Faculty, students explore cultures through first-hand experiences
Kyra VandeBunte left her comfort zone home, familiar language and sanitation all for a summer global experience in Tanzania.
The visit, part of the University's Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates (GIEU) program, required VandeBunte to live in homes without electricity or running water. She communicated with her host families by using non-verbal gestures and limited Swahili. And she helped build a small Maasai home using dry cow dung.
"I overcame my hang-ups about the dung's smell and sanitation, and I dug in, literally," says VandeBunte, a junior organizational studies major. "The experience with the Maasai was the most memorable because I saw how people from another culture lived," she says of working with members of the nomadic ethnic group that lives in Kenya and Tanzania.
Since its inception in 2002, GIEU has offered many students and faculty intercultural experiences for three- and four-week study at field sites worldwide. Jimmy Tomczak, a junior neuroscience major, likes the short-term opportunities.
"GIEU offers study, work, volunteer and adventure abroad opportunities during a shorter period than traditional international experiences requiring students to study for an entire semester," says Tomczak, who visited Costa Rica.
GIEU director A.T. Miller says program participants incorporate their experiences into classes, programs and activities.
"GIEU makes the sense of being a global university real for students and instructors who then go on to bring that reality to others they encounter on campus," Miller says.
Kathleen Sienko, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, led a four-week Ghana trip in May involving clinical observations in obstetrics and gynecology. The group's ideas for medical equipment and technology will form the basis for global health design projects.
"I chose Ghana for a field site because it is a politically stable English-speaking country with which the University of Michigan has had a long-standing relationship," Sienko says. "Additionally, with U-M President Mary Sue Coleman's trip to Ghana in February 2008, there was likely to be further collaboration with Ghana in the near future."
The GIEU program fee is $2,400 (which does not include travel costs), but all students who receive financial aid get a $1,000 scholarship. In addition, every student is eligible for a no-interest loan to cover $1,400. The Field Experience is a paid internship where students earn an amount that could cover this loan.
Students do not apply to a particular site but rather to GIEU as a whole. U officials match faculty members with students, who usually get their first or second preference for location, Miller says.
This year's 12 sites included Brazil, India, Italy and Vietnam, as well as domestic locations like Detroit and New Orleans.
Robin Wilson, an associate professor of dance, says her 10 students helped New Orleans residents, especially artists and musicians, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina's devastation. Some students, like Bianca Renae Lee, held art workshops for children.
Lee describes her experience as "life changing," as she saw how the city's children persevered. "I also learned that they are more resilient, artistic and welcoming than I had expected," says Lee, a double major in psychology and theatre.
One new program addition involved student fellows, experienced GIEU scholars who accompany faculty members on the field site.
"I had a fabulous time during my previous year, and I felt a strong connection with Costa Rica and the relationships that my group built," says student fellow Rachel Lauderdale, a senior majoring in sociology and political science.
Roberto Jimenez, a sophomore business major, says he also had terrific but painful experience in Costa Rica. A scorpion stung him in a sleeping bag.
"Other than the sting and a painful few hours, I wouldn't trade this cultural experience for anything," says Jimenez, who suffered a swollen right ring finger.
Proposals for GIEU are due Oct. 1. Interested faculty who would like to suggest projects for summer of 2009 should contact Miller. The 2009 sites will be selected by Oct. 15. Student applications are due Nov. 6.
Students who participated in U-M's Global Intercultural Experience for Undergraduates GIEU will discuss their summer field experiences during its Symposium today (Sept. 22) in the Michigan Union Ballroom. The event, from 4 -6 p.m., is free and open to the public.