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New Program at W&L Introduces American Students to an International Student’s Home Country

Five international students at Washington and Lee University will each take an American schoolmate home for the summer to perform service projects and introduce the people and cultures of their countries.

The International Student Collaboration, a new W&L program funded by part of a $219,000 grant from the Endeavor Foundation (formerly the Christian A. Johnson Foundation), will place the pairs of students in Cameroon, Costa Rica, Mongolia and China this summer and continue for the next three years. An Andrew W. Mellon Student Initiative grant will fund a similar project in Argentina.

On their return, the students will present the results of their work on campus and at W&L alumni chapter events.

“The International Student Collaboration program grew out of Washington and Lee’s current initiative for global learning,” said Larry Boetsch, director of international education. “There are more than 100 international students at W&L, many of them from countries that our students don’t usually visit. We wanted a way for them to collaborate, so that our international students have a greater impact on campus and also to internationalize our domestic students. The program provides our international students with a way to give back to their countries while introducing American students to understudied areas of the world through an immersion experience.”

Boetsch explained that the primary focus of the program for the international students is service to their communities, while the goal of the Americans is learning about their hosts’ countries. Spending time in another country should be more enticing to American students when traveling with a W&L schoolmate.

Amy Richwine, associate director for international education at W&L, said that she hopes the program will result in more student collaboration on research and group study on campus.

Water Quality Project in Cameroon

Two recipients of W&L’s prestigious Johnson Scholarships will collaborate on watershed and water quality research in Cameroon. Jenna Biegel, a sophomore from Mesa, Arizona, is a double major in geology and environmental studies with a minor in computer science. Amirah Ndam Njoya, a sophomore from Yaounde, Cameroon, and a double major in politics and studio art with a minor in creative writing, will host Biegel.

The students will conduct research and youth outreach on water quality and its impact on local inhabitants in three locations in the west of Cameroon. Biegel will conduct field tests of water quality, while Ndam Njoya will study the social and political factors that affect the domestic consumption of water in the rural, agricultural and semi-urban areas of Cameroon.

They will also share their knowledge on water consumption and its impact on global climate change at a camp for children and teenagers and donate 50 trees native to the region, one to each child, as a symbol of growth, renewal and hope for a sustainable environment.

Socioeconomic and Environmental Study in Costa Rica

Alejandro Paniagua and Kevin Ortiz will participate in an unpaid internship with Fundación Quiróss Tanzi, an organization whose goal is to improve the public education system in Costa Rica. The students plan to study the differences between public education systems in Costa Rica and the United States, gaining first hand insight into the Costa Rican education system through community service, fundraising and strategic planning projects.

Paniagua is a junior from San Jose, Costa Rica, and a double major in business administration and environmental studies. Ortiz is a junior from Charlotte, North Carolina, and a double major in politics and sociology-anthropology with a minor in education.

They will meet with many different organizations and people to improve their understanding of the country, including Abel Pacheco de la Espriella, president of Costa Rica from 1986–90.

Comparative Study of Breakfast Food Culture in the United States and China

Wan Wei, a sophomore from Wuhan, China, and Olivia Howell, a sophomore from Thomasville, Georgia, will create a documentary on the differences between the breakfast cultures of the United States and Wuhan. They will focus on fast food restaurants McDonalds and KFC, which combine eastern and western traditions in China, and on the traditional Chinese breakfast reganmian, a dish of hot dry noodles.

The students began their project during the spring term course, Cross-cultural Filmmaking, where they investigated and filmed the breakfast culture of the United States. In China, they will study the clash in breakfast culture between east and west and how fast food chains have changed to fit Wuhan’s culture while introducing western cultural traditions.

Family Planning in Mongolia

Meera Kumar and Oyumaa Daichinkhuu are currently in Mongolia, where both are spending spring break from their studies in the United Kingdom. They have positions with the Zorig Foundation, the largest non-governmental organization in Mongolia, and are learning about family planning and women’s rights. They have attended a United Nations conference on the Millennium Development Goals and the future of Mongolia and spoken with representatives from major Mongolian think tanks, ministries and aid organizations.

Kumar, a junior from Chandler, Arizona, is a Johnson Scholar and double major in mathematics and economics with a minor in art history. Daichinkhuu, a junior from Ulan Bator, Mongolia, is a double major in business administration and economics.

The pair will help organize the Mongolian Economic Forum, with more than 1,000 attendees including the prime minister and the president. They will also help create a sustainable banking program to incentivize businesses making green decisions and will assist with a women’s leadership program and an oral histories program about the Mongolian democratic revolution.

Research and Development of Eco Snowboard in Argentina

This project is separately funded by an Andrew W. Mellon Student Initiative grant and entails researching materials, testing designs and optimizing mass production of a recycled and recyclable snowboard that is in the final stages of testing by two materials engineers from Universidad de Mar del Plata in Argentina.

Junior Juan Cruz Mayolis, from Mar del Plata, Argentina, is a double major in physics-engineering and economics, while Samuel Sheppard is a junior business administration major from Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.

They will follow their initial research with field testing of the final snowboard prototypes in Patagonia, looking for ways to improve them, and then developing business and marketing strategies to help launch the start-up company.