Going global without leaving campus

Mike Klarin

From Nov. 10 – 18, Northern Michigan University students will have the opportunity to expand their knowledge of world culture,  travel to a distant mountain top in Colombia, discuss the plight of impure water in Haiti and learn what it takes to get rich in South Korea during International Education Week, sponsored by the International Programs Department.

re-Courtesy Amanda Kucharek

Kevin Timlin, director of international programs at NMU, said many universities choose to participate in different ways. This year’s lecture format will be a first for NMU, designed to highlight the contributions that international students make in the community.

“Some of our students have never met people from other countries,” Timlin said. “With our international students, we expect them to be proactive about sharing their culture, their history and their knowledge with the community.”

International Education Week began as a joint effort 15 years ago between the U.S. Departments of State and Education, as a way to promote the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide by exposing students to a global perspective of theories in economics, science, education and culture that may differ from their own.

Among those scheduled for the week are NMU economics professor Tawni Ferrarini, presenting a lecture on South Korean economics, as well as Pakistani exchange student Varda Zafar, who will discuss wedding traditions in Pakistan and the inspiration to reach her own goals.

To complement the public presentations, NMU faculty will be invited to attend training sessions supported by international students to help them better understand the struggles they face when moving to a new country. Some of these include overcoming language barriers and vastly different cultural practices, Timlin said.

“We’re using our international students to simulate what they have to go through to come to the U.S. and study in the U.S. in a different environment and educational system,” Timlin said.

On the presentation schedule for Thursday, Nov. 13 is senior economics major Stephen Luty and senior art education major Amanda Kucharek, both NMU students who traveled to Colombia last year as missionaries with the Lutheran Campus Ministry. The two students will share the experiences they had abroad, along with the cross cultural bonds they formed with the Colombian people.

Luty said he was struck by the large population of people living in Colombia and by the impoverished lives many Colombians lead.

“It was probably the most people I’ve ever seen at one time,” Luty said. “[Traveling to Colombia] really makes you realize how many people are out there and how big of a need there is.” During his time in the country, Luty said he and the other missionaries attended worship services with local residents, serving as ambassadors of their church.

The focus of his presentation will be to discuss Colombian politics and missionary theories while sharing other experiences he had abroad.

For Amanda Kucharek, last year’s trip to Colombia was her second visit as a missionary. She said the sense of community is different compared to the United States and that resources are often hard to come by.

“One year, somebody had bought a stainless steel cooking pot for a poor woman,” Kucharek said. “The next year we came back, her neighbors were telling her to sell it but it meant so much to her that she wouldn’t let it go.”

Kucharek said she spent much of her trip building relationships, making connections and getting to know the locals.

“A big part of [missionary work] is listening to the stories of people who are there,” Kucharek said. “Then getting to tell them when you come back.”

Kucharek said the smallest things like lending an open ear can make a big difference, especially in a country that’s been bridled with conflict for the past 50 years. In spite of the violence, she said she was still amazed at the scenery of the small Central American nation, where beauty transcends turmoil and everyone has a story to share.

For those wishing to learn more about International Education Week and see a schedule of presentations, a listing is available online from the International Programs department or at their office in C.B. Hedgcock.