The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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A unique take on studying abroad

Apathy toward global issues critically affects college campuses across the nation. Since catalyzing civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960s, many college campuses have evolved into passive atmospheres where students are often unaware of important issues such as global poverty, climate change and globalization. Due to the complexity and scale of these problems, many students feel powerless to make a difference.

Students attempt to expand their understanding of global issues by studying abroad in developed countries while spending social time amongst fellow Americans. This all-too-common experience fails to deliver an understanding of the factors that result in poverty for almost half of the world’s population.

According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), the top five study abroad destinations last year were the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France and Australia. While learning in these angelic destinations is very appealing, it fails to actively engage students where their passion and energy is needed most. This perpetuation of Western nations sharing knowledge, resources, and privilege does little for the one billion people who cannot read or write. Without students seeing the reality of the developing world, is there any wonder why they suffer from apathy?

Fortunately, an increasing number of universities are working to tackle global poverty by sending students abroad to intern and volunteer with underserved communities. The recently opened Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California at Berkeley is one example of a prominent school using faculty, students and immense resources to implement projects in developing countries. It joins a growing list of schools like Stanford, Northwestern, Princeton, Notre Dame and many others that are shifting their students away from traditional study-abroad programs and toward active engagement in the developing world.

“Colleges are slowly responding to a growing number of students who want the resume builders and skills needed to enter a very competitive job market. If one expects to work in a global profession like international development, they must have active experience abroad. Study abroad doesn’t deliver enough experience,” says Alex Michel, Outreach Director of the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD). FSD provides students with hands-on training and project implementation with almost 200 grassroots development organizations in Latin America, East Africa and India.

Participants of their programs often gain college credit for their internships, but most importantly, they gain experience and the relationships that allow for entry into a challenging career field. Their internship program involves students and professionals being trained and given the opportunity to collaboratively design and implement projects that are funded directly by FSD. Fundamental to FSD’s development philosophy is intense cultural immersion and ensuring that all funded projects respond to community needs and avoid imposing Western ideals on developing communities.

Success stories of FSD’s internship program are impressive. A student from Princeton University who interned in Uganda in 2005 recently won a $25,000 fellowship to continue her library project at a rural primary school. Another student, after completing an FSD internship in Peru, received a full-tuition scholarship to the NYU School of Law. The scholarship is awarded to students who show an active commitment to public interest. While completing a Master’s degree in social work, another student expanded on her FSD internship in Kenya to create her own international non-profit organization, called Projects of Hope. The organization supports education and health programs for children affected by HIV/AIDS.

In 2007, FSD has already received a 400-percent increase in applications for its internship programs. Most applications come from students who, without university help, looked past study abroad options to find hands-on development experience. These students yearn to make a difference where it is critically needed, and FSD is one of the very few organizations that go beyond international volunteerism to offer comprehensive development training and work experience. If the trend continues and interest in global poverty by students and universities catches fire, we may see the mobilization of incalculable resources to developing countries, along with a return to a golden era of campus life – a time when students responded to world events by demanding change.

About the writer:

Josh Schellenberg is public relations coordinator for FSD in San Francisco. He studied abroad twice in Europe, but would have chosen differently had he known about FSD’s programs. He can be reached at [email protected].

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