Undergraduates in Africa, around world
Renee Pitter and a U-M classmate were several days into a HIV education session in Johannesburg, South Africa, when they got to the part of their program that emphasized faithfulness.
That's when a woman in their group put the lesson into sharp perspective.
"She told us about the day when she finally told her husband he couldn't beat her anymore," Pitter says.
"There are so many things I can only read about in a book that other people learn because they live them. There's this divide between the educated and the uneducated, but just because you learn it in a university doesn't mean it's worth more."
Pitter's experience was part of a Global Intercultural Exchange for Undergraduates (GIEU) trip, a program affiliated with the National Center for Institutional Diversity that immerses small groups of U-M students from a wide range of disciplines in month-long cultural experiences around the world, from Ghana to India to inner-city Detroit.
International programs like GIEU, launched in 2002, are not one-way. Back on campus, the ripple continues.
"These experiences are huge," Pitter says. "You need to have a perspective from somebody else and to be in a situation that's different from your own a situation that might be a little uncomfortable."
Every GIEU project provides a service of some kind that creates goodwill and good connections for U-M. Projects in South Africa and Ghana are among many programs that have paved the way for a visit now in progress by a U-M delegation that includes President Mary Sue Coleman. But the GIEU program itself teaches intercultural skills, says A.T. Miller, coordinator of multicultural teaching and director of GIEU.
"We want our faculty to learn how to teach this way and manage a broad range of students," Miller says. "We also emphasize having a very diverse group of students doing the projects, so they're getting intercultural skills with each other as well the folks in the field."
Pitter, now a graduate student in the School of Public Health, was interested in law before she took her first GIEU trip in 2005 to Jamaica to teach others about HIV awareness.
"It's when you realize, 'Wait, I can do this,' and that light bulb goes off." Pitter says. "Everything that you do starts with the attitude that you can do it."