By Charley Reed
A winter-break trip for criminal justice students, which started 30 years ago, has now become a two-week course that includes more than 100 students from three different departments.
This May, graduate and undergraduate students led by William Wakefield, criminal justice professor; Chris Allen, communications professor; and Jody Neathery-Castro, political science professor went on a tour of London to get a better understanding of how individual fields held up when compared to their colleagues across the pond. The result, as is often the case, was a culture shock.
“Driving conditions were the most important thing to pay attention to,” said Terry Reed, a criminal justice senior. “If you are crossing the street when a vehicle has the right of way, they are not afraid to let you know and will not stop for you.”
The same went for London’s cuisine.
“This was my first time going overseas so I was really excited to see what it was like,” said Jimmy Ferrin, a communications alumnus. “The food is not as good as I hoped. I think I lived on Cadbury chocolate and steak and ale pie.”
Even though students used the spring semester to prepare for the trip, Wakefield believes some differences cannot be appreciated until students personally experience them.
“The first thing students notice immediately is that most of the police officers in London don’t use guns or even protective vests,” Wakefield said. “Americans can’t even fathom that.”
More than just the cultural differences, students get to see how different America’s communication, political and legal systems are from a country that might as well be America’s older brother.
“Over the years we’ve seen a number of changes,” Wakefield said. “Our [systems] have taken many directions and so have theirs.”
For students, many of whom have never been overseas, this truth hits them harder than they expect.
“Learning about worldwide communication, and the differences in culture and communication between America and London was one thing in the classroom,” said Alexandra May, a communications senior. “But seeing it firsthand, and visiting firms with such high reputations and power was really what put the whole thing in perspective and made it click with me.”
The most important aspect of this trip for faculty members is that the students realize they have career opportunities outside of the metro area.
“Students [in the UK] aren’t any less smart or talented [than UNO students],” Allen said. “It’s possible to break out of Omaha- and even the United States.”
Criminal justice students on this year’s trip got to experience that concept firsthand as their group was led by two former students, Robert Miller and Scott Sasse, who went on the trip themselves more than 20 years ago.
“For myself, and many other students over the years, the experience as a student was life-altering,” Miller said. “I brought home knowledge and insights into English policing that have benefited me personally and professionally.”
“I had never left the country, as many of our students now have not,” Sasse said. “And the exposure to their system and culture was eye-opening and allowed me to appreciate not only their culture, but I gained a new appreciation of the U.S.”
This set of international comparison classes is not only storied but, after the criminal justice program received the Nebraska Board of Regents KUDOS award in April, is also an honored program within the University of Nebraska system.
If it is up to the faculty members currently leading the classes, they will keep it going as long as possible.
“This year I’ve had one or two [students] say it’s one of the greatest experiences they’ve had,” Allen said. “I’m really glad we offer it.”
Students interested in participating in next year’s trip can contact Wakefield, Allen or Neathery-Castro. Recruiting for the trip occurs during the same time as normal class registration, though class seats are limited and available only with teacher permission.