From China to Tanzania, students explore cultures around the world in quest for global citizenship

Jan. 14, 2008

Life-changing. Transformative. Inspiring. These are the dramatic descriptions that often excitedly tumble forth when students return from study abroad, says Dr. Terri Givens, vice provost and associate professor of government, who oversees the university’s International Office. And for most students, the hyperbole matches reality.

“Study abroad is not just a stamp in a passport, but an unforgettable learning experience that pays dividends long after college ends,” Givens says. “It has an impact that is unique to each student, depending on their goals and interests, and I never grow tired of hearing about each student’s personal journey.”

In an era of globalization, study abroad is no longer optional. International experience and language skills are increasingly valuable to employers in the global economy. In response, American students are studying abroad in growing numbers.

Terri Givens
Dr. Terri Givens, vice provost and associate professor of government, leads the university’s International Office.

During the past decade, the number of U.S. students studying abroad each year has increased by more than 150 percent, according to the Institute for International Education’s 2007 “Open Doors” report and The University of Texas at Austin is among the leaders of this national trend. The university ranks third in the nation among top research institutions sending students abroad, dispatching 2,245 students overseas during the 2005-06 academic year.

“Students graduating today realize there’s a high probability that during their career they’re going to be working with people from other cultures,” Givens says. “It’s critical they develop cultural sensitivity if they want to be competitive in the global job market.”

Givens fondly remembers her first venture overseas as an undergraduate at Stanford University. She enrolled in an immersion program in Tours, France. Today, Givens speaks both French and German proficiently and has traveled to Europe many times as a scholar of European politics and former director of the university’s Center for European Studies.

“It’s a cliché, but the key benefit of study abroad is that it opens up your world,” Givens says. “It also teaches you about what it means to be an American. It gives you the opportunity to learn about your own culture through another’s eyes. The challenge is that when you walk into a room overseas, you are perceived as ‘The American.’ You’re the 800-pound gorilla in the room and you’re often called upon to represent your country to a hostile audience.”

That challenge can be daunting for many students. However, in today’s international environment students can’t afford not to study abroad asserts Natalie Bartush, interim director of the Center for Global Educational Opportunities at the university.

Study Abroad and Identity Change

Sarah Angulo, a Ph.D. candidate in the social psychology program at The University of Texas at Austin, researches identity change during study abroad. Preliminary results from her dissertation research reveal 84 percent of students report they are a “different person” after a semester abroad. Learn more about her investigation, “Antecedents and Consequences of Identity Change in Students Who Study Abroad,” supervised by Psychology Professor William Swann.

“Years of working with students has shown that those who study abroad are more creative, they’re better problem solvers, and they have a stronger sense of self-sufficiency and independence,” Bartush explains. “Study abroad experience on your resumé tells a future employer that you know how to take initiative. That you’re interested in other cultures. That you can be flexible in the face of ambiguity. These are qualities that can really set students apart from other candidates.”

Europe continues to be the primary draw for American students, with the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and France ranked as the four most popular destinations. However, students are increasingly looking beyond these perennial favorites, in part motivated by the weak American currency.

Much of the expansion is taking place in non-traditional destinations such as Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Bartush explains. For example, the number of students from the university studying in China grew by 103 percent during the 2005-06 academic year.

The university also is reaching out to underrepresented groups who historically have not studied abroad, Givens says. Minority student participation in Maymester Abroad programs, four-week courses taught by University of Texas at Austin professors for in-residence credit, is increasing, especially when a course is led by a minority faculty member.

aBroadly Speaking, student study abroad magazine
Student magazine aBroadly Speaking highlights the diversity of students who participate in global education programs. Check out the aBroadly Speaking video to learn more. [Download QuickTime Player.] C-GEO also sponsors official student blogs where students write about their adventures abroad in real time.

Students often cite two perceived obstacles to participating in study abroad: it’s too expensive and it will affect their ability to graduate on time. These hurdles are surmountable as long as students start planning early, Bartush says.

“The ideal time for students to start thinking about study abroad is the spring semester of their freshman year,” Bartush says. “That’s when students should set up an appointment with an adviser to talk about their options. We take a holistic approach to helping students fit overseas study into their degree plans.”

As for the financial burden, Bartush says many students don’t realize the university offers nearly 200 exchange programs where students pay University of Texas at Austin tuition rates and retain all their eligibility for financial aid. Maymesters also offer a less expensive option for students who aren’t ready to commit to a semester or year abroad.

However, Bartush warns that study abroad in many far-flung locales isn’t for the faint of heart. It often can be a challenging experience that forces students outside their comfort zone.

“Our culture values things that are easy, fast and comfortable, and study abroad is the exact opposite,” Bartush says. “Aspects of it are often uncomfortable and hard. But that’s when the real personal growth and learning happens.”

Ready to learn more about students who have traveled far and wide in their quest for global citizenship? You won’t need your passport for this jaunt around the globe. Explore Argentina, China, the Czech Republic, Israel, Japan, Mexico and Tanzania through the eyes of seven students who made 2007 the year of study abroad.

Loans that Change Lives

Student: Anjali Mohan

Major:
Plan II/Government/Economics

Destination:
Córdoba, Argentina

Program:
Internship at Banco de la Mujer (“Women’s Bank”)

Imagine trying to live your life without credit cards or loans. Credit enables people to buy a car, or pay college tuition, and many people rely on credit cards to cover bills when times are tough.

Anjali Mohan
Anjali Mohan meets Maria Cassandra, microlending client and owner of a dispensería, a small neighborhood grocery store, outside of Córdoba, Argentina.

But what if you didn’t have access to credit? That’s the reality for the world’s poorest citizens, explains Anjali Mohan, a senior Plan II, government and economics major in the College of Liberal Arts who interned at Banco de la Mujer (“Women’s Bank”) in Córdoba, Argentina last summer.

Banco de la Mujer offered me the opportunity to help women expand their market power in Argentina, a country that is still recovering from a devastating economic crisis,” Mohan says. “It’s the entrepreneurs in the informal sector that are helping to revitalize the economy.”

As a non-profit, microfinance organization, Banco de la Mujer provides small loans to the poor without requiring collateral. Loans typically range from $50 to $250 and are payable in three to six months. The majority of borrowers are women who use the funds for small businesses and to improve their family’s standard of living.

Mohan was responsible for financial analysis and reporting, and she learned about the entire microfinance process, from evaluating loan applicants and guarantors to establishing repayment schedules and appraising businesses’ viability. During her internship, she also traveled to rural areas with the bank’s credit officers to meet one-on-one with some of the entrepreneurs.

“I was impressed by their business savvy,” Mohan says. “I met one woman who was living with her family in a very humble situation: a one-room cinderblock home with a dirt floor. But once a month she would travel to Buenos Aires to buy the latest fashions and come back to her hometown and sell them at marked-up prices. She knew what she needed to do to make a profit. Despite her husband’s doubts, the microcredit program enabled her to increase her inventory capacity and expand her business.”

Mohan says the most challenging aspect of the internship was the language barrier.

“I learned how to use financial reporting software in Spanish and technical banking terms that I had never been taught in Spanish class,” Mohan says. “At first it was a little overwhelming, but after a few weeks I found my footing and became more comfortable.”

Ultimately, Mohan says the experience changed the way she views poverty in the United States.

“Microcredit is an economic solution that transcends borders,” Mohan says. “After witnessing Banco de la Mujer’s success in Argentina, I’m looking at ways we can bolster the informal business sector and help people climb out of poverty here at home.”

By Jennifer McAndrew
College of Liberal Arts

Business Goes Global

Student: Gene Huang

Major:
Supply Chain Management (Business)

Destination:
Shanghai, China

Program:
Semester at Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Gene Huang had read his textbooks. He had done his homework. So by the end of his junior year, he was ready to see firsthand what was happening in the Chinese business world.

Gene Huang
Gene Huang dangles off the south peak of Mount Hua Shan in the Shaanxi province of China. Nearly 7,000 feet above sea level, intrepid climbers are harnessed to the cliff wall in order to safely navigate the wooden path that leads to a Taoist temple. The sign reads, “long plank in the sky.”

As a supply chain management major in the Engineering Route to Business program at the McCombs School of Business and a native speaker of Mandarin Chinese, Huang knew the program at Shanghai Jiao Tong University would be a perfect fit for his skills and interests.

“With all the factories and suppliers going over to China,” he says, “I thought it would be interesting for me to go and see what is really going on because that is where my future will be.”

During his six months overseas, Huang challenged himself by taking six courses, some taught in English and others taught in Chinese. One course that amplified his business acumen was “Cross-Cultural Management,” which focused on how Chinese history, culture and business habits influence business management in the country.

“In America, we value quality and merit,” Huang says. “In China, they value connections, so it’s a completely different business world. It’s a cultural difference we need to understand in order to be good managers there.”

In class, students read the works of Chinese writers and philosophers, including Confucius.

“These writings affect the way the Chinese practice life, the way they handle themselves in daily business,” Huang says.

Huang also acclimated to the culture by speaking only Mandarin Chinese during his visit. He recalls that knowing a Chinese dialect was particularly beneficial as he explored the country by train with several international classmates. While in Beijing, Huang noticed rapid changes as the city prepares for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

“We saw the Great Wall outside Beijing, and there was a huge sign next to it that said, ‘2008 Olympics.’ I thought it was interesting that a huge modern sign would be right next to the Great Wall,” he says.

However, the disparity between the rich and poor is what surprised Huang the most.

“A small concentration of people owns the majority of the wealth around town, while others barely make enough money to survive,” he says. “One minute you can be surrounded by high-rise buildings and mansions, but if you drive five minutes, people are living in shacks and hanging out on the streets. It’s a growing problem.”

While Huang may not return to China in time for the Olympics this year, he hopes eventually to secure a job there that will combine his knowledge about the United States and Chinese business environments.

“I know that I can help bridge the gap between Eastern and Western culture,” he says. “Those six months confirmed that I want to work at the international level.”

By Ashley Warren
McCombs School of Business

Seeing the World Through a Different Lens

Name: Cristina Salinas

Major:
Radio-TV-Film

Destination:
Prague, Czech Republic

Program:
Film, Photography and Art Program in Prague

Moving to Austin to attend The University of Texas was a big step for a girl from the tiny border town of Roma, Texas. But, after three years living in one of the top technology, music, film and literary creative centers in the United States, Cristina Salinas, a senior radio-TV-film student studying narrative filmmaking in the College of Communication, set her sights far from campus.

Cristina Salinas
Cristina Salinas

For six weeks in summer 2007, Salinas lived and studied in Prague, Czech Republic where she honed her filmmaking skills in the art of documentary.

“While I didn’t have a strong interest in documentary when I enrolled in the Prague program,” she says, “there were other aspects of it that were appealing, including the fact that there’s a vibrant film community in Prague and it was a six-week program, which made it affordable and didn’t keep me away from home for too long.”

In the class, “Prague Stories: Intro to Digital Documentary,” Salinas was assigned to create two short documentary films to be screened in a public venue at the end of the program.

For her first assignment, she was charged with finding a story at one of the city’s ubiquitous tram stops. The result is “Flora: Conversation with a Stranger.” Filmed at the Flora tram stop, this four-minute documentary features a Prague woman visiting a cemetery and reflecting on the paradoxes of life and Prague.

Her second film, “Ivana Lomova: Muzi a zeny” (Men and Women), is a five-minute documentary about Czech artist Ivana Lomová’s feminist series, which examines gender roles in art and makes men the scantily clad subjects of paintings.

“Here in Austin it’s easy to become discouraged in a class with 300 other students who are competing to get into the filmmaking industry,” Salinas says. “In Prague there were 16 students in the program and only six of us in the documentary filmmaking class, so we had constant contact with the professor and teaching assistants.”

Immersed in a city in which sculpture, art and music are an integral part of the landscape, Salinas began to appreciate filmmaking as an art form and not just a career. She is incorporating more documentary courses into her schedule and she’s considering the possibility of graduate school.

While in Prague, Salinas also developed an appreciation for the Czech language. She’s now taking Czech classes and is considering adding it as a second major.

“Before my experience in Prague,” Salinas says, “I was afraid of doing things on my own in a different place. By the end of the program, I became independent, making friends with locals and taking trips outside the city on my own. The experience helped me figure out who I really am instead of what people expect me to be.”

By Erin Geisler
College of Communication

Dateline: Jerusalem

Student: Ilana Diamond

Major:
Middle Eastern Studies/Journalism

Destination:
Jerusalem, Israel

Program:
Internship at The Jerusalem Post

U.S. State Department travel warnings didn’t faze Middle Eastern studies major Ilana Diamond from pursuing her dream internship: a reporting gig at The Jerusalem Post aided by the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Ilana Diamond
Ilana Diamond

During the summer of 2007, the 19-year-old sophomore covered entertainment news, culture and politics for Israel’s top English-language daily newspaper.

“I hadn’t taken any journalism writing classes prior to my internship, but news editor Amir Mizroch took me under his wing and helped me get up to speed,” Diamond says.

Diamond published 15 stories under her byline, including a cover page feature, “Zip to east J’lem to get latest Harry Potter,” on the July 21 release of the final book in J.K. Rowling’s popular series.

“Because the book’s release date fell on shabbat, Judaism’s weekly day of rest, all the Jerusalem bookstores were closed,” Diamond explains. “The labor minister threatened to fine any store in the country that planned to sell ‘The Deathly Hallows’ on the holy day, because technically it’s illegal.”

The only place in Jerusalem where the Harry Potter book was available was the Muslim-owned bookstore, Educational Books. Diamond crossed the cultural divide and traveled to East Jerusalem to interview the owner.

Another of Diamond’s favorite stories was a July piece, “Mac, meet Israel,” where she investigated why technical support for Apple computers is sparse in Israel.

“A lot of people have Apple products in Israel, but it is almost impossible to find someone who can fix a broken iPod or MacBook,” Diamond says. “A few companies, such as Double You and Yeda have been working with Apple to make its products and tech support more accessible in Israel, but progress is slow.”

When she wasn’t reporting for The Jerusalem Post, Diamond traveled to historic sites and went on educational excursions with fellow participants in the Jewish Agency’s professional internship program.

According to Diamond, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rarely touched her daily life. Her advice to students considering study abroad opportunities in the Middle East is: go for it.

“The media sensationalizes the conflict and what you see on television isn’t the everyday reality,” she says. “My internship experience solidified my goal to work in the field of international journalism. I can’t wait to go back.”

By Jennifer McAndrew
College of Liberal Arts

Meditating on Fitness

Student: Adriana N. Rodriguez

Major:
Kinesiology

Destination:
Osaka and Nagoya, Japan

Program:
Introduction to Japanese Sports Medicine Techniques, Oklahoma State University

Mexico and Japan are more than 5,000 miles apart, but for Adriana N. Rodriguez both feel like a spiritual home. As part of her education in athletic training, Rodriguez traveled to Japan last year to learn about holistic approaches to health and fitness.

Adriana N. Rodriguez
Adriana N. Rodriguez

Having grown up in Mexico surrounded by family members who are alternative medicine practitioners, Rodriguez was drawn to Eastern culture and its respect for what Westerners might consider non-traditional avenues to wellness.

“I have a great deal of interest in what is basic and fundamental,” Rodriguez says. “In Japan, they strip training down to the most elemental and hands-on approach. They don’t have the strong focus on weights and exercise machines that we have here, for example. They spend a lot of time on yoga, meditation and simple—but at the same time very difficult—exercises that strengthen the body’s core.

“While we were in Japan, we learned how to do acupuncture, took classes in somatic-tao, did yoga and learned a series of exercises that emphasize balance and posture. I plan to incorporate several of these techniques after I graduate and am working in the health care profession.”

For Rodriguez the trip to Japan was both the scariest and most rewarding adventure she has ever experienced. Starting with a missed flight from San Francisco to Osaka, Rodriguez began what could be termed a quick education in worldliness and the value of sign language.

Although she didn’t know a word of Japanese, Rodriguez nevertheless managed to reach Osaka, via Tokyo, and reconnect with the rest of her group, as well as make many new Japanese friends.

“I was so impressed with the discipline, intelligence and friendliness of the Japanese students,” Rodriguez says. “This was my first exposure to a different culture, and I had been afraid about being so far from home, not knowing the language and maybe even being unpopular as an American. Everything was wonderful, though, and they made us feel completely welcome. Most of us left with a great appreciation for ‘core’ techniques.”

In addition to takings classes in anatomy, biology and rehabilitation, Rodriguez spends about 25 hours a week working with Longhorn football players. She is responsible for their physical rehabilitation in the mornings and then treating their aches and pains after practice. During football season, she travels with the team every other weekend.

“It’s a tremendous responsibility,” Rodriguez says, “and completing the required fieldwork isn’t easy. Thank goodness I’ve learned some meditation techniques that allow me to step away from the stress for a moment and experience peace and calm. That’s a gift I received from my family in Mexico and my friends in Japan.”

By Kay Randall
College of Education

Learning Medicine in Mexico

Student: Trevor Johnson

Major:
Biology

Destination:
Guadalajara, Mexico

Program:
Healthcare in Mexico program

After five semesters of Spanish classes, and shadowing surgeons at Brackenridge Hospital, the next logical step for Trevor Johnson, a senior biology major in the College of Natural Sciences was to find a way to combine his two passions. He did so through the nine-week “Healthcare in Mexico” study abroad program, which combines Spanish language instruction with experience in a big public hospital in Guadalajara.

Trevor Johnson
Trevor Johnson poses for a photo in Guanajuato, Mexico, a small town a few hours away from Guadalajara known for its colonial architecture.

“This program had everything I was looking for,” says Johnson, who’s in the process of applying to medical schools for next year. “My Spanish improved, I had the opportunity to live with a host family, and I was able to spend a lot of time working directly with patients and their families.”

Johnson, who joined the program with eight other students from the university, spent the first five weeks of the program taking Spanish classes for non-native speakers at the University of Guadalajara. The next four weeks were devoted to an observational internship in the pediatrics ward at the teaching hospital affiliated with the university.

“I chose to work in the pediatric outpatient area, where I could listen and talk to patients and their parents,” Johnson says. “I checked patient’s heartbeats, ears, eyes, throats, and I looked at X-rays. Dr. Cecilia Aguirre, who coordinated the internship program, ran a class for us once a week where we learned Spanish medical terminology.”

In addition to his work at the hospital, Johnson had time to experience the city and the culture. He took salsa lessons, played soccer, went out dancing with fellow American students and Mexican medical students he befriended at the hospital, and enjoyed the Mexican cuisine.

“Our house mother would use really interesting vegetables, like cactus plants,” Johnson says. “Or fry up poblanos and put them in amazing sauces, or do enchiladas with mole sauce. It was great!”

Johnson’s experience in the program is typical, says Jerry Brand, a biology professor who runs the program with fellow biology Professor Jeanne Lagowski.

“Not all of our students become more excited about medical school,” Brand says, “but they do become more clear about what they want to do, and every one of them has come away saying it’s been a great experience.”

By Daniel Oppenheimer
College of Natural Sciences

Fighting AIDS in Africa

Student: Tammy Kantor

Major:
Graduate program in Social Work

Destination:
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Program:
Internship at WAMATA (Swahili acronym for “People in the Fight Against AIDS”)

Tammy Kantor, who grew up in Israel and Texas and then traveled to Tanzania to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS—while learning Swahili—believes the world is indeed a village. The social work graduate student says her multi-cultural background has afforded her a unique awareness and sensitivity to various cultural and social issues within different societies.

Tammy Kantor
Tammy Kantor connects with social work students from the University of Dar es Salaam during her internship with the WAMATA AIDS support group in Tanzania.

“We live in a global village, and it’s important for people to tolerate and accept cultural differences,” says Kantor, who worked in Tanzania for WAMATA, an organization providing services for people with HIV/AIDS. “Social workers especially need to provide culturally sensitive services to unique and diverse populations.”

Kantor traveled to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for her master’s program field internship. Her efforts with WAMATA (a Swahili acronym for People in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS) included education and prevention, counseling, home-based care for people living with HIV/AIDS, clinical care and work with AIDS orphans.

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Tanzania has a devastating impact on the children and youth,” Kantor says. “Many are orphans or lack familial and social support systems so it’s important that they meet people their own age from similar backgrounds and life circumstances.”

She also brought her guitar to the African country and volunteered for a group called the Tanzania House of Talents. The organization helps children and adolescents develop their musical and fine arts talents, and then use these skills to find employment in the art community.

“I was able to use my musical skills to help kids write songs and develop social skills,” Kantor says. “Music and singing is huge in Tanzania because many learn to sing in church at an early age. Music is a universal language and through it I was able to connect with young people.”

Kantor helped a girls empowerment group focused on increasing self-esteem, assertiveness and knowledge about HIV/AIDS and the consequences of risky sexual behaviors. Gender norms contribute greatly to Tanzania’s social problems, including HIV/AIDS and poverty, she says.

“Although there are emerging women’s empowerment movements and organizations, women are still encouraged to be submissive,” Kantor says. “Because of economic dependence, many young women are engaging in behaviors that put them at risk for HIV/AIDS.”

Ultimately, Kantor says practicing social work in the Tanzanian culture was a powerful experience.

“Observing different cultural attitudes and beliefs towards human behavior has increased my self-awareness of my own values and beliefs,” Kantor says. “And, it helped me to grow on both a personal and professional level.”

By Nancy Neff
School of Social Work

By Jennifer McAndrew

Photo of Dr. Givens: Marsha Miller

Photos of Cristina Salinas, Ilana Diamond
and Adriana N. Rodriguez: Christina Murrey