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The world as classroom

Behind transformative study-abroad experiences so important in shaping a Northeastern student’s education— in Egypt, India, Ireland, Thailand and myriad other locales— is a core of faculty who awake in the wee hours to board planes with students, shepherding as many as 20 at a time across the world. That’s the easy part.

The harder but far more rewarding part is creating stellar programming that allows students to fully immerse themselves in other cultures—often with life-altering results. Mission accomplished at Northeastern, with offerings that go well beyond ‘academic tourism.’

“The faculty working behind the scenes on behalf of international study programs are absolute stars,” said Ketty Rosenfeld, Northeastern’s director of international co-op. “They’re totally driven to broaden the perspectives of our students, and to show them worlds and opportunities they might otherwise never have found.”

Northeastern’s contingent of true believers in international study, who were at the forefront of shaping the university’s international programming, include:

• Denis Sullivan, director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Culture and Development, director of the international affairs program and an early developer of the study-abroad program Dialogues of Civilization
• Denise Horn, international affairs professor, who has led training in grassroots organizing and organizational development in Brazil, India and Thailand
• Gordana Rabrenovic, associate director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict, who finds the perfect second classroom in Belfast, Ireland
• Lorna Hayward, associate professor of physical therapy, who accompanies students to Ecuador and Mexico to treat children needing physical therapy

A model Mideast program
Denis Sullivan still can’t believe how interest has blossomed in both the Middle East and his once-modest Dialogue of Civilizations trips to Egypt, since he arrived on campus in 1987 as a Mideast policy expert.
What began as a trip to Egypt in 1993 to observe the Model Arab League is now a popular study-abroad program in approximately 25 locations around the globe. Students spend five weeks in rigorous academic pursuits, interacting with thought leaders and other community members and participating in cultural excursions.

“Our success in Egypt opened the door to a program that has really taken off,” Sullivan said, noting that the goal of the program is to connect Northeastern students with their peers in different national, cultural, political and social environments.

Grassroots change
Denise Horn has led three trips to Brazil, India and Thailand.

Horn, an international affairs professor with expertise in grassroots activism, exposes students to the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the face of conditions overseas that sometimes shock but always enlighten the students. In 2007, on a trip to Thailand, students channeled their reactions to human trafficking into production of a documentary film, which was screened at Northeastern to educate others.
Horn has always had an affinity for Thailand. She hopes by exposing students to both the “land of smiles” and the harsher aspects of life there, she will inspire them to work for the greater good.

“I see such amazing changes in the students who travel abroad with me,” she said. “They grow intellectually, and they learn how to bring about change. I have seen students who initially had little interest grow into amazing leaders on campus after discovering what a difference one person can make.”

She added, “The wider point in all that we do is to help students realize that they can have a global impact, simply by working locally.”

Waging peace
Gordana Rabrenovic is associate director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict. Three years ago, she began a Dialogue of Civilizations program in Belfast, Ireland. It was a perfect place to study the peace effort, she said.

“In Belfast, you can see the development of conflict resolution up close. Although they’ve had peace there for 10 years, there are still so many issues to study … but it’s all so hopeful. It shows the students that peace is possible anywhere.”

Students live at Queens College in Belfast, participating in internships in a variety of areas, from Parliament to law firms and the local newspaper, she said.

“Two years ago, we had students working in Belfast during the Omagh bombing trial,” she says, “witnessing history being made.” Students were in the courtroom to see defendant Sean Hoey face 56 counts related to bombings of police and military installations. Other students worked in Parliament, riding elevators and speaking with key elected figures, whom they watched in action on the floor of Parliament.

Becoming PT professionals
Lorna Hayward, associate professor of physical therapy, has taken as many as 14 students at a time to an orphanage in Ecuador for an intensive, nine-day experience, working with young children with multiple physical therapy needs.

Before they arrive, her students research the diagnoses of their intended patients and pack necessary treatment supplies, which they later donate to the orphanage.

“This is where my students develop into professionals,” Hayward said. “They’re not just going down and painting garages; they’re applying real skills in physical therapy to cases they’ve prepared for, to treat children with diagnoses they’ve researched. They’ve ordered supplies, and they’re very prepared.”

Hayward has been taking students to the For His Children Orphanage, which she discovered through her church, for several years, and is now branching out to Mexico. In early August, she took 23 students for an intensive, three-week program that incorporates language study, cultural exposure and work in a long-term care facility.

Hayward’s willingness, and that of her other colleagues, to explore and experience the world with students is what makes Northeastern’s international education program so strong, Rosenfeld said.

“These professors are on the front lines. Because of their hard work, so many of our students go on to pursue longer term international co-op opportunities [six-month commitments],” she said. “It’s amazing how they spark international interest among our students.”

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