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The Michigan DDaily Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Think about life in five years.
Twenty-five square feet. Picture that
space. Look to your left and look to your
right. Reach out your arms as far as you can. On
either side you can touch a two-inch-thick wall
made of cheap cloth and plastic.
Now think about Scotland. In some places, the
highlands seem to stretch out further than the
ocean. They are savage and comforting, idyllic
and proud. The mountains hide waterfalls. Their
water is cool and bitter.
Back to the walls: They are covered with pho-
tos of your children and Dilbert cartoons. You
can't see anyone around you, but you can hear
their sporadic typing. The nearest window is
more than 40 feet away.
Think of Tokyo; the streets are ecstatic. Dizzy-
ing billboards scream for your attention. Cheap
neon and cheaper sake assault every sense.
Now imagine eight to 12 hours of your day,
and of what you could do with that time. Think
about spending that time in a swiveling chair.
Now think of a helicopter landing in Alaska.
Think about a falling glacier. Its impact with the
turquoise water is breathless.
Go abroad while you can.
Travel is a flirtation with life, if you believe
the saying. Unfortunately, at the University, it
is often a drunken one - complete with a pricy
hangover. Tuition is expensive. Studying abroad
is more expensive. The wine-sweetness of read-
ing Dante by the Bacchiglione, the melancholic
skull gardens of the Khmer Rouge's Killing
Fields - experiences like these are powerful and
important. For too many students, they are dis-
placed by brutally overblown airfare, tuition bills
and strenuous graduation requirements.
Fortunately, there are options.
The University hosts a variety of free and
cheap avenues for studying - or playing - abroad.
While most of these programs are University-
sponsored, they tend to rely primarily on word
of mouth for publicity. Some are highly competi-
tive, but most remain obscure and underused. For
the ambitious and resourceful, the road less trav-
eled is easy to come by.
In the expansive new Palmer Commons, Coor-
dinator of Multicultural Teaching and Learn-
ing A.T. Miller sits tucked away like a rare but
precious artifact. His appearance immediately
belies his love of the world. He wears two neck-
laces - both with undoubtedly fantastic stories
attached - one from southwest America and the
other from East Africa, where he spent eight
years heading one of Kenya's approximately 400
Quaker high schools. Thin, tangled hair and a
friendly demeanor call to mind the traditional
depiction of Jesus. He is known for a charming
quirkiness; he's rumored to have his students per-
form Kenyan chants.
From an obscure office on the fourth floor, he
runs the four-year-old Global Intercultural Expe-
rience for Undergraduate Program (GIEU). It has
a hefty name but a simple mission: to give more
kids the chance to travel and to learn. Miller
devised the program with Linda Gillum the for-
mer assistant provost for academic affairs, in the
fall of 2001.
There are many barriers to studying abroad,
Miller explained. Students in intensive programs,
first generation students, and minorities are often
unable or uncomfortable traveling. "People
noticed that the (students) abroad were mainly
LSA, mainly female, mainly white," Miller said.
GIEU opened in summer 2002. The program's
organization and variety of options make it one
of the most distinctive in the country. "You can
probably find the pieces of it at other places,"
Miller said, "but it won't be structured the same
One of the most remarkable features of GIEU
is its financial structure. Students pay airfare
and a program fee, but because GIEU is tech-
nically a paid internship, they generally recoup
these costs. "We wanted to make sure it's not just
people who can afford to do these things," Miller
said, "About forty percent of our students are on
Students earn $360 per week, as assistants in
Students apply to the program and are then
assigned a site after an extensive matching pro-
cess. Though students tend to get their first or
second choice, this uncertainty can be daunting:
"There's always student who end up going some-
where they weren't thinking of. If you want to go
to a particular place, go to OIP," Miller said. "We
think about the broader skills."
GIEU also takes academic pressures into
account. The program provides two general stud-
ies credits - one taken before the field program
and one after.
The diversity of program sites - Alaska to
Zimbabwe - and themes - activism to zoology
- is due to GIEU's practice of accepting program
proposals from instructors of all fields and lev-
Rackham student Annie Hesp is one such
instructor. Six years ago, Hesp returned to Spain
to finish her Master's degree. During a class on
Medieval poetry, she heard about the 750-kilo-
meter (466-mile) Camino de Santiago - the
inspiration for the Chevrolet pseudo-truck.
Along with Jerusalem and Rome, the Camino
was one of the focal pilgrimages of the Middle
Ages. Tributary paths drift in from French cities
and countryside, congregate beneath the Pyre-
nees, and jut across northern Spain to the coastal
Santiago de Compostela. Hest was inspired.
"I realized this would be an ideal way to teach
kids Spanish, and a way that kids really wanted
to learn;' she says. "We're often thrown into our