Study-Abroad Administrative Issues Explored
Twenty-one students under the direction of Robert Hanson (Criminal Justice, pictured at center of front row) spent two weeks in Africa this past summer, comparing the criminal justice systems in South Africa and the United States.
"We traveled about 1,700 miles in and around the Pretoria-Johanesburg area visiting correctional facilities, attending criminal court sessions, and riding with the South African Police service as they responded to vehicle accidents and crimes in progress," Hanson said. "The bomb squad demonstrated the use of explosives for us and students participated in training exercises with the canine unit. Faculty from the University of South Africa and Tshwane University of Technology lectured and students extensively interacted with their African counterparts. NMU students attended classes at South African Police Training College, where they presented brief talks on American policing and Upper Peninsula geography. Through our South African colleagues and their contacts, we were able to see and do things that would be impossible for the average tourist."
This is just one example of recent Concentrated Learning Experiences Abroad (CLEAS) involving NMU faculty and students. As Northern expands its array of international opportunities, it must also be prepared to deal with the challenges – from logistical to financial – that come along with the rewards of participating in the global community.
Joseph Holman (Continuing Education) accompanied the criminal justice group to Africa. His purpose was to observe and collect data that will be used to develop faculty and student handbooks on the administrative aspects of these educational journeys.
“We discovered that there are a lot of things we have to prepare for that could go wrong," Holman said. "For example, the people in our group departed from five different airports, and it all worked, but you have to have a plan in case it doesn’t. These are things that you can’t really know until you go there, so this trip has given us a better idea of what we need to do for next time.”
Besides overseeing the administrative duties for the trip, Holman’s primary objective was to establish some guidelines based on his experiences.
Some of the general rules of thumb Holman noted were the importance of meeting with a host country liaison before traveling to thoroughly plan the trip and establish parameters for conduct. Group size is also an issue. On the South Africa trip, the 21-person criminal justice group ended up paying for a third 12-passenger van because local ordinance did not permit large vehicles to travel with more than nine people to a vehicle.
“Based on our plan, we thought, ‘Twelve people [to a van]. No problem.’ Because of cultural idiosyncrasy, we had to adjust accordingly,” Holman said. “Sometimes depending on where you’re going, some types of clothing are or are not suitable. Where we were going was pretty conservative. Certain things that college students would not think twice about wearing here may or may not be appropriate in the host country.”
Holman said that the handbooks he is putting together will hopefully facilitate more study-abroad experiences.
“These [trips are] an extremely worthwhile and important part of students’ education – a chance to get to know and understand another culture.”
As an example, Holman described staying at a guest house in South Africa named Figa Lapa. “Being able to stay at a family-run guest house was a tremendous asset because that exposed our students to a local family. Instead of staying at a Holiday Inn, which is the same no matter where you go, they got a real flavor for the country and experienced a slice of South African life. It was a small slice, but a wonderful slice."
Hanson said this was the first time NMU sent a class to the country, but based on student participation and positive feedback, another trip is planned in May 2006.