Opportunities of a Reluctant Traveler
Kristina Horn Sheeler
I recently had the opportunity
to travel to South East European University
in Tetovo, Macedonia to work
with faculty, teach and develop courses,
and interact with Macedonian
women in politics. It was an incredible
experience that I didn't fully
appreciate when initially asked to participate.
Below are some highlights of my
My adventure began nearly two years ago when I was asked by my former
department chair at IUPUI to participate in a USAID grant in Macedonia.
After I got out my map of Europe to locate Macedonia, I agreed, thinking
that the grant was far away, competitive, for millions of dollars, and that
I wouldn't have to worry about it again. I was wrong and I'm glad I was.
I learned that South East
European University, or SEEU, is a young university only in its fifth
year of existence. Its founding mission was to offer higher education
opportunities to Ethnic Albanian students who may have no other
opportunities to pursue a college education in their language. The majority
of students come from all over the Balkan region and take classes in either
Macedonian, Albanian, or English language.
My role would be to work with a faculty colleague at SEEU to
help that individual develop
a course in our areas of expertise,
work with the entire faculty
to aid in development of their communication
department, and train faculty
on issues such as classroom management,
development, and other important matters.
I was lucky to have established a friendship with
my SEEU colleague in addition to our teaching partnership. This allowed me to meet local people in the community
in addition to university colleagues. Skopje, Macedonia's
capital, is really a mixture of an old and a new city with many locally
owned shops and restaurants. Sight-seeing through the old city is amazing,
especially when you realize that the bridge connecting the two parts of the
city was built nearly 1500 years ago. And the large town square is really a
gathering place for all sorts of fun. In December it was decorated with
familiar lights for the holidays.
The first course I co-taught was in gender and communication and,
needless to say, it was an
enlightening experience for all involved.
I patterned the course after
the same course that I teach at IUPUI,
but the first of many
challenges would be resources. These students
don't have access to
textbooks or adequate library resources. So I
would have to purchase texts
and take them with me, use online readings,
and create many of my own
original assignments. My faculty colleague
and I worked through these
hurdles successfully and she is currently
teaching the course on her
own this semester.
I was on campus for two weeks at the beginning of the semester
and two weeks at the end and
facilitated our interactions online
during the middle few weeks.
One of the most enlightening assignments
was a weekly "gender story"
that we asked our students to write in
response to the topic of the
week.Keeping in mind that the Balkan
region has undergone many
changes in the last 15 years, and that the
students have lived through
these changes, their stories were told
differently and more
poignantly than the same stories of my US students.
With students and my
SEEU colleague at a
The stories were such an enlightening assignment that I asked my US
students to complete the
assignment as well, and my SEEU colleague
I wrote an essay, to be published this fall in the SEEU Review,
and contrasting US and international students' perceptions of
the possibility for change. The most telling contrast is in the
students' embrace of the term feminism and in the empowerment they are
their education brings. While the US students (in general, not all)
to rely on the popular phrase "I'm not a feminist, but . . . " or view
college education as just something you do after high school, the SEEU
both women and men, embraced feminism as a badge of power
education as an opportunity to change their community.
As one SEEU student writes: Until this class, "I haven't accepted that I
a feminist. But now proudly I
can declare: Yes, I am a feminist. And I feel
great while I am saying it in
front of others. In Albanian it goes like :
Une jam feministe! Very
softly; but you know, with a meaning! There
is a certain little light in
the eyes while I am saying it."
Not only do the students feel optimistic about the opportunity for change,
women working in politics
express much of the same optimism as well. In
January 2006 I had the
opportunity during my visit to facilitate a
panel discussion with female politicians in Macedonia, These women
dedicated to getting more
women into the political system through their
party structure. Within the
party structure is a very strong mentoring and
educational program to make
sure the young women entering politics are
as highly qualified as
During the Discussion
Education and mentoring are especially important since these women have
fought for and successfully
won a quota system, such that each party must
present a slate of candidates
that consists of at least 30% women. While
the political representation
of women in Macedonia is not as high as other
European countries who are
leaders in this area, the incredible changes these
women have fought for over
the last fifteen years should serve as an inspiration
to us all.
I will return to Macedonia for a third trip on October 8 and will work with
another faculty member to
develop a public communication class around issues
such as Macedonia's plan to
join the EU as well as local issues such as policy
discussions of local smoking
bans. If any of you have opportunities to do
development work in the
future, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of it.
My life is forever changed
and I know that I've made a difference in the world.
To that end, four of my SEEU
students graduated in June and are now in the
US studying for their MA in
communication. They plan to go back to SEEU to
teach and already have the
support of their department chair to do so. Their
students will be the lucky
If you have international travels to share, please let your editors know.