The differences were obvious.
There’s more corn in Iowa. The buildings are taller in Philadelphia. Des Moines has Living History Farms. Philly has the Liberty Bell.
But two students from Temple University and two from Simpson College also learned this summer that they have more in common than they might have imagined. All plan to be teachers.
“We really discovered that education is very universal,” says Savannah Ferguson, a Simpson junior-to-be from Spirit Lake. “Students need the same things, want the same things and teachers need to provide all of those to them.”
Promoting increased understanding between rural and urban cultures was one of the goals Carol Booth had four years ago when her gift established the Simpson-Temple Exchange Program.
Booth, a 1947 Temple graduate, lives in Indianola. Her husband, the late E.G. Booth, taught at Simpson from 1958 to 1988.
“Carol Booth has illustrated how philanthropy can impact lives in an exponential fashion,” said Chris Goodale, senior Advancement officer. “Her support has undoubtedly changed the lives of four students each year for the past four years.”
The program brings together four students – two from Simpson and two from Temple – who want to become teachers. They spend two weeks together in Indianola, then head to Philadelphia for another two weeks.
“One negative in the Iowa environment is the lack of diversity,” Booth says. “Children growing up need to know those who are ‘different,’ and we all can learn from those whose ways could be foreign to ours.
“Philadelphia persons need to realize that there is more – much more – in the ‘great back of beyond’ that is their perception of the Midwestern way of life. As a ‘convert’ to Iowa from Philadelphia, I remember how I felt.”
This summer’s participants are Ferguson and Jayde Boyle ’13 of Holstein, Iowa, representing Simpson. Boyle, a recent graduate, accepted a teaching position in the Logan-Magnolia School District.
Representing Temple are Kelly Bauer, a sophomore-to-be from Bucks County, Pa., and Robyn Broadnax of New Castle, Del., who will be a senior.
The students’ first stop was central Iowa, where they visited Living History Farms and the Farmer’s Market, and spent some time exploring nature and the high ropes course at Camp Wesley Woods. They also ate at Fong’s Pizza, Zombie Burger and other popular central Iowa spots.
“Eating has been the best part,” Ferguson said, laughing.
Broadnax and Bauer had never been to the Midwest before. Both noted that central Iowa certainly doesn’t lack for rainfall, especially this summer, but they enjoyed the rural activities.
“It was different,” Broadnax said. “We got to ride on the tractors. That was probably my favorite part, and horseback riding. Those are activities we wouldn’t normally be doing in Philadelphia.”
The women also spent time visiting area schools, including Carlisle Middle School, as well as the Downtown School and Central Academy in Des Moines.
“I loved the Downtown School,” Broadnax said. “That was probably my favorite out of all of them. The Carlisle school reminded me of my own elementary and middle school.
“I could see myself teaching in a small school, but I don’t necessary want to live in a small town.”
While staying on the Simpson campus, the students also were invited to eat dinner and visit with faculty members.
“It was really nice for them to get to know our professors and show them how that’s a big part of life at Simpson, that you are in a community with your professors,” Ferguson said.
Said Broadnax: “That was different for us, because we don’t go to our professors’ homes at all.”
The Temple students said it also was an adjustment to hear their Simpson counterparts greet almost everyone they met, whether they knew them or not.
“We’d never do that,” Bauer said. “You can’t say ‘Hi’ to every person. There are too many.”
“I wouldn’t say it’s odd,” Broadnax added, “but it’s just that everyone here is nice. I’m not saying people in Philadelphia aren’t nice, but they’re not AS nice.”
Ferguson and Boyle will soon find out. They were scheduled to arrive this week for their two-week visit to Philadelphia. Planned stops included seeing the Liberty Bell and visiting Chinatown and the Italian Market.
“I think it’ll be a big shock for them, because it’s so different from here,” Broadnax said.
Replied Ferguson: “I’m ready.”
The four students have become fast friends, something Booth noticed when she had dinner with them.
“I was very impressed with the four recipients this year,” she said. “They had a unity of purpose, and seemed very dedicated to their goals and the aims of this program.
“I would hope the students would have learned to trust themselves anywhere, to mature in any environment, to understand their words, and to develop more of an inquiring mindset.”
Booth and the students all agree that they wish the program was longer – maybe a semester in length.
“I would recommend it to anyone,” Boyle said.
“It’s life changing,” she said. “You just gain a broader understanding of yourself and other people. Even though we’re all in the same country and are going into the same profession, we all have different ideas and backgrounds. You just don’t get an opportunity very often to sit and talk with people who have the same passions as you and are interested in working on difficult topics. Our conversations had the biggest impact on me.”
At first, Boyle said, “We were talking about all the differences between us. Toward the end we were noticing there are a lot more similarities.”