School and Learning are Fun Vacations Too

Reading that i can experience culture, from agriculture, to crafts, and performing arts without having to spend hundreds of dollars and hours of travelling over seas was instantly something i gravitated towards while reading Stephen Bungo’s article on the John C. Campbell Folk School. displays characteristics of this unique school that grasps a different approach to learning and the opportunities offered.

But it offers a fine selection from other cultures of the world as well. I initially made the trip to Brasstown for a week-long Southeast Asian cooking course. The class tackled the appetizers, main courses, desserts, and drinks of Malaysian, Indonesian, and Thai cuisine.”And we will cover Indian and Chinese as well, because they are the foundations of Malaysian cuisine,” added our instructor Mary Lou Surgi. She would know, too, having lived in Southeast Asia for several years following a two-year stint as a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia.

“One of the best things about being at the folk school is the community in Brasstown. Everyone is so willing to help out with whatever you might need and everyone gets together to socialize often.” says Emily Derke, a 21-year-old from Minnesota.She came for a nine-week work/study program, and reckons it might not have been enough time. Work/Study students live at the Folk School and in exchange for each two-week work period, they take a one-week class of their choice. This provides a good alternative to paying the normal registration fees and allows you to linger in the community longer and become a temporary local.

Another alternative to coming as a student is applying to become a host. The student hosts live at the school for a six-month period, and are responsible for making sure that students have a good experience. In exchange, Student Hosts may take classes each week. At any giving time there are two hosts. They can be found running around the campus doing odd jobs like answering phones after hours, carting tables and chairs for events, or making mealtime announcements. They are simultaneously attending classes while they work. It gives hosts an opportunity to take a variety of courses.

As I drifted around the room with samples of quickly-disappearing vegetable curry puffs, I admired the quilters’ patterns, the woodcarvers’ creations, the elegance of the stained glass, and enjoyed a live performance from the mountain dulcimer class. During my few weeks in Brasstown, I acquired greater understanding and deeper appreciation for traditional Appalachian culture. Besides the contradance, I also caught the Ashville-based old-time string band Blue Eyed Girl for a fantastic show, featuring local, Annie Fain Liden on the banjo. The community gathers for free weekly concerts of bluegrass, old-time, or folk music.