Writers at Home

Program connects writers, CSB/SJU students abroad

November 12, 2013

By Tiffany Clements and Elisabeth Leipholtz ‘15

A Mapuche oral storyteller speaks with the CSB/SJU students studying abroad in Chile.

Earlier this month, Saint John's University junior Jeffrey Weinhagen joined about 20 College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University study abroad students, students at Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez (UAI), and Persida Cheuquenao,  and Don Leocadio Sáncheza—a pair of Mapuche oral storytellers—for an informal discussion of life, art and culture. 

During the conversation, Weinhagen, a Hispanic studies major from St. Paul, Minn., said he connected the experience of these indigenous storytellers, members of a community living in southern and central Chile and southwestern Argentina, to his own.

"One of the things I found most interesting about the presentation was how much the younger generation, Generation Y, is conforming to the ideologies of today's society," Weinhagen said. "It is gravely familiar to our society. Our generation is forming a new set of ideologies, while the older generation stays true to their basic lives, in a world full of technology and modernization." 

These kind of connections are what the Writers at Home program aims to create. The UAI event was the latest in a series of exchanges between storytellers and CSB and SJU study abroad students sponsored by College of Saint Benedict Literary Arts Institute (LAI) and Office for Education Abroad (OEA). 

LAI Director Mark Conway said connecting CSB and SJU students with a host country's writers and storytellers creates a unique opportunity to take a break from practical challenges of studying abroad and form deeper connections to their foreign surroundings."The hope is [our students] have the kind of transformative moment where they get to see that culture in a new way, from an insider's perspective," Conway said. 

Since 2010, more than 15 writers and storytellers in eight countries have met with CSB and SJU study abroad students through the Writers at Home.Visits from writers generally include a  reading/address open to the public, a classroom visit just for CSB and SJU students, and an excursion that takes students offsite with the writer to explore an area (or areas) of literary significance. Past events have included a tour of World War I memorials of significance in and around London with novelist Geoff Dyer and a tour of Galway, Ireland, with former Galway Advertiser editor Jeff O'Connell. 

Conway said keeping portions of the writers' visits open to the general public at a host site is an important part of the program. Creating opportunities for broader communities to connect with art and artists enriches the experience of having CSB and SJU students on a campus or in a community for all involved. 

"We are guests on these campuses but we're actually adding to the common wealth. Students at these universities also get to come," Conway said.