Learning-abroad options focus on the environment

Programs like the Peace Corps are immersing students in fieldwork to help the environment.

Angela Gray

In an attempt to address global environmental concerns, some University students are going above and beyond just having solar-paneled roofs.

During college and after, many students participate in learning abroad programs and even join the Peace Corps with an encompassing goal of saving the environment.

Jay Bell, professor and coordinator for learning abroad programs in the College of Natural Resources, said there has been a recent push for more learning abroad opportunities that cater to an interest in the environment.

ìWe really push for learning abroad programs to be a part of our environmental science program, because it gives students a broader (environmental) perspective,” Bell said.

ìThere are more interesting environmental issues than we tend to deal with in our backyards,” he said.

Most students who study abroad take courses similar to those back home, but overseas they get to engage in diverse fieldwork, he said.

ìA lot of our students have been traveling to Australia to study water and soil quality and marine biology,” he said.

Bell said students usually study abroad for one or two semesters and travel to countries such as Iceland to study geology or Ecuador and Costa Rica to study different climates.

ìI havenít had one student say their learning abroad program hasnít been the best experience of their lives,” he said.

After theyíve studied abroad during college, some students go on to join the Peace Corps to further contribute to global environmental issues.

Gary Lore, pubic affairs specialist for the Peace Corps in the Minneapolis region, said the organization offers four basic types of environmental positions for applicants, including forestry, parks and wildlife, environmental education and sustainable agriculture.

ìWhen selecting candidates, we try to define what the individual would like to accomplish and match their skills and training with a set of needs the host country has,” Lore said.

The Peace Corps serves about 85 countries, Lore said.

He said most countries the Peace Corps has served have some kind of environmental program.

ìIndividuals have worked on water engineering and to help build water-delivering systems in places like West Africa where the water distribution is a major concern.”

Lore said some of the environmental work includes building sewage systems and creating ecotourism systems that are nonconsumptive.

ìFor example, a group might take a small park or even a large national park and help to turn it into a tourist area,” Lore said.

He said the primary issue is to provide safety and security for its 8,000 volunteers.

ìThere is no set percentage pattern of applicants we accept,” he said. ìWe look at our budget from Congress and then see where we can match applicants with countries in need.”

Only U.S. citizens older than 18 can join the organization, but Lore said the Peace Corps is not for everyone.

ìSome people might decide itís not for them right now, but maybe change their mind later on in life.”

Jim Belote, retired adjunct faculty member and anthropology professor at the Universityís Duluth campus, knew he wanted to join the Peace Corps after hearing President John F. Kennedy speak on its behalf, and signed up in 1962.

Belote spent four years in Puerto Rico training and then two years in Ecuador serving a rural community program, working with local agencies and educating people in agriculture.

ìWhen the Peace Corps told me I was being sent to Ecuador, I asked where it was,” he said. ìI had to look at an atlas and an encyclopedia.”

Belote met his wife, Karen, also a volunteer, while in Ecuador, and they left wanting to return.

ìWe thought if we were anthropologists we could go back someday and do research,” he said. Both got their graduate degrees in anthropology and taught at Duluth.

ìWe have been going back ever since,” said Belote, who just returned from Ecuador with a group of students.

Belote said the Peace Corps is very connected to environmental issues.

ìThe Peace Corps is not always the most organized program,” he said. ìI heard a quote once ó ëDonít let the Peace Corps ruin your Peace Corps.í That tells you something.”

He said the immediate effects on an area are not always visible and can disappear as soon as the people serving leave.

ì(But) I think in some areas the Peace Corps has had a long-range effect,” he said. ìIf you are open to whatís going on, it can be tremendously valuable.”

Joshua Redshaw, political science and global studies senior, is contemplating joining the Peace Corps.

Redshaw said issues such as war, poverty and environmental degradation interested him the most.

He said he tried to join the Army Reserves in 2000, but was rejected on account of having asthma as a child.

ìThis (can give) me an opportunity to serve my country,” he said, ìwithout picking up a gun.”