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Back Of Bus On Road

Flight of the PhoEEInix

Back of Bus on Road

Blog # 1: Flight of the PhoEEInix*

By: Ian Hitchcock

As I type this post, I am sitting in a bathroom at World’s End State Park (because it is the only place I could find an electrical outlet for my dying laptop). Blogging from a bathroom was never something imagined myself doing.

Doing things I hadn’t imagined is going to be a recurring theme of this blog.

For instance, I had never imagined that I could earn college credit while traveling across the country and living outdoors. But that is exactly what I’m doing this semester. From September through December, I’ll be traveling from the Adirondacks to the Gulf Coast on a retrofitted school bus studying energy and climate justice.

Another thing I’d never imagined myself doing is willingly getting back onto a school bus. I spent many a miserable hour writhing in an uncomfortable bench seat when I was younger, trying in vain to cover my ears to block the terrible country music blaring from the speakers. The fact that this program was able to get me back on a bus is a testament to how strong it is (and thankfully, these seats are more comfortable than I remembered).

Why was I willing to climb back on a bus? To start, the Bus is no ordinary school bus. In many ways, it is our rolling home away from home, equipped with LED lights over each seat, personalized cubby space, a library, two guitars, art supplies, storage compartments for sleeping backs, tents, and cookware. When we drive anywhere, we have a “projectile check” to make sure everything is fastened and secured, like a sailboat weathering a storm. Our faculty double as our drivers. And our classes all take place outside.

Our setting isn’t the only thing that is unconventional about this semester. Our coursework centers around “resource visits” where we meet with and learn from folks in the communities we visit. Thus far, we’ve explored a pumped hydro storage plant in Massachusetts, a wind project in the Berkshires, and met with people in Pennsylvania who live at the heart of the fracking boom, among others. I’ll write in more depth about these visits in later entries.

In addition to the resource visits, we the students are learning from living with each other. We don’t only see each other during class. We cook meals together and play cards together and have discussions together. All of us have diverse backgrounds and areas of academic interest, meaning that we have different perspectives to share with each other. We are connected by the intensity of the experiences we are sharing.

There is no cramming to repeat answers for a test here. There’s nothing theoretical about standing at the base of a giant windmill or listening to the stories of a woman whose water has been contaminated by fracking pollution. The things we are learning about on the Bus matter in the real world to real people.

As I wrap up this first entry, I have to note that, given the subject of my courses this semester, “World’s End” seems like an entirely fitting place to stay. Climate change certainly seems like the end of the world as we know it. My hope is to take my experiences from the Bus and use them to help shape those myriad changes for the better. I hope that this blog can be a space for me to share photos, stories and insights from this incredible experience.

*The Expedition Education Institute (EEI) is the revival of a 40-year old program. Fall 2015 is the first semester of the program since it was canceled in 2010. Now, a partnership between EEI and Marlboro College has the Bus back on the road.

**I am a fan of wordplay. Readers, consider yourself warned.