The University Record, April 22, 1997

University a national leader in
work abroad programs

By Carlean Ponder
News and Information Services

When graduate student Tanus Saad first stepped off the plane in Brazil, the volunteer mission that took him there was the farthest thing from his mind.

"The first thing I felt was insecurity," Saad says. "We were afraid and stayed in the airport for nearly six hours until we decided to go to the city."

The original adventurous spirit and goodwill that sent Saad to Casa Serena, a home for Brazilian street children, finally prevailed and gave him a most memorable experience.

For decades the U-M has successfully catapulted eager students into faraway lands with intriguing cultures. While study-abroad programs have traditionally been popular at the U-M, students are discovering some of the most exciting and interesting experiences of their lifetimes by working abroad.

"Problems, people and stories become real, and you start realizing that images and news are real. That's what volunteer experience gives you. This type of thing doesn't happen when you travel like a tourist because then you're with people like yourself," Saad says. He now assists other students with their international plans as a peer adviser for the International Center's Overseas Opportunities Office.

The Center received the 1996 Council on International Educational Exchange award for having the highest number of students participating in its work-exchange programs, the largest student exchange program in the world. It is the fourth time in the last six years that U-M has won this award. The U-M also leads in the number of students participating in internship programs of the U.S. State Department and International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience.

"Our office is an information clearing house," says William Nolting, director of overseas opportunities. "We assist students who want to study abroad through referrals to U-M's study abroad offices. We also fulfill the needs of students who can't afford study programs or who specifically want to go abroad to work or volunteer."

Approximately 30 peer advisers, undergraduate students and graduate students with a wide range of international experience volunteer at the Center to provide individual advising and informational programs. Peer adviser Rosetta Mitchell organizes panel presentations by students of color with overseas experience who share their knowledge with other students.

"These panels prepare students for circumstances they may face as an American of color abroad, such as culture shock, while also demonstrating the educational and career benefits of an overseas experience," Mitchell says. Two panelists who previously worked in Africa shared their self-realizations of the culture gap between Africans and African Americans and the unexpected perceptions of themselves as just Americans, rather than Americans with African ancestry.

"Many students of color have misperceptions of going abroad as well as fears," Mitchell says.

Issues faced by women abroad is the topic of presentations and student essays organized by former staff member Susan Gass.

"I would like women to leave the panel discussion thinking about how the fact that they are women will impact their experience in terms of harassment, dealing with sexist attitudes and positive experiences," Gass says.

"The panels give women a chance to discuss issues they might not otherwise consider such as safety and health care.

"When students go abroad, many of them find this a liberating time, a time in which they can explore being a different kind of person," Gass adds. "Students may take more risks abroad than they would at home."


Peace Corps an option too
Students interested in volunteering as teachers, public health professionals or environmental workers may find what they're looking for in the International Center's Peace Corps office. The Peace Corps has been a Michigan tradition since John F. Kennedy first proposed the idea on the steps of the Michigan Union in 1960. The National Peace Corps office ranks the U-M fourth in the nation of the number of Peace Corps volunteers currently overseas.

Resources available in the Overseas Opportunities Office include student reports on work and study abroad experiences, videotaped presentations, and weekly e-mail announcements. The Center has an extensive library on working and studying abroad, scholarships, and international careers.