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Communication 395:
Communication, Community & Sacred Sense of Place
Dr. Deirdre Johnston, Dept. of Communication

2012 Syllabus (click here for printable version)

WHY SCOTLAND?  The purpose of the Scotland May Term is to study Intercultural Communication in-depth in another culture.  The study of Intercultural Communication within the Communication discipline addresses how identity, history, and cultural communication norms affect interaction, understanding and relationships.   Cultures differ in numerous communication variables, such as the expression of emotion, directness, listening styles, nonverbals, linguistic framing, relational expectations, and conflict style.  Cultures also vary on cultural communication dimensions (identified by Hofstede), such as individualism/ collectivism, low/high power distance, masculinity/femininity, high/low contact, high/low context, etc., and these cultural dimensions can create communication barriers and misunderstandings. 

Scotland affords you the opportunity to engage cultural communication differences without language barriers, and it also offers the opportunity for a life changing study/travel experience in faith, communication and community with the Iona Christian Community.   The Scotland May Term addresses three broad themes:  communication, community, and sacred sense of place.   You will study how these themes are reflected in the everyday lives of Scottish people, and how these themes are constructed through everyday speech practices.  Through this process, you will develop an appreciation for travel as a vehicle for outward exploration as well as inward growth and realization.  

HOW DOES THE COURSE TOPIC INTERSECT WITH THE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE?  Your course project will address a concept of communication in depth, exploring how Scottish people perceive and perform the concept, how the media represent the concept (optional), and how the concept affects the your own sense of culture, faith and identity.

You may choose one of the following texts for the foundation of your Scotland research experience:   1) The Art of Pilgrimage: The seeker’s guide to making travel sacred, by  Phil Cousineau, Conari Press, 1998;  2) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert D. Putnam, Simon & Schuster, 2001; or 3) Iona:  God’s Energy – The Spirituality and Vision of the Iona Community, by Norman Shanks, Hodder & Stoughton, 1999. 

Everyone will read selected readings on intercultural communication and Scottish culture and identity.

The Art of PilgrimageThe Art of Pilgrimage introduces readers to the idea of seeing the sacred in every journey.  The book explores the role of pilgrimage in religious experience, the history of pilgrimage dating from Abraham 4,000 years ago, and ways to cultivate the practice of creating meaning for your journey.  This book could be used to develop research questions related to:  role of history in development of cultural identity; faith, history and cultural identity; collective memory and memorializing of historical events and place; cultivation of sacred sense of space; the path of the pilgrim in making meaning from the journey as well as the destination as a cultural practice; the collection and analysis of  journey stories of how sacred space transforms the soul/identity;  the use of story-collecting as a pilgrimage practice to reflect on your soul journey.

Bowling AloneBowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community chronicles the decline of social connection in American society. This is a ‘classic’ in that it brought the concept of ‘social capital’ – the quantity and value of social connections into the public mind and also into academic study within the social sciences. This book provides a lot of data (charts) to support its claims, but the statistics are inherently interesting as we examine our own culture and compare how ‘community’ is constructed cross-culturally.  The book stops short of adequately addressing the impact of social networking on social capital within your generation, but it does provide a basis upon which to examine the impact of social networking on social connectedness.  Research projects emanating from this book might include the cultural construction of what community means, the challenges to social capital and community in contemporary Scotland, cultural comparisons of social capital and community between the US and Scotland, the impact of faith communities in relation to preservation or sacrifice of social capital, and generational differences in the value, construction of, and practice of social capital in US and Scotland.

ionaIona:  God's Energy - The Vision and Spirituality of the Iona Community provides a history of the Iona Community (Scotland, Isle of Iona), and how the Community is committed to live the Christian faith in a secular world.  The book addresses the “Rules” of the Community that members pledge to follow, and also explores the social justice and activism commitment of the Community to act in this world.  If you read this book you may want to develop a research project that explores how the Iona Community members live their faith and how they value and define ‘community.’  You might also explore how their construction of ‘community’ compels them to social activism.  Questions of the impact of faith communities and the survival of faith communities in contemporary secular society might be examined, as well as how your own sense of Christian identity, faith and community intercept with the ideals of the Iona Community.  Reflections on what defines ‘community’ might be explored on Iona and compared to constructions of community in other areas of Scotland, or among secular groups.  One might also use this book as a foundation to explore sacred sense of place, as Iona is described as “a thin place” where many people encounter the sacred. 

The research project involves the following steps:

  1. Reading one selected text.
  2. Developing a viable and substantive research question (RQ) related to intercultural communication, community, or sacred sense of place as it relates to Scottish culture and identity.
  3. Doing some background research on the scholarly literature related to this question.
  4. Learning oral history methodology in Glasgow to develop competencies in doing person-on-the-street interviews. 
  5. Collecting background research and knowledge related to RQ in Iona.
  6. Collecting video interview clips with Scottish people in Highlands and Edinburgh. 
  7. Editing video clips and integrating your own narrative reflecting scholarly research and background knowledge on RQ, into a 14-minute video essay.


Camera Orientation------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 50 points
Video Essay uploaded on Youtube (due 2 weeks after return to USA)-------- 300 points
Book Notes & Research Notes (all due prior to departure)------------------------- 200 points
Journal (due mid-trip and before return to USA)---------------------------------------- 200 points
Participation (serious pursuit of research, learning and experiences
      on trip; completion of mini-assignments (e.g., photo scavenger hunts);
      and self-reported record of experiences (Part I of journal), participation
      checklist due with 2nd journal submission----------------------------------------

200 points

WHAT IS EXPECTED FOR THE VIDEO ESSAY?  You will return to Hope (or elsewhere) to prepare your final project.  The interview data collected will be edited (using simple software, such as iMovie or Windows Movie 7) and produced into a 14-minute documentary.  The video should promote a particular thesis pertaining to your research question.  The thesis should be supported by interview texts, journal excerpts and narrative analysis.   The project will be evaluated according to the strength and creativity of the thesis, the depth of analysis, and the strength of the textual support for the thesis (not on technical quality).   Your video should include voice-over or text that makes your argument and demonstrates the background knowledge you have integrated from your text reading, your background reading of scholarly sources, and your experiences in Scotland.  The end of your video should include a typed reference list.  The video should incorporate contextual material including scenery, street scenes, and/or music. 

    • Your video essay should reflect substantive research
    • Your video should include interview excerpts with a variety of people you met across your three weeks in Scotland
    • Your video essay should demonstrate the transformative effect the Scotland study experience had on your thinking about the course content
    • Your video essay should incorporate knowledge and understanding from the text you selected to read for this course

BOOK NOTES & RESEARCH NOTES?   These assignments are due before you leave. The reading packet assignments should be completed for each spring semester meeting. This is Part I of your Book Notes. You need to have your book completed by May 4th so that we can discuss the texts and you can develop your research question. This is Part II of your Book Notes and is due before class on May 4th.  Part III, Research Notes, including sources and notes on literature you've read pertaining to your research question, are due before class May 9th.  All three of these assignments should be uploaded on Moodle. Part III also includes your elevator speech. Your elevator speech must be typed and approved before leaving class on May 9th.   Plan to take a printout of your notes and elevator speech with you to Scotland. Your Book Notes should include sufficient detail to serve as an on-site guide to your research.

  • Your Part I Book Notes should be comprehensive and reflect your thoughtful reading of all readings in the Reading Packet.  You may choose to complete Part I as a factual outline of main ideas you wish to remember.
  • Part II Book Notes should reflect a comprehensive reading of the entire text you selected to read for this course.  Include quotes, passages, annotations/reflections to passages and page numbers.  A topical outline form may be helpful to organize your notes/reflections on the text.
  • Part III Book Notes include your RQ and your rationale and explanation of this question incorporated into an 'elevator speech.'  A list of sources that further your understanding of your question should be briefly summarized; complete bibliographic citation should be included.

WHAT'S A JOURNAL?  You will see a lot of things, hear a lot of history, experience a lot of surprises, and reflect upon a lot of cultural comparisons and personal insights.   To help you remember the places you went, the things you saw, the history you learned, the things that surprised you, and the epiphanies you realized about self, others, community, communication and sacred place, it is important to record your thoughts once a day.  You will be provided with a notebook to jot down your impressions along the way.  Make sure that you include:  1) places; 2) things seen; 3) history notes; 4) surprises; and 5) reflections/ insights.  This chronology of your experience is Part I of your Journal. Part II involves writings in response to provided reflection prompts. Your journal will be collected twice during our time in Scotland.

  • Journal Part I will be evaluated for comprehensive recording of places, history, surprises and cultural reflections
  • Journal Part II will be evaluated for the depth of your reflection and insight in response to the prompts provided

WHAT'S INCLUDED IN THE PARTICIPATION GRADE?  To get the most out of this study/tour it is important to engage the reading, the background preparation, as well as to fully seek out all possible sights and experiences of Scotland.    Are you curious? Are you a good traveler?  Are you ON TIME?  Are you willing to be flexible and go with the flow of the uncertainties of travel?  Do you listen to guides to get the most out of your experiences?  Do you engage the people of Scotland that you meet and learn from them along the way?  Do you embrace the journey as much as the destination?  Do you take your research question seriously while in Scotland and pursue opportunities to learn more about your specific question?  Do you take the initiative to seek out people and places that will inform your research question?  Are you a responsible student that abides by the rules and expectations of the trip and looks out for your fellow travelers?  These are all aspects of good participation.  Attendance for on-campus meetings and classes, as well as participation in group activities while in Scotland is included in the participation grade.  Within your Journal Notebook you will be provided with two Participation Checklists.  These will be checked each time your Journal is submitted during out time in Scotland.

CAMERA ORIENTATION: You need to learn how to use your camera and how to do elementary video editing.

  1. Camera delivered - April meeting
  2. Video interview samples - April to May (lighting, sound basics)
  3. Video sample for editing workshop - May 7th - 50 pts



Introductions and Trip Orientation;
Complete Hope College participation & medical forms

February/March: Book Meeting Part I






Intercultural communication -- ; Scottish culture and identity (Reading Packet)
ntroduction to Scottish History (Reading Packet);
Camera Orientation
Book Meeting Part II

Upload reading notes on Moodle under Book/Research Notes Part I.

May 7:  


8:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. 
Upload Book/Research Notes Part II on Moodle
Camera & Editing Workshop
Literature Review
May 8: 8:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Finalizing RQs
Finalize research literature search
May 9:  8:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m. 
Finalize proposals & Elevator Speech
Upload Book/Research Notes Part III on Moodle
Interviewing techniques

February:   Participation forms due
April:  Reading packet assigned pages; upload Book/Research Notes Part I on Moodle
Complete book
Collect sample videos
2nd week of May: Develop research proposal
Submit Book/Research Notes Parts II, III on Moodle
Camera assignment.
May 20th:  Submit journal and completed participation form to date.
May 29th:  Submit journal and completed participation form.
June 15th: Submit video essay via YouTube. Upload your YouTube URL on Moodle.



  • The most important policy is SAFETY.  You need to be with another member of our group at all times, or - if going someplace alone, notify one of the faculty leaders exactly where you are going and when you will return.  If you go out at night, you need to have a buddy and it is imperative that you not abandon your buddy OR return to the hotel/hostel alone. This is VERY important.
  • It is best if you do not drink alcohol, however, if you choose to do so (drinking age in Scotland is 18), you must do so responsibly.   This means that if you drink, you drink in moderation.  You need to be able to be responsible for your safety, as well as the safety of others you are with, at all times.   This also means that you are feeling well and able to participate in class activities.  It is absolutely imperative that you do not engage in drinking alcohol while staying with the Christian community at Iona.  Alcohol is in violation of the Abbey rules; we have signed pledges and we abide by those pledges.
  • Any use or possession of illegal drugs, any illegal behavior, or abuse of alcohol or other illegal substances.   Any behavior that violates Hope College Social Conduct Rules and:  a) impairs your ability to fully participate in class activities; b) embarrasses Hope College or its representatives;  or c) compromises the safety of yourself or other group members, will result in your termination from the program, and your immediate return to the USA at your own expense.  This decision is made by the faculty leaders of the program. 
  • You need to complete all course assignments to receive credit for the course.
  • You are a representative of Hope College and you should always act in accordance with the highest standards of civil and social behavior.
  • All of your actions should adhere to the social conduct and risk and liability statements you signed as a participant in this Hope College sponsored program.
  • You will be guests in another country and culture.  It is important to defer to the norms of the culture, squelch ethnocentrism, adapt to the communication rules of the culture, and treat all people with dignity and respect.   As guests, our role is to learn and observe, not to judge. 

CLASS DATES:    May 7 -May 30.

TRAVEL DATES: May 10 - May 30.  Glasgow-> Highlands -> Iona -> Edinburgh
Detailed itinerary will be distributed at April group meeting.

                01/09/2012         $500, Non-refundable deposit
                03/30/2012         $1240
                04/27/2012         $800, remaining balance
CANCELLATION POLICY:  If you need to cancel for any reason, contact Dr. Johnston immediately.  The cancellation date and monies expended on your behalf as of the cancellation date will determine if you are eligible for any refund. All cancellation and refund policies for Hope College off-campus programming will apply and will be handled by the Hope College Business Office.

AIRFARE:   You are responsible for booking your own airfare to arrive in Glasgow (May11), and return from Edinburgh (May 30).  You will be notified in January of the price and schedule of airfare to and from Grand Rapids, MI. You may elect to travel with the faculty and other students in the class (to and from GR), or you may elect to arrange your own airfare (in the event you want to return to another city in the US or continue traveling in Europe after the completion of the May Term). 



Current Student Info
-Important Dates
-Packing List
-Video Essay Guidelines
-Video Consent Form
-Journal Prompts
Sample Video Essays
Travel Contact Information