Engebretsen hard at work to expand study abroad program


Justin Yost

Barbara Engebretsen speaks about searching for more countries for WSC students to visit

Debbie Hernandez, Staff Writer

Remember when Howard took a trip into space in that episode of “The Big Theory?” And remember the way he would repeatedly refer back to his expedition into the galaxy?

“I feel that way sometimes, every time I bring up our trip to Ethiopia and Nepal,” Barbara Engebretsen, professor of exercise science, said. “I feel just like Howard.”

Engebretsen and director of the Multicultural center Leah Keino have been working diligently since fall 2013 to research potential sites of interest to add to existing Wayne State College study abroad programs.

Joining the likes of Greece, Taiwan and Costa Rica, WSC students may soon be able to travel to enchanting Ethiopia or the foothills of the Himalayas in Nepal.

“We are looking to offer students international service learning in these countries and hoping to bring along faculty,” Keino said.

According to Engebretsen, underdeveloped countries like the aforementioned are widely misunderstood and understudied. Quite often, we are quick to make assumptions that such countries are poor, hungry and helpless.

“While some of those assumptions carry some truth, that is not everything I saw,” Engebretsen said. “They aren’t helpless. We have so much in common and there are so many ways we can benefit from each other.”

Mitiku Mamo, Brigid Griffin and WSC graduate Bipul Pokhrel have also brought forward connections, contacts and familiarity on the two countries in order to bring this project to fruition.

During their research, Engebretsen and Keino looked for countries with no U.S. state department travel advisories, current growth and stability, and where they would feel most comfortable taking a group of students. Credit hours that will be offered and the overall price of the trip are yet to be determined.

Students were also motivated to take a survey in order to provide feedback on which country sparked more interest. Will it be the birthplace of coffee and reggae, in Ethiopia, flowing with bike rides, rock castles, camels and Italian food?

“They kicked the Italians out, but kept the pizza,” Keino chuckled.

Or will it be in one of the fastest growing cities in South Asia, rushing through Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, getting close to the foothills of the Himalayas, Bhuddist temples, and social monkeys?

“Whatever we decide, we don’t want to go someplace and have them be only our host,” Engebretsen said. “We want them to tell us how having our students and faculty there will make them stronger too.

“We’re looking for mutual benefits.”