amazing to experience so many new cultures from around the world,” Savage said. 

Tianna Maclin recommended that students do not wait until it is too late. “I wish I hadn't waited until my senior year to go," she said. "It was fantastic. You never know what adventures and stories you are missing until you experience it. You never truly understand the world unless you interact with it. Fortunately for me, I know that this is not the end of my travels.”