Monday, July 29, 2013

Even 'time off' is time to discover

By Bill Reader (SUSI 2013 Academic Coordinator)

We pack a lot of structured activity into the six-week Study of the U.S. institute program — when scholars are not attending scholarly presentations or presenting information about the media systems in their own countries, they are traveling to visit media houses and cultural locations.

But every once in a while, scholars see something different on the schedule: "Free time to explore … ."

There isn't much of that free time, and we would like to offer more, but the SUSI program is not a subsidized vacation — all involved are here to work, and this year's cohort of scholars certainly is working hard. So when we had a couple of "free-time" blocks in our media/cultural visit to San Francisco in mid-July, it was no surprise that each scholar went off on her or his own adventure.

Although it was not on the schedule, there were a few nighttime hours after we arrived at SFO and settled into our hotel on the outskirts of the city. Most scholars struck out on their own to find food and entertainment -- a few even walked the two miles to the BART Station and ventured into the city, and reported back to us the next day that, although inconvenient, it was not a "bad walk" to and from the station.

The next day, our shuttle driver to and from Google's headquarters, a fabulous (and highly recommended!) tour guide named Junior Houston, dropped us off at Fisherman's Wharf, where most of us gathered for a meal before striking out in smaller groups. Some wandered around the Wharf and experienced the chilly summer weather of northern San Francisco. Other groups struck off toward the downtown area (I tagged along with a small contingent that walked up Grant Ave., the main drag of Chinatown, en route to the high-end shops of Union Square). 

Then on Friday, after our tour of AT&T Park and meeting with San Francisco Giants media and marketing folks, we had a few hours of free time until we had to head to SFO for our red-eye back to Ohio. Once again, the scholars broke off into small groups. Several jumped off the trolley to spend some more time exploring the Union Square area; the rest of us continued on to The Mission to explore San Francisco's rising "hipster" neighborhood, recently renowned for its fabulous wall murals, its quirky shops, bars and cafés, and "cash only" attitude.

Although the primary mission of our SUSI program is to help international scholars learn about the U.S. media system, the program is also meant to help those scholars learn about the mish-mash of distinct subcultures that put the word "united" in "The United States." San Francisco is certainly one of the best U.S. cities to observe and explore that diversity. Thankfully our scholars are adventurous enough to not rely on a formal, structured schedule to do that important work on their own. 

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