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International 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 trips.

 

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.

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The campus

 

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,

civility, syllabus 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

  local cafe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The stories were such an enlightening assignment that I asked my US

students to complete the assignment as well, and my SEEU colleague and

I wrote an essay, to be published this fall in the SEEU Review, comparing

and contrasting US and international students' perceptions of gender and

the possibility for change. The most telling contrast is in the international

students' embrace of the term feminism and in the empowerment they are

certain their education brings. While the US students (in general, not all)

tended to rely on the popular phrase "I'm not a feminist, but . . . " or view

their college education as just something you do after high school, the SEEU

students, both women and men, embraced feminism as a badge of power

and their education as an opportunity to change their community.

 

As one SEEU student writes: Until this class, "I haven't accepted that I am

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, but

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 are

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 possible.

 

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 ones.

 

If you have international travels to share, please let your editors know.                  

 

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Last Updated September 13, 2006