September 8, 2003

Staff broaden horizons with trips abroad

By Lailee Mendelson

Institute for Comparative and International Studies (ICIS) secretary Greg Cheek had never traveled outside the United States when he was given the opportunity last May to visit Emory’s two study abroad sites in Sydney, Australia.

“Since I began working at Emory three years ago, I have greeted many students who were interested in studying abroad,” Cheek said. “I have provided them with general information, received their applications and sometimes talked with them when they returned. But I had not been able to see the entire process until I actually traveled to another country, encountered the similarities and differences, and used foreign currency.”

Cheek was one of several Emory staff members whose summer included a professional experience abroad. His journey was supported by the ICIS Professional Development Grant, now in its third year.

“Our staff are often the first to welcome and instruct people about the various international programs with which we are involved,” said Gordon Newby, ICIS executive director. “It is very important for them to know about the world.”

Now, as the only staff member who has visited the programs at the universities of Sydney and New South Wales, Cheek is able to share both valuable information with study abroad advisors and enthusiasm with students.

“One interested student recently said to me, ‘I’ve never gone to Australia before,’ and I said, ‘Well, I just went for the first time, and it was absolutely wonderful,’” Cheek said. “I think she became more motivated to study abroad than she already was.”

Alta Schwartz, outreach coordinator for ICIS and the Middle East and South Asian Studies program, was the second recipient of last year’s grant and recently returned from two weeks in Israel as a member of an interfaith delegation observing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

“The trip was completely relevant to what I do every day,” Schwartz said of her work promoting understanding of Middle Eastern issues within Emory and the Atlanta community.

Though she has studied the region for more than a decade, Schwartz’s personal experience in the Middle East had been limited before the trip.

“What is going on there is almost incomprehensible without experiencing it first hand; I was completely unprepared for what I saw, especially the effect of the wall,” she said, referring to the Israeli security barrier being erected on confiscated Palestinian land in the West Bank. Schwartz spent a day riding along this barrier and described what is left in the wake of its hasty construction: uprooted ancient olive trees, Palestinian farmers cut off from their harvests, and depressing debris.

“I now feel I can give people, with a certain degree of confidence, a snapshot of what it is like over there,” she said.

Kathy Kite, senior associate director of programs for the Lillian Carter Center for International Nursing (LCCIN), had traveled to Germany before but never imagined the people she would meet when an open spot allowed her to join the Halle Institute for Global Learning’s faculty study trip in May.

“It was an extraordinary experience for a staff person to be able to join the faculty on that trip not only for personal reasons,” Kite said, “but because it has allowed me to bring something back to the University and to my work with the [Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing’s] international programs.” She cited meeting the general responsible for reunifying the armies of East and West Germany as a highlight.

Nursing Dean Marla Salmon, who nominated Kite for the trip, said the LCCIN already has benefited from Kite’s enhanced network across campus and strengthened sense of commitment and purpose.

“I am a firm believer that the academic enterprise is only successful when faculty and staff work in true partnership based on a common vision, purpose and understanding of the important work of universities,” Salmon said. “We attend to developing our faculty but do not give nearly enough thought or resources to the development of staff.

“For those of us who work in the international arena,” Salmon said, “it is particularly important to have staff who understand the nature of this work and have experiences that connect them to its significance in the life of the University. We all stand to benefit.”
Lailee Mendelson is communications specialist for the Office of International Affairs.