Global Citizenship: Millikin’s Politics of Borderlands Summer Immersion Takes Students to Eastern Europe

The 18-day experience brought the students to five different countries.

Politics of Borderlands

DECATUR, Ill. – With the end of the 2022-23 academic year behind them, nine Millikin University students and two faculty members packed their bags and headed abroad to take part in the Politics of the Borderlands course – a summer immersion to the Baltic States in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia – and returned with some fantastic memories and a better appreciation of how to be a global citizen. 

“The class was focused on the borderlands of Europe and the experiences of small countries caught between many empires,” said Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Laura Dean. “We studied different aspects of migration in class during the spring semester and then traveled to the Baltic States to put our Performance Learning into action, learning from people who work with these migration issues on a daily basis on the border of Europe. We visited a human trafficking organization in Latvia, toured a border guard station in Estonia, and got a lecture on gender equality in Lithuania.”

Politics of Borderlands
The Millikin students in the Politics of Borderlands class begin their journey in Chicago. 

The group, led by Dean and Assistant Professor of History Danielle Alesi, made stops in Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Finland. During their visit to Narva, Estonia, they stood on the border of the European Union and could see Russia on the opposite bank of the Narva River.

For many in the group, including senior Political Science major Krista Koke and junior Chemistry major Lanie Bacon, the immersion was their first experience traveling outside the United States.

Politics of Borderlands
The Politics of Borderlands visited five countries during their 18-day immersion class.

“Before taking this trip, I did not know what to expect. I was very excited to travel and to experience new parts of the world, although it was a bit intimidating because I had never left the United States before,” Lanie said. “I was excited to explore parts of Europe that not everyone can explore. I commonly hear of people visiting Italy or Paris, but not everyone goes to the Baltic States. That made me excited to learn about people and places I may never get the opportunity to explore again.”

Along with many politically-focused stops – the group visited the parliaments of the Baltic States and met with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs – they also completed a volunteer project with Common Ground, an organization helping Ukrainian refugees who were forced to relocate to Latvia following Russia’s invasion of the country in February 2022.   

Politics of Borderlands
During their trip, the Millikin students volunteered at Common Ground, an organization helping Ukrainian refugees.

During the spring semester, the class held a drive to fundraise and collect donations in the University Commons and successfully filled several suitcases of supplies they transported to Latvia during the trip and donated to Tavi Draugi, another organization helping Ukrainians displaced by the war.

“The fact that we were able to collect supplies and raise money for people affected by the war in Ukraine is huge. It is so special that the small group of us from Millikin raised money and so many supplies for the Ukrainians,” Krista said. “To take the supplies over, many of us didn’t check a bag, which allowed for more space for the supplies. Being able to do this is what studying abroad is all about. It is important to always remember that others worldwide are going through difficult and unbearable times, and we should support them when we can.”

The students also experienced Baltic culture up close, including a Latvian food night that included kartupeļu pankūkas (potato pancakes), rasols (potato salad), chicken kotletes and Latvian meatballs. 

Politics of Borderlands
Political Science major Krista Koke prepares some Latvian dishes. 

“My favorite part of the trip was the Latvian cooking night. Dr. Dean’s host parents attended and they taught us how to cook traditional Latvian food. I felt like the group really bonded that night,” Krista said. “The night ended up being emotional and heartfelt. While people were giving toasts to the night, Dr. Dean’s host dad told us how grateful he was to Dr. Dean for sending Americans to Latvia to learn about all it has to offer. It was a beautiful experience to hear him talk and to hear his heartfelt message.”

With some time to reflect from the end of the course, the experience has stayed with Lanie and she recommends it and other travel abroad options available through the Center of International Education to any Millikin student looking to expand their horizons.

Politics of Borderlands
The class visited the Brīvības Monument in Riga, Latvia. 

“I will remember the small things like our hostels and long walks every day. Our group was small, but I met new people and enjoyed getting to know each person as an individual. I was tested each day to experience new things,” Lanie said. “Learning through experience was fabulous for me, and I loved trying new food, walking in the streets, taking the bus, the boat ride, visiting the historical landmarks, and shopping. 

“Although our days were filled with new adventures with places and people to see, Dr. Dean did a great undertaking to ensure that this immersive experience was meaningful to her students, as we were learning about new countries and cultures. I will be forever grateful for the educators and the whole team that went on this trip. I will take a little bit from each of them as they all made this a pleasant and positive learning experience for me.”