English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller recently interviewed Professor Ellen Brinks about the Peace Corps Masters International program here in the English department at CSU and her upcoming Study Abroad trip to Zambia. Read the interview here: http://english.colostate.edu/2015/02/professor-ellen-brinks-talks-study-abroad-zambia-peace-corps/
English Department Communications Intern Marina Miller recently interviewed Professor Ellen Brinks about the Peace Corps Masters International program here in the English department at CSU and her upcoming Study Abroad trip to Zambia.
You’re an advocate for the Peace Corps, how did that come about? If you were in the Peace Corps yourself, where did you go? What did you get out of it?
I never was a Peace Corps volunteer, but I’ve met a number of Peace Corps volunteers and have learned about what a powerfully formative experience it had on their lives. Without wanting to overly simplify things, as far as international development programs go, the Peace Corps is one of the most ethical, and I have seen how the immersion and collaborative work within communities in developing countries gives volunteers both a sense of the bigger picture – a wider, global perspective – as well as a more nuanced, complex, and empathic understanding of cultural difference.
We have a Peace Corps Masters International program here in the English department at CSU, where a graduate student earns an MA with academic coursework and combines that with the standard 27-month, hands-on Peace Corps assignment. Our PCMI graduate students have had all kinds of opportunities opened to them as result of their PCMI degrees. One recent returnee has worked with the US Park Service on global climate change initiatives and the Smithsonian Museum of African-American History, in the acquisitions department. What cool jobs! So it’s absolutely not at all a stretch to advocate for this program; I love talking about it.
[Professor Brinks is the English department liaison for the Peace Corps Masters International program here at CSU. There are four departments that participate in the program at CSU, and English is one of them. Ellen advises interested English majors and graduate students on the program.]
What got you interested in Zambia? What are some of the activities that you will be doing?
I got interested in Zambia by traveling there and working with schoolchildren on their reading skills. Kids there are not native English speakers, but English is the language of the school classrooms and curriculum, the language of the Zambian government, and it’s the ticket to greater economic opportunities as they mature. On the summer education abroad program I’ll be leading this coming May (so soon!), students will be working collaboratively in the community of Livingstone, Zambia, on community education and community health projects. They’ll chose the projects that they want to participate in, and they’ll work 8 hours a day, five days a week (with weekends off). Some will be working with teachers, some will be working teaching and tutoring students and adult learners, some will be helping construct classrooms, some will be teaching sports, some will be assisting in health clinics and doing home-health care, some will be teaching nutrition and HIV education. There are some other projects I’ve not mentioned, but this gives you a good idea of the diversity of initiatives the students will be a part of.
How many students will be with you? How did they get chosen for such an exciting trip?
Based on application numbers, I think we’ll have about 15-20 students traveling. Anyone can go who has a desire to go (and a GPA of 2.5 or higher). The program is run through the Education Abroad Office here at CSU, and they have a great support team there to help with the application process and with scholarship information.
Are there any special requirements that the students needed to complete to be eligible? For example, did they need special immunizations or medical records?
Besides the 2.5 GPA and getting all the application materials completed by February 15, the students will need to get a US passport and the required immunizations for travelling to Zambia (there are a few!). All the other costs (except personal spending money) are included in the cost of the program – airfare, all in-country meals and lodging and transportation, program costs, and weekend excursions.
What do you hope students get from the trip?
So many things! I hope that students feel empowered by the challenges of a trip like this – it’s not a tourist trip to Africa – and recognize how skilled and talented they are; I hope in their work with Zambians, they come to see them as co-partners, as aspiring citizens of country with great human resources, and not as needy recipients of Western aid; I hope they develop an appreciation for the beauty and cultural richness of Zambia; I hope they make new friends, become lifelong travelers, and become engaged, global citizens for life.
While there, will you have an opportunity to see some of the beautiful sights that Zambia has to offer or will it be all work?
Yes, we’ve definitely designed the program so that students have time to explore some of the natural and cultural wonders of the area! There are many exceptional sites in this corner of the world. First and foremost, right next to the town of Livingstone, Zambia, are the world-famous Victoria Falls, the world’s largest waterfall and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Zambezi River falls into a rift that stretches more than a mile, and there’s an amazing National Park with lots of trails. If we’re lucky and there’s a full moon, we can visit the Park at night and see “lunar rainbows,” a rainbow effect created by the moonlight on the mist rising from the falls – it’s beautiful and eerie. Livingstone is also an adventure hub, and students can do whitewater rafting on the Zambezi, bungee jumping into the chasm, parasailing, and lots more.
We’ll also be traveling for one weekend to Chobe National Park in the neighboring country of Botswana. It’s only about 2 hours away, and we’ll be on a “camping safari” there: spending the nights in tents and touring the park/Chobe River by day to see wildlife. Chobe is one of the top three wildlife preserves in the whole continent of Africa, and students will see A LOT of animals there: hippos, crocs, zebra, elephants, giraffes, lions, leopards (if lucky), many species of antelope and gazelle, warthog, jackal, I could go on. It’s all right there, and students will be able to see these animals up close and take many photos.
There are some other great outings possible: to local food and crafts markets; to some local restaurants for traditional Zambian food; to a traditional village away from the town; to a big cat rehab sanctuary.
What is your favorite place you’ve traveled to thus far?
I once counted up how many countries I’d traveled to (it came to 42), and many of them are amazing and beautiful places. For me, though, my favorite places are the ones where I feel at home, as if I could live there for a long period of time and be happy because the culture is warm and inviting and stimulating. There are three places that come to mind: Greece; the Lake District in England; and Livingstone, Zambia.
Is there anything else you would like us to mention?
Students should feel free to contact me for information about the Zambia program or our Peace Corps Masters International (PCMI) program: Ellen.Brinks@Colostate.edu