As students arrive in India and Tanzania to begin their ACM fall semester off-campus study programs, they’ll be able to turn to program “veterans” for advice in adjusting to their new surroundings.
Sarah Fischer and Laura Heggs will be on hand in Pune, India and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, respectively, as ACM’s first Student Alumni Fellows. Their main focus will be orientation and helping with the day-to-day experiential aspects of the programs, such as arranging activities for the students and giving them tips on social customs and etiquette.
Laura Heggs exploring a fish market in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
“Everyone’s experience abroad is different, but people generally go through the same processes of culture shock,” said Heggs, who participated in the Tanzania: Ecology & Human Origins program in 2007 when she was a student at Knox College. “I hope to be a source of guidance for them if they need it, and to talk openly about the funny and amazing things a person experiences while being immersed in a foreign culture.”
Fischer, a Colorado College graduate, went on the India: Culture, Traditions, & Globalization program two years ago. She plans to organize outings to get students used to traveling around the city and taking advantage of the many resources Pune offers, both for academics and recreation. “I hope to make a trip with the students to the local market to instruct a little on bartering techniques,” she noted. “Other tasks will be organizing activities outside of the classroom that students can partake in, such as dance or cooking lessons, music lessons, and yoga classes.”
Getting the students to feel more independent is a key goal for Heggs, along with encouraging them to become engaged in Dar es Salaam beyond their courses and planned program activities. “I think it is important to volunteer in the community,” she said. “It allows you to feel like less of an outsider, and much more like a local resident making a positive contribution to your society.”
The new Alumni Fellow positions reflect both the programs’ popularity – enrollments are at capacity with about 20 students at each site – and ACM’s ongoing review process in which faculty, deans, and off-campus study directors evaluate each consortial program and make recommendations for strengthening the academic and operational components.
Sarah Fischer with her host mother in Pune, India.
“The idea of the Alumni Fellows developed from the India program review last fall,” said Joan Gillespie, ACM’s Vice President and Director of Off-Campus Study Programs. “The review committee saw this role as supporting program staff and guiding students as they learn their way around their new community and a new culture. We saw that the model fits well for the program in Tanzania, too.”
“It’s a learning opportunity for the Fellows as well, to introduce them to the administrative side of off-campus studies and give them the chance to share what they know about making a success of a term of study abroad,” Gillespie noted.
With a major in anthropology and a minor in India studies at Colorado, Fischer sees her return to India as an avenue for putting her degree, along with her program experience, to good use. “I can advise [the students] on which stores have the fairest prices, where to go for good meals, the best internet cafes, yoga studios, movie theaters, and so forth,” she said. “I also hope to provide academic support with their ISPs,” the independent study projects that students complete with the guidance of local faculty, professionals, and artists.
Laura Heggs examining fossilized giraffe prints during the fieldwork portion of the Tanzania Program.
Heggs recently completed a Master’s degree in primate behavior at Central Washington University, where she also worked as a graduate assistant. Her background will be valuable when she and Faculty Program Director Molly Margaretten, an anthropology professor from Ripon College, accompany the students on the six-week field component of the program.
From their base at a campsite near Tarangire National Park in the country’s northern region, the students work on their field practicum projects, exploring topics ranging from the behavior of zebras to the effects of tourism on rural villages to archaeological surveys.
“Studying abroad in Tanzania was a great professional and personal investment for me,” said Heggs. “I also really enjoy working with college students and helping to develop viable research ideas, so this aspect of the program is an extra bonus for me.”
Both Fischer and Heggs recall their home stays with local families as a highlight of their program experience. Returning to India this fall will be a homecoming for Fischer. “Without a doubt, I am most looking forward to seeing my old host family again,” she said. “They had such a positive impact on my stay in Pune in 2010, and I am grateful to be able to stay with them again.”
Photos are courtesy of Sarah Fischer and Laura Heggs.