WUSTL staff encouraged to apply for weeklong study-abroad program

Bill Larson wants to spread the word about Washington University in St. Louis’ Global Diversity Overseas Seminar program (GDOS).

“I have already encouraged everyone to apply to the program this year,” said Larson, Edison Theatre operations manager and a member of the 2013 GDOS cohort, which traveled to Santiago, Chile, in June. “It was an amazing experience on so many levels.”

WUSTL staff members interested in traveling to an international site and examining diversity issues from a global perspective can apply here for the 2014 GDOS trip. This year’s destination is Ghana, and six staff will be chosen for the program.

The application deadline is Jan. 8. Winners will be announced Jan. 21.

Each year in June, the GDOS cohort spends a week in a country that hosts one of WUSTL’s study-abroad programs. Upon their return to campus, GDOS participants lead outreach efforts to share what they’ve learned with the WUSTL community.

In 2013, the GDOS program focused on social justice, along with racial, ethnic and economic disparities in Santiago, Chile.

The program is a staff-development opportunity, with a series of pre-trip activities such as seminar meetings, group discussions, assigned readings and community-engagement opportunities. Larson said last year’s pre-trip readings including pieces on dictatorships, educational reform, cultural misperceptions, classism and indigenous rights. They also learned about the history of Chile from Rick Walter, professor emeritus of history in Arts & Sciences, and gained perspective on Chilean life from WUSTL students from Chile.

“I felt completely prepared to experience Chile on a deeper level than I had on any previous international trip I had taken,” Larson said.

Abby Kruszynski, residential college director and 2013 GDOS participant, agreed.

“I appreciated the opportunity to experience a place through a different perspective than if I had been traveling for leisure,” Kruszynski said. “The pre-departure work made the experience richer by providing context for many of our stops on the trip.”

While in Chile, the group explored issues related to diversity such as the struggle of indigenous populations, political strife and the socioeconomic divide, as well as immigration issues. Participants also interacted with WUSTL study-abroad students and faculty.

“I really enjoyed seeing where and how our students spend time while attending PUC (Pontificia Universidad Catolica) in Santiago and hearing what their experience has been like,” Kruszynski said.

Larson said he was most affected by the group’s visit to the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, which documents the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled from 1973-90.

“We spent about three hours at the museum, and I easily could have spent a day. The volume of information, videos, photos and artifacts was massive,” Larson said.

“At one point I had to just take a break from the exhibits to keep from being overwhelmed.”

Kruszynski said one highlight for her was experiencing public art in Chile.

“It was everywhere around Santiago, on the college campuses and in Valparaiso,” she said. “It had important social and cultural messages for many Chileans.”

After trying to communicate in a foreign land, Larson said he has newfound empathy for WUSTL international students and intends to be more proactive in his interaction with them.

“Until you are put in a position of being in a culture that is completely foreign to your own — where even communicating in a second language is a struggle — you don’t quite understand what a difference it makes when people reach out to you,” Larson said. “I have a much deeper understanding of what it’s like to be a ‘foreigner.’ If I can help take one of the layers of stress out of the equation for a student, then I will feel my Chile experience was well worth it.”

Coordinated by staff in the Provost’s Office, the Global Diversity Overseas Seminar program brings domestic and global diversity conversations together by organizing a unique experience for WUSTL staff.

To learn more about the GDOS experience in Chile, Paris and Shanghai, visit here.

For questions about the program, contact Shanon Langlie, Global Projects Manager, at langlie@wustl.edu or (314) 935- 8286.