Stories from the the Front Lines
During my last job as a professor, I took students to Ireland, China (Hong Kong), Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and a cruise to Alaska. All of the trips were in conjunction with classes I taught. I had visited scores of countries and knew that I could safely navigate the journey for others, I thought.
I prepared the students well for the trips. I gave them information on the Centers for Disease Control, told them about issues with foods, drinking only bottled water, wearing closed shoes, keeping their faces out of the shower, not eating street food or salads, and so much more. For our trip to China, we spent three weeks in class discovering how to keep ourselves safe and healthy. But it was not enough.
While I had traveled to many countries, my students were making their first trip out of the country. I realized, as we traveled, that my imagination could not reach the limits of their activities. When in Xian, China, I walked out of our hotel to discover that my students were dancing with people who lived on the streets. One of the men who was dancing with a student was fondling her hair and face and I don’t know what else. I kept thinking, “Those people have diseases and have never been vaccinated.” And, “I wonder if my students are infecting these people who are not vaccinated?” My students were so naive. Yes, it was a wonderful cultural exchange but the effects could have harmed everyone, and maybe it did.
One older student, when in China, went to a spa with a steam bath. I had told students not to swim in the pools because they were not chlorinated, but never even thought of a steam bath. She came down with pneumonia because the water was tainted, and we had to deal with those issues. On the trip to Thailand, I told students not to order drinks with ice. I also told them not to engage in sexual activities with the locals. I had one student who opted out of all the cultural programs we had planned. (When students are 21 or older, it is very difficult to stop them from doing anything.) He was visiting the brothels and drinking his brains out. After returning to the university, I never saw him again. I believe he contracted a life-threatening disease because he was very, very sick on our way home.
On our tour of Australia and New Zealand, and subsequently, the cruise to Alaska, I had to deal with methamphetamine addicts. They were either so high you could not make sense of what they were saying, or they were hiding in their rooms. One of the students tried to run away for some reason. He took off running from the bus in Australia. The bus driver ran after him. He said, “I know where he is going.” The student came back to the group. Upon return to the United States he was eventually arrested and sent to prison for cooking methamphetamines in his apartment using equipment he had stolen from the university. Another student, on the Alaska cruise, kept himself closeted from everyone else. And that student, on drugs, was under suspicion for murder and had just been diagnosed with AIDS. I found this out later, after we returned from our trip.
When traveling to Ireland, I took a small group of females. It was their first time out of the country. One of the students, who was around twenty-five, went into shock. She was bellowing and crying that she was homesick during our first day in Ireland. I had to go to her room, sit with her on her bed, and hold her (like a baby) until she stopped crying. It was a traumatic experience for both of us, but she soon adjusted. What a relief! I was so lucky that none of the students were arrested or lost at sea.
During my tenure at a recent university, one of the faculty members took students to a country in Africa. She had traveled little and was unprepared for the climate and challenges of a tropical country. While visiting the country, she was assaulted and robbed. Not understanding the risks of malaria, she took the students on a river trip. All of them were bitten by many mosquitos, and all developed malaria, and, of course, will have malaria until they die.
I believe in pluralism and cross-cultural experiences and international adventures, I do not believe in placing faculty and students at risk. Universities need to begin taking responsibility (not placing road blocks) for creating classes for faculty who want to take their students out of the country. Faculty need to be educated in the physical, financial, personal, and emotional risks. They should never be allowed to take students to another country without being fully informed of the issues that may arise, and how to deal with them in the specific country where they are traveling.
My apologies for being tardy with this blog. Finishing Igor and the Red Elvises took a lot of time and I have been working on turning my book, For the Love of Elvis into an audio CD. Anita Price Davis and I just received a contract from a publisher who has asked us to update our book about all the women who have received the Nobel Peace Prize, so that project is now under development. Did anyone say I was retired?
As always, this blog is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge