Student View

(Feb. 6, 1997, Gazette)

Why international travel is awesome

Last year, in August, a biology course that normally includes a Newfoundland field trip sent students to Kenya, Africa. Once the eight Biology 4820 students had individual research projects in hand, they forged ahead with what would prove to be an inspiring experience.

Kelly Squires, who will soon graduate with a B.Sc. (honors) in biology, conducted a bird survey during the Kenyan excursion. During a recent chat in the Student Centre, Ms. Squires explained that travelling as part of a university program is an "excellent opportunity for a first-time traveller," and added, "it's the safest way to go."

Staying safe
Safety concerns on the Kenyan trip were closely tied to questions about mosquito bites, food and water. But thanks to trip organizers like biology professor Dr. David Larson, these details were covered well before students arrived at their Kenyan home, and no one had to learn about exotic illnesses the hard way. (Ms. Squires admitted she was the only student who had a bout with stomach trouble, but fortunately it only lasted a day).

While they were there they got the chance to study and work with several students from Moi University in Kenya. The accommodations set up for the group on a fairly isolated ranch on a rhinoceros reserve, as Ms. Squires explained, were pretty snazzy by village standards. The students' research projects were all different, and they each found their niche in some part of the Kenyan wilderness. The adventure was an appreciated challenge for a student like Ms. Squires who had longed for a chance to carry out field work with African birds. She said that the Kenyan trip reinforced her career aspirations.

Psychological analysis
According to Diane Kieley, who recently handed in a psychology honors thesis based on her analysis of the students' experiences, the biology department "couldn't have hand picked a better group." With much enthusiasm (due, in part, to the excellent grade she received for her work), she recalled how most of the participants' general comments were of the "Out of 10, I give an 11!" variety. She had formulated questions assessing the students' attitude changes and how they adjusted to a new culture, and essentially found that "they loved it: the scenery, the people. It was more than they anticipated."

Ms. Kieley also mentioned that while none of the students were politically active before going to Africa, they returned home with new interest in their government. The alarming poverty level and lack of health care encountered during their three-and-a-half week stay in Africa was a reality check.

But as Ms. Squires eagerly pointed out, "The Kenyan students are so much like us. They have the same concerns -- jobs, graduation, marriage, kids. You realize people are the same everywhere."

Fascination with exchange programs is taking on a life of its own these days at MUN. The university is seeking out more travel opportunities to enrich students' education. And in order to find out how international travel can affect students' lives, Business Administration's Centre for International Business Studies and Student Development's Higher Education Assessment and Research Unit are carrying out a study to find out what the effects are. By April we should have the results. If the results are overwhelmingly positive, perhaps we will have more options in the future if we plan on travelling on the way to a degree.

But Ms. Kieley, along with so many others involved with the African adventure, share the same, resounding answer to the question of whether university-related trips abroad are worth it: "If you can find a way, go. It'll change your life."

(To read more about students' international experiences, see this issue's feature, Around the World in Many Ways Part II.)

Kathleen Lippa is a fourth-year student from St. John's who is working on a double major in Russian and English. The budding journalist is the Gazette's new student correspondent.