New Summer Programs Show Benefits of Foreign Study

New Summer Programs Show Benefits of Foreign Study

By Sean Smith
Chronicle Editor

On one day last month, six Boston College graduate students and a faculty member traveled for nearly eight hours through the heat and rice paddies of rural Nepal, gaining a first-hand impression of that country's efforts to provide social services.

During the same week, thousands of miles away, 17 BC undergraduates were trekking around the tropical forests of Costa Rica, gaining insights into the issues of conservation, development and its impact on the local culture.

These forays were part of two new faculty-led summer programs offering students a way to enhance their education at Boston College and broaden their world views. Established through the University's Center for International Studies, the programs reflect BC's continuing strides in strengthening the international presence in its curriculum.

"Programs like those in Costa Rica and Nepal offer so much," said CIS Director Marian St. Onge. "They satisfy undergraduates' curricular requirements and offer an alternative for those students unable to travel abroad during the academic year.

"Summer programs also benefit faculty who want to add an international component to their teaching and research, or who want to complement coursework with field experience."

Assoc. Prof. Karen Kayser (GSSW) organized the Nepal trip, which grew out of a relationship between the Graduate School of Social Work and St. Xavier's College, a Jesuit school in Kathmandu with an undergraduate program in social work.

"Social work is a young vocation in Nepal," she said. "We thought it would be useful to see how those in the field are trained to meet social needs in an underdeveloped country."

Their nearly month-long stay in Nepal offered "a full menu of visits," Kayser said, including a home for women with AIDS, a residential program for the mentally ill and a school for retarded children.

Some social service organizations dealt with particularly controversial issues, she added, such as offering assistance for child laborers or aiding women who had been rescued from the notorious Far East sex-trafficking industry. Another focused on helping women in far-flung rural communities organize and learn to develop their own systems for obtaining services and other necessities for their families.

"What struck us was how so many of the programs used what might be called 'empowerment' or 'assertiveness training' in treating social problems," Kayser said. "Rather than just coming in and saying, 'You need to build a new road,' these social services organizations and initiatives concentrated more on having the people assess their own needs and then set about to meeting them."

St. Onge said the Nepal visit represents a longstanding aim of the University's international programs, establishing and maintaining ties with Jesuit institutions abroad. By contrast, she notes, the program in Costa Rica was a departure of sorts, since the affiliation was not with a college or university but the Monteverde Institute, a nonprofit educational association.

Under the direction of Prof. Marc Landy (Political Science), undergraduates majoring in such fields as political science, economics, psychology, biology and English, spent three weeks observing the progress of Costa Rica's attempts to balance conservation and agriculture.

"A major issue facing Costa Rica is land preservation, and approximately 15 percent of the country is under protection," Landy explained. "But the animals inhabiting these lands are migratory, and therefore do not stay in the preserves. The government therefore faced an additional dilemma: Creating a corridor between the protected areas on land that has to be economically sustainable.

"So the government has had to convince the campesinos that not only do they need to farm their lands in a more ecological manner, but that there is a market for this type of agriculture. It represents a more humane form of environmentalism, where you're not just saving animals and plants but enabling people to thrive."

Rising early in the morning for breakfasts of rice, beans, eggs and fruit, Landy and the students hiked or rode to research stations and project sites, interviewing both scientists and farmers. The students were assigned to make oral presentations and submit papers.

Landy found the Costa Rica trip bolstered not only his research interests, but has enhanced his teaching.

"The experience deepened my appreciation for the student body," said Landy, who hopes to expand the program into a semester-long study-abroad option. "As faculty, we get used to seeing them in the context of campus and classroom, but it was a revelation to watch these students apply themselves with such enthusiasm and curiosity."

 

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