Students take atypical trips

Forget backpacking across Europe. These globetrotting students learned about their field of study and got their hands dirty. From working at a women’s clinic in Thailand to digging up ancient artifacts in Israel, these four students had anything but typical summer travel experiences.

Hibben Silvo – junior, biological anthropology

Junior Hibben Silvo spent three weeks of her summer on an archaeological dig in northern Israel uncovering millennia-old fossils. She woke up at 4 a.m. every morning to get to the Megiddo dig site by 5 a.m.

Silvo would dig with her group on a specific section of the mound, located about 20 minutes from Nazareth, until 1 p.m. each day and then spend the rest of the afternoon polishing their findings – mostly pottery and animal bones. Her most interesting find was a stone with carvings in it, which she found out was a piece of a game board – probably a few thousand years old – but she never found out its age because she found it on her last day at the site.

“You never know what you are going to find because you are using biblical text to plot out where something might be,” she said, adding that some of the others in her group found a pit with charcoal, glass beads or figurines. Other parts of the mound had a tomb in them, horse stables and even an old palace. The site is known to include the remains of 30 cities.

The program is offered about every other summer through Tel Aviv University – not annually, Silvo said, because it takes time to analyze the discoveries of the digs. She said registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis and she registered around Christmas time. She’s also getting class credit for it.

There were about 100 people in Silvo’s digging group, she said, and she was one of many students from GW. In the afternoon she would attend lectures in areas such as history to give her and others in the program background information on what they are finding. Weekends were spent in Jerusalem – staying in hostels and sightseeing.

Silvo, focusing on biological anthropology and archaeology at GW, said that she hopes this summer experience will help her in her future career, perhaps in paleontology. She hopes to spend next summer on another dig in another location.

Pamela Van Dort – graduate student, law

International Law student Pamela Van Dort spent six weeks of her summer interning in Central America with an El Salvadorian non-profit organization trying to encourage civic engagement.

She spent the first part of her summer surveying local Salvadorians about their understanding of the law and their voting practices. Then, Van Dort and the non-profit, called El Instituto de Investigaci?n y Promoci?n Ambiental, used those statistics to compile a guide to teach citizens how their government works. The guide is scheduled to be printed by December, said Van Dort.

“We’re hoping to get more students involved to help continue the project and help teach people these guides,” she said. Van Dort got the internship through a GW International Law Society event where she chatted with different organizations offering internships.

While Van Dort said El Salvador has higher voter turnout statistics than the U.S., many are not involved in government in any other way – there are no lobbying firms and minimal interest groups.

“There is a widespread lack of knowledge about these things, which is why the rule of law is so weak there,” she said. “The one thing that was really touching was how enthusiastic and accepting they were. A lot of people were happy to see us.”

Van Dort said the guide is divided into sections: it explains how the government is set up, how natives can be involved, educational opportunities in the country and summarizes their individual rights and obligations to the government. Said Van Dort “It kind of serves as a mini civic government class.”

Rydhwana Hossain – senior, public health

Senior Rydhwana Hossain returned from Bangkok, Thailand, only a few days ago after spending two months doing undergraduate research on maternal health.

Hossain was accepted to the Multidisciplinary International Research Training Program – offered through Washington University and sponsored by the National Institute of Health – and was assigned an all-expenses paid trip to study in Thailand to research the correlation between vaginal bleeding and premature pregnancies.

Hossain analyzed data collected from 2,678 Thai women. The purpose of the research, Hossain said, was to help prevent adverse outcomes in pre-term baby deliveries. She said more than 12 percent of all pregnancies are premature.

“Even with so much research, pre-term deliveries have been increasing in the past two decades in the U.S.,” she said. “So we wanted to evaluate risk factors for pre-term deliveries.”

Aside from the research, Hossain took Thai classes each morning and took trips to hospitals and clinics in the city. She added that she got to see many parts of Thailand – including the Northern and Southern areas, along with the capitol. She also spent time working in a clinic on the Thai-Burma border.

“I realized the great need and lack of basic public health services to disadvantaged populations,” she said. “Working in an orphanage with kids whose parents are either dead from HIV or in jail for supporting a democratic government or just abandoned because they couldn’t afford to raise them really gives you a new perspective on life.”

Hossain said she stayed with a Thai family while she was there, which helped her better understand Thai culture.

“They showed us around the local places,” she said. “They are real big on karaoke, so we did that a couple of times on the weekend. We also got a chance to go out and explore Bangkok’s night life.”

Hossain plans to start medical school next year, but hopes to come back to Thailand to do more volunteer work and research.

Turner Payne – junior, International Affairs

For the past five years junior Turner Payne has been a part of a unique summer camp – one that serves as an exchange program between Japanese and American high school students.

This summer Payne served her third year as a counselor with the High School Diplomats International Friendship Program, where she was in charge of monitoring 26 rising U.S. seniors and college students in Japan for three weeks.

Payne said she and the students flew into Tokyo and spent eight days touring the main island of Japan where they saw all of the major cities and spent three days living with a Japanese family. Then there was a 10-day exchange program in Ibaraki outside of Tokyo where American students pair up with Japanese students and shadow them.

“Every single year the students become my babies,” she said. “I am still talking to them and they come and visit me. It’s so rewarding.”

As a counselor, Payne was in charge of organizing the activities and watching the kids – four of whom ended in the hospital for “silly” reasons, she said. The goal of the program is to foster international relationships between Japan and America.

Payne actually started at the camp as a student when she was in high school. She said the only way to become a counselor is to have participated in the program as a camper.

“A friend told me about it,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about Japan or Japanese language.”

Now, Payne said she has developed interest in Japanese culture and is learning the Japanese language from a friend. She said she always recommends others to the program.

“It’s completely changed my life,” she said.

Payne, an international affairs major with a focus in West African regions, plans to be a part of the program for at least the next two summers and hopes to continue teaching English in foreign countries.

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