MFA poetry student Alex Baldwin featured on BBC documentary

Alex BaldwinUI MFA poetry candidate Alex Baldwin featured on BBC documentary during Alps teaching experience

Alex Baldwin (MFA-poetry ’15) helped lead forty Utah State University students on a Switzerland Study Abroad Program last summer. This was Baldwin’s second summer teaching the USU program. One of the highlights – and challenges – from the 2013 adventure involved the group’s involvement in the BBC documentary “Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve.”

The Switzerland Study Abroad Program, lead by Robert Winward, professor of graphic design in the Caine College of the Arts, is a four-week immersive program. While in Switzerland, students use “place” as a metaphor for the creative process while learning to capitalize on design processes as a tool to promote innovation.

“The program is first and foremost about transformation,” says Baldwin. “It promotes transformational experiences by combining the creative process with simple practices in awareness. We encourage curiosity by tapping into every experience in a very active way.”

One of the more demanding portions of the trip is a three-day pilgrimage through the Alps along the Swiss-Italian border on the Via Francigena Pilgrimage route. The students stay at the Great St. Bernard Hospice located at the top of the pass, elevation 8,100 feet. The Hospice was founded in 1049 by Saint Bernard of Menthon, and is the birthplace of the famous St. Bernard dog breed.

As Baldwin and Windward led the students up the high alpine route, a BBC film team gathering coverage for the pilgrimage documentary joined the group to film the arduous climb. Baldwin initially had mixed feelings about the opportunity. “We were very honored to have a chance to work with the BBC; but on the other hand, we were worried about cameras adding a level of artifice to the students’ experience.”

Alex Baldwin helps lead the students in restorative yoga positions inside the hospice.After several conversations regarding the pedagogical advantages and disadvantages of the opportunity, Baldwin and Windward chose to embrace the opportunity. Students snowshoed up the pass, crossed a glacier through the Valley of Death, and made the final accent to the hospice carrying all their gear – plus the filmmakers’ equipment.

Once at the hospice, students got to work. Although a heavy snowpack prevented them from building St. Bernard dog kennels, the students dug out the Hospice entrances and cleaned the chapel and museum. This work, plus other activities like restorative yoga, creative muscle relaxation, walking empathy meditations provided students plenty of opportunity to practice creativity and human-centered design. Baldwin and Winward also led the students on historical side trips, including visits to the famous St. Bernard statue, the millennia-old Roman stone road and St. Bernard crypt.

The BBC cameras recorded much of the group’s adventures. The final documentary, hosted by Simon Reeve, retraces the exciting adventures of pilgrims and the forgotten aspects of pilgrimage, including the vice, thrills and dangers. The three-part series explores the faith, hopes, desires, and even the food that helped to keep medieval Britons and more recent travellers on the road.

“The chance to work on the documentary proved very worthwhile,” Baldwin says. “The students saw firsthand, behind the scenes, the work involved in filmmaking for a large audience. As a teacher, I couldn’t have asked for a better example to illustrate how place, storytelling and design can symphonize together to create a meaningful whole.”

Baldwin plans on returning to Switzerland in the summer 2014.

“Pilgrimage with Simon Reeve” three part series Episode 1 aired on BBC December 3, 2013. (Watch the episode.)
For more information please visit the BBC website.