When Rachel Trumpy learned that she could spend January of her junior year at Elmhurst studying medical practices in the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago, she knew the opportunity was too good to miss.
A junior chemistry major, pre-med student and volunteer EMT in the rural precincts around her northwestern Illinois hometown of Dakota (population 502), Trumpy has seen the daily workings of America’s health care system up close. Now her month abroad, she hopes, will give her some perspective on how healing happens in other countries.
That opportunity comes thanks to Elmhurst’s membership in the Upper Midwest Association for Intercultural Education (UMAIE), a consortium of seven Great Lakes–area college that pool their resources to offer students expanded opportunities to study abroad during January Term. Classes are taught by faculty from the UMAIE colleges and are open to students from any of the schools. For Elmhurst students like Trumpy, UMAIE (pronounced “You may”) means a broader menu of options for January study and a wider world to travel.
In 2013, for example, UMAIE is offering 21 courses (including several taught by Elmhurst faculty) touching on everything from politics to comparative religion and from art to sports management. Destinations span the globe, from Thailand to Tanzania and Korea to Morocco. One class will even take students to Cuba, one of the rarest of travel destinations for Americans in recent decades, to study daily life “inside the revolution.”
Trumpy’s class—“Inequality and Health Care in Trinidad and Tobago,” taught by two professors from Hastings College—appeals to her interest in medicine and in service. She and other students enrolled in the class will be working in two orphanages and visiting hospitals in Trinidad.
“I’m from a small town and would never have had the opportunity to learn about a culture like Trinidad and Tobago had I not come to Elmhurst and been encouraged to apply for a UMAIE program,” Trumpy said.
Giving students greater opportunities to travel abroad is what Elmhurst’s membership in UMAIE is all about, says Wally Lagerwey, Elmhurst’s director of international education and off-campus programs.
“It expands what it means to study abroad,” Lagerwey said. “It gives students more options. Our students can tap into the expertise of professors from other colleges, and our professors do the same for students from other schools.”
Elmhurst has been a member of UMAIE for more than a decade. Each January, about 150 Elmhurst students enroll in courses that take them abroad; typically, about 30 of them enroll in UMAIE courses. The travel options for Elmhurst students include classes that go to seven continents. Among this year’s options from UMAIE: a course on Arab and Jewish influences in Spain and Morocco; an examination of the English language’s growing prominence in India; and a class focusing on the economy of Thailand. Lagerwey said such travel courses give students the kind of insight into other places that comes only from first-hand experience.
“You can read about it, you can go to the museum, but there is nothing like being on site,” he said.
Trumpy said she hoped her class on Trinidad and Tobago would help her understand another culture’s approach to healing and health care. She also said she was drawn to the class because it offered the chance to serve.
“I am very passionate about working with and advocating for children and anyone who comes from an under-served area, so working in the orphanages [in Trinidad] is something I am really looking forward to doing,” she said.
One of the too-often overlooked benefits of taking a UMAIE class, Lagerwey said, is meeting and traveling with students from other colleges. “They get to compare notes with each other, and students often end up forming deep friendships that last a long time,” he said.
The challenge for faculty, he said, is keeping students focused on their studies amid the often head-turning scenery of some of the world’s most exotic locales. To help students navigate the temptation to cut loose and party too hard while abroad, Elmhurst requires them to take an online quiz that emphasizes respecting other cultures and behaving responsibly.
“Students know that this is not just about travel and sightseeing, but also reading and writing and reflection,” Lagerwey said. “This is a chance to have experiences they wouldn’t have otherwise.”