Bear Camp at the University of Central Arkansas took young students this week through Asia along the route of Venetian merchant Marco Polo without ever leaving Irby Hall.

The "boring classrooms" described by Bear Camp director Sera Streiff-Vena have been transformed to resemble stops in Polo’s travels.

On Friday, about 40 students found themselves in China, many practicing yoga, calligraphy and tangrams, or Chinese puzzles.

Streiff-Vena said the students began their pretend journey last week in Italy, traveling to Vietnam, Sumatra, and Indonesia.

The theme of week one of the community outreach program this year was Exploring Asia - The Travels of Marco Polo.

The program is hosted at UCA by the Community Language School out of the Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

Language was a big part of what students learned as they studied other cultures, Streiff-Vena said.

"This is more than a summer camp because it’s an educational program," she said. "We have been teaching the Chinese, Italian and Arabic languages."

One female student, "really picked up her Chinese," she said.

Streiff-Vena, who has led the program for several years, described Bear Camp as a "wonderful collaboration," bringing together departments within the university, faculty from Conway and Little Rock schools, and UCA students.

Another week of Bear Camp commences Monday with a new crop of students preparing to Journey into the Jungle.

The director said Journey into the Jungle takes students through Mexico, Central America, through the Andes Mountains and to Brazil, where they will learn about indigenous languages and cultures.

(Staff writer Courtney Spradlin can be reached by email at or by phone at 505-1236. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to Send us your news at