April 01, 2016

“StoryCorps” is a popular national story-telling project you may have heard some of the tales that air weekly on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” The premise: People enter recording studios that tour around the country and record deeply affecting personal stories that range from the lighthearted to serious.

Now, the University of Virginia is unveiling its own version of “StoryCorps” ─ with a twist. Members of the UVA community are being invited to share their globally themed stories. How did your first overseas trip affect your outlook? Did you meet someone from another country who made you reexamine how you view the world? UVA wants to know.

The vessel for this new oral history project is called “Nausicaa,” named for the princess in Homer's "Odyssey" who welcomes Odysseus and helps him find an audience for the story of his adventures.

It is the product of a large interdisciplinary endeavor. Students in the School of Architecture designed and built the structure, while others in the School of Engineering and Applied Science worked on the technology and recording apparatus. Members of the Department of Anthropology are developing cultural interviewing protocols. And a broad-based faculty committee dedicated to creating a global environment on Grounds has seen it to fruition.

A website is being created to collect the stories online.

Nausicaa will move around UVA periodically so that different members of the community can record their stories. It’s presently in Hume Plaza, outside Newcomb Hall.

The project is being unveiled April 7 with a launch event from 3 to 5 p.m. As an incentive, participants will receive a coupon for free dumplings from the Got Dumplings food truck. You can sign-up to record a story here.

President Teresa A. Sullivan recently recorded the very first story for the project. Here is a portion of her interview:

Q. You have spoken about the important role study abroad plays in the personal and professional development of students. How do students benefit from education abroad programs?

A. It’s very likely that most of our students are going to end up working in places that are not just in the United States or just involve United States workers. We are in an increasingly globalized economy and work organizations are accommodating that. So students may well end up on a task force with workers who are from other countries. They may have transferred to another country for a period of time for work. Or they may just want to visit other countries as part of their personal enrichment.

Q. What advice would you give to students who are reluctant to travel?

A. I think you need to know why they are reluctant. For some students, it’s because they have never really traveled in the United States. So don’t go to Beijing until you’ve gone to Washington, D.C. Don’t go to Shanghai until you’ve been to New York City. It’s good to get familiar with travel to understand what it’s like to get on an airplane or a train.

If you’re fearful of being in a different country, first try a place such as Quebec in Canada. It’s a different culture. They speak French. But it’s very familiar to Americans and it feels very comfortable. Some of the Caribbean countries are the same way. That way you can try it out without plunging yourself into something that you find fearful.

Q. Did you study abroad as a student?

A. I did. When I was a graduate student, I accompanied my professor on a trip that was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. It was a lecture tour for him, but for me it was a data-gathering trip. We landed first in Saigon – and this was during the Vietnam War. So that was a very scary experience and we were there just to refuel. Then we went to Thailand, to Burma as it was then called, to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and then coming back, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Tokyo. So I got to visit a lot of Asian countries and I was working mostly with the government’s statistical agency, so I also got see how governments collected data differently in different countries.

It was a great experience for me and it really changed the way I looked at my work. I was maybe 23 or 24. I wasn’t very old, but I was married and it was the longest I had been away from my husband.

Q. Do you have any memories of how international travel expanded your view of the world and affected your professional growth?

A. When I was maybe 9 or 10, my parents took me to a fishing village in Mexico. There was a little girl playing there on the beach, and we played together even though she didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Spanish. I think one of the things I learned from this was that even though places look different, people are still pretty similar to each other.

Q. Did your children study abroad?

A. They did! My older son, who is now a professor of religious studies, spent some time in Benares, India, living in an expatriate Buddhist monastery. These were Tibetan Buddhists who were exiles from Tibet. He lived in the monastery for the better part of a month, adopted a vegetarian diet and was interested in learning about Buddhism from them. He is now engaged to a Tibetan studies graduate student from UVA, so it was a pretty important experience for him.

My younger son was a classics major and won a competition to design his own study-abroad program. He designed a program that reproduced one of the missionary journeys of Saint Paul. So he went to Corinth and he went to Athens and he went to the ancient Greek city of Ephesus. I think it was really a remarkable experience for him too.

Q. You have said being a university president has become a global job. How has being a leader in higher education changed since your days as executive vice chancellor for academic affairs for the University of Texas System?

A. In Texas, international programs were important. But it was “Mexico, Mexico, Mexico,” and that was because of our location. It made an awful lot of sense. So we had a lot of programs in Mexico, but we were only gradually beginning to expand elsewhere.

Today, I think most major research universities have links in a lot of countries, if for no other reason than our faculty are doing research with a lot of people in different countries. That’s an opportunity also for students to go with faculty members and visit a lab, maybe, in India or in Sweden.

Q. How have international students impacted life at UVA?

A. I think it makes a big difference because every American student here will have the opportunity to meet international students and they often don’t have to exert themselves too much in order to do that. One of my advisees had a roommate from Peru and he got invited by his roommate’s parents to visit. So he got this great opportunity that he wouldn’t have otherwise had.

It’s things like that that can happen to students here. Today, we are having a reception at Carr’s Hill for the German ambassador to the United States. We are so close to Washington that we get to host a lot of very international visitors like that. And that’s a very enriching opportunity for students, too. They can talk about foreign policy with the people who really know how it’s being made.

Q. Where are you traveling next on behalf of UVA?

A. I’m going to Munich and I will be signing a memorandum of understanding with the Max Planck Institute. We are a partner in a new venture they have. We are the only American partner. This is a venture to do basic research in new forms of energy not based on fossil fuels.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications