MANKATO — Bill Mettee had missed out on organized study-abroad trips to places such as Hong Kong in the past.
So when the urban planning grad student learned of the May 8-23, 2012, trip to Guana, Africa, organized by the urban studies department at Minnesota State University, Mettee wasn’t going to miss another chance to see a different part of the world.
“I decided the next chance that I had to go on a trip, I was going to take it no matter what it was,” he said.
The experience proved invaluable, he said. In just two weeks Mettee did a research project that focused on coastal fishermen and inland cocoa farmers. But most of the value of the $4,375 trip came from “opening (his) eyes to the outside world,” including poverty and starvation, he said.
“But they’re all very happy. They don’t have many worries at all. Everyone is so friendly,” he said. “It was some of the best two weeks of my life.”
Caryn Lindsay, MSU director of international programs, said the university spent about $100,000 last year in an effort to have faculty members travel to partner universities. The goal was to build relationships that will evolve into things such as joint research projects and internships that will create more interest in studying abroad.
“We feel that if the faculty themselves are comfortable and familiar with both the environment and the counterpart professors at universities, they’re more likely to promote it to students,” Lindsay said.
With shorter, faculty-led study-abroad trips becoming more and more popular, the university’s efforts appear to be working.
For example, in partnership with HAN University of Applied Sciences, MSU sends between five and 10 students majoring in information systems, technical communication or graphic design to study abroad in the Netherlands.
Spring semester the students will have the opportunity to work on real-world advertising campaigns for companies in the Netherlands, while earning credit toward their degrees abroad. The students will join buro302, which is HAN’s student-run consulting firm that provides real-world multi-media marketing experience for students while they complete their degrees.
HAN also sends Dutch students to study at MSU in the business and sport management programs.
The nursing program at MSU has also been organizing trips to Africa. Recent graduates Heather Forbes and Kim Adams took a three-week life-changing trip to Ghana in spring 2011.
A professor in the department had developed a partnership with Kwame Nkrumah University Of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. As a result, Adams, Forbes and seven other students got to experience life in rural villages and hospitals.
Academically, they were charged with doing a community assessment, looking into what resources are available to the villages and how they’re utilized. The nursing slant came from examining the medical, spiritual and mental health needs of the villagers.
The trip cost about $3,500, and both women said the experience was worth every penny.
“It wasn’t just about nursing. I think with community health it’s more about seeing the broader picture, especially culturally,” Adams said.
For example, the Ghana people don’t cry out in pain or say “ouch,” they show pain by snapping their fingers, Forbes said. Also, in some hospitals, women in labor bring their own tarps to lay on to deliver their babies. Adams said she witnessed a couple such births.
Every night, the students were encouraged to take a step back and reflect on what they had learned.
“We are so electronically driven and so independent, and there they rely on each other so much, and everybody’s friends with everybody,” Adams said. “They sit and talk with each other and help each other out. If you’re from the same village or town, that’s your brother or sister.”