by Liz Shemaria
Mist fell from the trees in Monteverde, Costa Rica, as Dawn Murray stepped off the school bus on her way to work. Monkeys howled, coatis scampered across the earth, and Murray breathed in crisp, clear, morning air.
In Costa Rica, Murray’s bus ride with Cloud Forest School teachers and students (most of whom do not have cars, she said) and her sons helped her connect with the school community and the day unfolding before her.
“It was a magical way to start the day,” she said. We walked home after school every day but the walk there was all uphill, so the bus was much appreciated.
Murray’s six months in Central America in 2017 was part of a year spent abroad as a visiting professor – she is Chair of AUSB’s Bachelor’s Programs – split between there, and six months teaching in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan. Although she was living on opposite sides of the world, Murray’s experiences during that year shared a common thread— a renewed appreciation for each moment and being part of a global community. Murray now passes on the lessons from her time abroad with Antioch students in the classroom, and through the creation of an exciting new travel course, which is slated to launch in December 2018.
Murray says that those lessons and experiences correlate with Antioch University’s core values: appreciating diverse perspectives, contributing to social justice, having self-awareness, understanding applied learning, practicing critical thinking, and using effective communication.
“I am a better teacher now because I have more stories to share,” said Murray, of her time abroad. “ You can’t always just read about the world and understand it, you have to live it.”
Murray has always had a keen interest in the world. She grew up exploring the beaches of Santa Barbara, and was, from a young age, “fascinated by the creatures of the sea and returning them to the ocean to help them grow.” She then earned degrees in biology, marine science, and ocean sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she was one of few students to stay at the school from her bachelor’s through PhD studies. She went on to teach Marine Sciences at the Monterey Bay Aquarium for eight years.
“I love all of the organisms in the ocean and the immense diversity of shapes, sizes and life strategies, always reminding me how humans are just a little piece of the global puzzle – there is so much more life out there to appreciate and protect,” said Murray, of her passion for marine biology.
It may have seemed odd that a Marine biologist by training would travel to be a visiting professor “about as far away from the ocean as possible” in Bhutan, but Murray said it was an offer she could not refuse, which stemmed from her board work with the Tribal Trust Foundation — a non-profit organization which is working to preserve indigenous cultures across the globe and promote sustainability.
What she found at Royal Thimphu College were 40-student classrooms of 18- 22-year-olds who had an insatiable desire to learn, an unwavering respect for Murray as a professor, and a keen interest in welcoming her and her boys — Xander and Elliot age 11 and 13 – into their culture, community, and lives. They received homeschooling help, information about hidden trails in the nearby forests, local monasteries to visit, and best ways to purify the water — this pure kindness she learned was the norm. The students, faculty and staff at the Royal Thimphu College became part of her family – having tea together, sharing laughs and stories, and visits to her on campus apartment to talk about life and the environment.
“Many had never been to the ocean so I loved sharing my photos and videos of the great Pacific – where I have spent most of my life. The teaching in Bhutan was way more than I ever expected in terms of filling my soul,” said Murray. “Conservation and respect for animals, plants, and the environment are part of life and culture there.”
One story which she now shares with Antioch students is a camping trip she took with 40 of her Biodiversity students to Phobjika Valley, home of a majestic Black-necked crane. She recounted how everyone sat around a campfire, while cooking, eating, laughing, and sharing folkloric stories about Bhutan’s Yetis and dragons, who live in the mountains and frolic according to the whim of the seasons.
In Costa Rica, Murray shared a similar experience, spending relaxed lunchtime breaks over meals, conversations, and soccer games, while “getting to really know each other.”
While Murray infuses these stories into her teaching on campus, she say that by going out and showing students the world, she can truly help them appreciate its wonderment.
With the new course she is creating, students will travel to Galapagos and gain credit learning about culture and ecology in a short, professor led trip. She is planning future trips to Bhutan and Costa Rica to visit the communities she lived in and loved.
“It is really important to have a program like this because Antioch classes are about experiential learning,” said Murray. “Students will have a chance to live the university’s core purposes to the fullest.”