Students explore the world

Seven thousand miles from home, among millions of Hindi speakers, social work graduate student Terri Mazurek found herself talking only with other English speakers – and missing out on the best part of her study-abroad experience.

So Mazurek, in India attending classes and working with women’s empowerment groups, risked using her limited Hindi – with everyone.

She spoke with pedestrians, taxi drivers, school children, shopkeepers, vegetable grocers, tea sellers and bankers.

In return, they told her about their families, offered her rides, waited for her outside class and told her fair market prices, lest unscrupulous competitors take advantage of her.

Mazurek returned in January after having spent four months in India as a participant in the Global Campus-administered Minnesota Studies in International Development program. “There is so much to gain from testing your own comfort zones,” Mazurek said.

On the eve of spring break, Mazurek’s story illustrates how some students forgo leisure travel to nearby coastlines for learning experiences in distant lands. The number of U.S. students studying abroad in the 1997-98 academic year rose to 113,959 – double what it was in the mid-1980s – according to the Institute of International Education. And although Europe remained the top destination, its share of American students fell by 15 percent, whereas Latin America’s rose by 15 percent.

Global Campus, the University’s study-abroad office, will send more than 800 students abroad for credit during the 1999-2000 school year. Of these, one-third will go to African, Asian, Central or South American countries to help educate, assist in agriculture and foster civics.

Upon returning, many will go on to graduate school, professional programs, public health, environmental protection or the Peace Corps, said Michelle Cumming, coordinator of collegiate initiatives at Global Campus.

Senior Michael Glover, another Minnesota studies program participant, is currently in Chavakali, a remote town in western Kenya, studying how the local credit system affects women.

The African history major has an outhouse for a toilet and a bucket for bathing. He collects water from a spring and from roof runoff. And while there are rats, mice and cockroaches, there is also solar electricity. So long as the local people are comfortable, so is Glover.

“Nothing can be better for learning than the real world,” he said. “We are out of the classroom and getting an awesome experience.”

Whereas Global Campus administers study-abroad programs, the International Study and Travel Center handles noncredit-bearing experiences abroad, whether work, internships, language schooling or volunteer opportunities.

“We have a Peace Corps rep here every Monday from noon to 2 p.m.,” said director Bill Baldus.

Because the center is primarily a resource, it doesn’t track students’ destinations. But its reference library in 94 Blegen Hall suggests the destinations are far and wide.

Nena Fox, a philosophy senior working at the center, spent three months last summer on a farm outside Makindu, Kenya, teaching about AIDS. The experience was physically and emotionally demanding.

Her day began at 6 a.m. with breakfast and a five-mile walk into town. After a shuttle ride across the city, Fox resumed on foot toward the school, still miles away.

But walking was easier than coping with sickness and death. Fox recalls a funeral for an AIDS victim. And she remembers the woman with the baby.

A Kenyan mother, malaria-stricken baby over her shoulder, approached Fox and another American — a pre-medical student.

“Is there anything you can do for us at all?” she pleaded.

The students knew the child was going to die soon, Fox said, but they did not know what to tell the mother.

Before flying home, Fox spent several days in Mombasa, a coastal resort town. And although Fox has also been to Panama City Beach and Key West, Florida, she said she wouldn’t trade her Kenya experience for anything.

As a travel-center adviser, Fox now uses her experience to tell others about travel to remote places.

The shooting deaths of two 19-year-old American women — last seen alive March 13 — in Costa Rica, together with last year’s robbery and assault of a busload of Maryland colleges students traveling in Guatemala, raise the question of student safety in remote areas.

But those familiar with student travel abroad dismiss simply associating danger with remoteness.

“Students going to many of the study-abroad destinations in the developing world are safer than going to Fort Lauderdale during spring break,” said Sheila Collins, a program associate with Global Campus, adding that her office monitors travel warnings posted by the U.S. State Department.

Cumming said trouble is often drinking-related, regardless of where it occurs.

Indeed, remoteness was the chief attraction for University alumnus Craig Enstad, who returned last June from the western African nation of Senegal. Enstad wanted to get as far as possible away from the “cosmopolitan, Euro-lifestyle” of the capital city Dakar.

With its 500 residents, the village of Diawar in the lower Senegal River Valley met his criterion.

Enstad, who graduated in December in international relations, wrote a paper afterward on how World Bank policies affect local rice farming. But he said his research was not as rewarding as conversing with friends, learning customs, eating Senegalese food and learning the language.

“I worked with rice, I ate the rice, I dreamed of the rice,” said Enstad, translating an expression he learned in Wolof.

University students are not the only ones choosing developing countries over developed beach fronts. Laura Goldblatt is a Macalester College student currently in Ecuador with the Minnesota studies program.

Sunday, she left the capital of Quito to spend nine days in the Galapagos Islands. On March 28, she’ll return to the mainland and to her field post near the Colombian border.

The international relations major has helped the population market its locally knitted sweaters. She is also arranging an Earth Day celebration.

Goldblatt said she first felt a barrier to forming friendships because of the cultural differences. Some of her hosts are farmers who have never attended high school.

But like Mazurek, Goldblatt overcame her isolation by talking with her host family and interacting with the people.

“I’ve been invited in homes for coffee,” Goldblatt said. “People generally seem pleased that I chose to come to their small town in Ecuador, saying it is so different from my country.”