Geography professor travels the world seeking new experiences

Photo courtesy of John Patrick Harty

J.T. Buchheit

News Editor

For John Patrick Harty, assistant professor of science, traveling the world has become routine. Harty has been to many places around the globe and loves the sense of adventure that comes with it. The location he remembers with the most fondness is Newfoundland.

“[Newfoundland] is a very distinctive culture within Canada,” said Harty. “And the physical landscape is immensely beautiful as well. There’s a site, L’Anse aux Meadows, which is a Viking settlement from a thousand years ago that I was able to visit, and it is one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. That specific archaeological site, it was incredible.”

Serving on the Peace Corps was one way Harty was exposed to other cultures. As a member of the Peace Corps, Harty traveled to Uzbekistan in 2001 to teach students English as well as establish a school and build a website for the city he resided in. He was working on obtaining sister cities for his location when he had to be evacuated due to the escalation of conflict in Afghanistan.

“All Peace Corps volunteers serving in that part of Central Asia were evacuated, and Peace Corps treats evacuation the same as a completion of two years of service,” said Harty.

During his time in Uzbekistan, Harty noticed many differences between the cultures there and in the U.S., especially in how people treat senior citizens.

“Emphasis on the extended family and respect for elders was something that really stuck with me,” Harty said. “We don’t embrace our elders nearly as much as people in Central Asia do. We do not, as a rule, put an emphasis on the extended family as they do — they are very good at including the extended family. It’s just the norm over there.”

Uzbekistan has one of the worst human rights records in the world, earning a score of seven (on a scale of one to seven, seven being “least free”) in both the political liberties and civil rights categories according to Freedom House. Harty didn’t experience these troubles, but he knew Uzbeks who did.

“I was in many ways above the law because I was a guest within their country, and they understood I didn’t know the rules and wasn’t operating by them,” he said. “Oftentimes people who want to practice their religion felt a little hindered in trying to share their religion as they would like to do so. … Speaking out against the government, people were very cautious in saying too much about the president, even if they didn’t like him. … It was more of a sense that people felt hushed in terms of speaking out about certain policies.”

In addition to taking in new cultures and observing different ways of life, Harty is also an avid spelunker who has explored many caves, occasionally being among the first humans to explore such places.

“I’ve always found an interest in exploring the unknown, and exploring caves gives you an opportunity to see a place that potentially no other human in history has viewed,” he said. “And I like that feeling of seeing the unknown. What’s around the next corner? And I cherish that, I embrace that. It’s just something I really enjoy.”

Cave exploration has its risks, and Harty has had misfortunes befall him in the past. When traversing a cave in Austin, Texas, Harty was crawling on his stomach when he got his foot stuck in a crevice and couldn’t reach his leg to loosen it.

“It was one of the few times where I’ve ever thought about how much rock was above me,” he said.

Harty has also gone on an excursion to one of the most extreme points on Earth: the South Pole. One of his supervisors helped him get a job there, and he was thrilled to get a chance to journey to the remote area in the winter of 1997–98.

“It had always been a goal of mine to see Antarctica and if possible see the South Pole, so going there was one of the big moments in my life,” he said.

Harty served as a general assistant to researchers at the South Pole, helping them with projects such as construction, launching weather balloons and burying objects in the snow. As one could predict, the temperatures there were less than ideal.

“[It was] bitterly cold, to a point where I made a promise to myself that I would never complain about the cold again unless I was put in those conditions again,” said Harty. “The coast was beautiful, the temperatures were bearable, but the interior, where the South Pole is, is a different story, and the warmest day I experienced there was seven below with a wind chill around 20. And the coldest was about the time I left, where it dropped down to 60 [below zero] with a wind chill of 80. The best Valentine’s Day I ever had was leaving the South Pole.”

Harty is a professor at the college now, but he has not lost his passion for exploring. He would like to go to Russia next, but it is difficult to obtain a visa to go there. Russia is where his host family from Uzbekistan has immigrated, and he would like to see those people again and relive his old memories.


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