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ISSUE 116 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/21/2003

Snapshots of cultural experiences: Students reflect on Interim and talk about what they’'ve learned

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 21, 2003

For Megan Gregory ‘'04, traveling to Ecuador over Interim taught her more about tropical ecosystems and socioeconomic issues in developing countries than can be found anywhere within a science book.

This experience, she said, not only introduced her to the unique flora and fauna of places such as the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest, but the study travel also helped her develop a greater sensitivity to other cultures.

"I think that studying abroad can help make students aware of our citizenship in the global community and the responsibilities we have to people in other countries," said Gregory. "As members of one of the most prosperous countries in the world, I believe that we have a moral obligation to advocate for environmental conservation, social justice, and peace."

"The course, entitled “Equatorial Biology,” was one of many programs offered this January to provide on-site cultural benefits that are equally as strong as the academic component," Pat Quade, director of international and off-campus studies, said.

In addition to Ecuador, students traveled to other locations as diverse as Bangladesh, the Bahamas, Russia, Budapest and to domestic cities such as Manhattan, Minneapolis and even Atlanta, Ga. to study cardiac research and surgery at Emory University.

More St. Olaf students chose to study abroad this Interim than any previous year. Interim allows students to test the waters of abroad programs while completing unique coursework. Though Quade believes the Interim courses do not provide the same experience as the lengthier semester and yearlong programs, he said they are valuable because they introduce students to study travel.

"We like to see Interims as a feeder to get students excited to come back to take more [international and off-campus classes]," he said.

One new domestic course focusing on cultural diversity is “Liberation Theologies” taught by Phil Stoltzfus, assistant professor of religion. Students studied issues of race, gender and class by visiting individuals in a Latin American community as well as poor sections of Minneapolis.

"We were located only 45 minutes away from campus and it was like living in a foreign country," Stoltzfus said. "Lake Street had the look and feel of Latin America. It's surprising, but [visiting certain areas of Minneapolis] can also be a culture shock; so can returning to campus."

Chemistry major Laura Uridil ‘'03 conducted independent research in Bangladesh on women's involvement in agriculture, specifically on the role they play in processing rice after a harvest.

"For me it was an intense experience," Uridil said. "I didn't expect the culture shock to be so radical."

As Uridil and her peers initially stepped into the Bangladesh airport, she said she was confronted with a mob pushing forward to get through immigration, unlike orderly lines in the United States. "The people," she said, "have not been exposed to American culture because the country is not industrialized."

"Anywhere we went we caused a raucous because they had never seen us before," Uridil said. "We were more exotic to them than they were to us." Ultimately, Uridil said the travel was fascinating to her, especially because it allowed her to experience a different culture.

"I had some reservations because it's easy to compartmentalize their lives; we went on a trip and saw poor people who live in gutters and then we came home to lavish hotels, cars, and our own beds," Uridil said. "I am glad I had the experience, though, because I was completely out of my element. It was hard, but now I value it."

Political science and Russian major Christopher Messinger '’05 traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg as part of the class, ‘The Capitals in Russian Literature.’

"I enjoyed the chance to read the literature and apply my knowledge of the city through the literature when I went on tours of palaces or just strolled around the city for fun," Messinger said.

Messinger and his peers also took a private tour of Russia's largest and foremost studio, Mosfilm, in Moscow, even seeing two Oscar statues for international Russian films. "The sheer immensity and awe of the studio was exhilarating," said Messinger.

“Theater in London” provided English and theatre major Anna Sundberg '‘05 the opportunity to see an abundance of plays in a short period of time. Some students may be overwhelmed at the thought of seeing nearly 30 performances in 30 days. Sundberg said, however, that the influx of plays was not saturating but rather a confirmation of her desire to major in theatre.

"Even though we saw so many plays, they do not blur together in my memory," she said. "I remember each individual play vividly because they were all so good in their own ways and so different."

Sundberg said her experience in London was rewarding because she developed deeper friendships with her peers.

"Gary [Gisselman] and all the students on the trip have such varied and distinct personalities that it made for a colorful and truly unique group of people," she said.

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