Students Gain Experience in Workplaces Abroad

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Zarif Islam, a senior Economics and Political Science major, and his family lived in Indonesia for nine years before moving to Dhaka, Bangladesh, where Islam was able to see firsthand the kind of challenges that are present in a developing country.

In high school, Islam worked with The Acid Survivors Foundation in Bangladesh, an organization dedicated to aiding victims of acid violence, a particularly vicious and damaging form of violence perpetrated by throwing nitric or sulphuric acid in people’s faces. The overwhelming majority of the victims are women, and many of them are below 18 years of age. Through this experience, Islam became fascinated by the fields of development and public health, and now hopes to pursue a career with the World Health Organization or with a non-governmental organization (NGO).

“As I have progressed in my education, my plans have changed in terms of how I feel I can make the most impact, but it is still the same driving force,” said Islam, who plans to study international development and public policy in graduate school.

Recently, Islam had the chance to gain more hands-on experience in a developing country when he worked for a start-up NGO as part of the AHA International Service Learning Program in Accra, Ghana. The NGO provided support, including basic education, health care and a sustainable income, to the poor rural community. Islam worked 30 hours a week with three other staff members in order to help the newly established organization to design, plan and implement a program, and assisted with grant proposals. In addition, Islam took three classes at the Aya Centre, where he studied Ghana’s history and development issues, as well as Twi, one of the country’s most widely spoken languages.

“It was very work intensive,” said Islam, who earned eight credits from last fall’s program. “I was able to see it being built from the bottom up.”

Islam learned about the service learning program, after talking to a friend, who recently studied abroad in Greece and through Rider University’s Center for International Education. After exploring various study abroad programs, Islam said he found the service learning component of the program appealing.

Recognizing that students will be entering their careers in an increasingly global world, programs like the AHA International Program offer students not only the chance to study abroad, but an avenue to experience the culture and history of the country through service learning or internship opportunities. 

The Center for International Education offers service learning abroad program opportunities in Ghana, Ireland, London and Scotland through its partnerships with AHA International, CAPA International Education and The Institute for Study Abroad of Butler University. The Center also has “study and intern” programs in Australia, China, England, Ireland and New Zealand through its partnerships with the University of Sunshine Coast, CAPA, GL Australearn, Alliance and Butler.

“I believe that these programs recognize the advantage of students, and their international work experience and service focuses on that,” said Dr. Linda Materna, director of the Center for International Education. “Our students are competing in a global economy. It gives you an edge if you study abroad.”

Last fall, several Rider students held internships with CAPA. This semester, there are five students in the CAPA and three currently hold internships in London, and four students have already applied for the internship program next fall. The internships are worth four credits and are accompanied with a two-credit internship course.

Sayira Santana, a junior Political Science and Global Multinational Studies major, interned with the Commonwealth Lawyers Association in London as part of the CAPA International program in spring 2009. As the assistant to the secretary general of the Commonwealth, Santana wrote minutes at meetings and helped design publications.

“It was a great experience. I was able to meet a lot of legislators and UN Ambassadors,” said Santana, who hopes to work with the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights or the International Criminal Court in the future.

Santana recently accepted into this summer’s Co-existence in the Middle East Program at the Hebrew University. During the month-long program, she will take classes and conduct field work about the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

As a 2009 Undergraduate Research Scholars Award recipient, Islam also drew on his recent experience in Ghana and his background in Bangladesh, in a comparative analysis paper. In order to gather his research, Islam made observations while working with the NGO, and interview local business owners, government officials and professors at the University of Ghana. In the paper, he examined the countries’ history and policies, including health care and education, in order to determine what programs are successful. He will present the paper during the Independent Scholarship and Creative Activity Presentation Day on Wednesday, May 5.

Islam hopes his experience abroad in Ghana will give him an edge in the global market. “Service learning has a big effect on your personal growth in general,” he said. “It definitely gives you a different perspective on things.”

For more information about service learning and internship programs abroad, please call 609-896-7717.

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