Exploratory Trip to the Peruvian Amazon: Dr. Jane Olmsted, professor in Gender & Women's Studies, and Dr. Kay Gandy, associate professor in the School of Teacher Education, attended the National Collegiate Honors Council's study abroad program in January to get information to design a collaborative course for doctoral students in the Educational Leadership program and master's students in Social Responsibility and Sustainable Communities.
Both programs, the SRSC and Educational Leadership, are firsts for WKU. The SRSC is the first interdisciplinary master's program devoted to sustainability and community leadership, while Educational Leadership was the University's first stand-alone doctoral program. Both programs seek to prepare "students to be productive, engaged, and socially responsible citizen leaders of a global society."
Dr. Jane Olmsted, Chad Green, Brandi Button and Dr. Kay Gandy at La Pascana in Iquitos, Peru
Graduate students Chad Green of Louisville and Brandi Button of Glasgow accompanied Dr. Olmsted and Dr. Gandy on the trip to Peru.
The proposed study abroad course, "Community, Place and Leadership on the Amazon Frontier," will provide students an opportunity to include an international aspect in their program of study, to meet with international leaders and to do service work in rural and urban communities.
The sojourners traveled to Iquitos, Peru (the major city of the western Amazon) and at the Madre Selva Biological Station (Orosa River), from December 28, 2011 – January 16, 2012.
I went to Peru without any expectations as to what I might be doing there. I knew that I was going with Dr. Olmsted in order to gather information about a possible study abroad for WKU, but I had no idea that the trip would impact my life the way it has. While there I was allowed the opportunity to spend 8 days getting to know the local culture of Iquitos, Peru. In Iquitos I participated with the students there that were part of Florida International University's Winterim in activities considered City as Text. This experience was especially important to me, because I have never been given the opportunity from a professor to just "go out there and see what you think." We had a brief safety meeting and then we were sent out to explore. At first, I was uncomfortable, mainly because I did not speak Spanish and I have no sense of direction, but then it was like I just dove in head first. After the first day, they all started to warp together. I spent time in the local open air market and experienced sights, sounds, smells and feelings that I have never known before, I visited a school and found out what they felt their greatest needs were, I danced in local disco techas, ate authentic food, listened to local officials, representatives, scientists and activists, and made friends with a culture of people that I could only communicate with through an interpreter and body language. And this was only the first half of the trip, the next eight days I spent in villages 100 miles downriver from Iquitos and had my first AHA moment of what I want to research for a thesis that I had not considered doing for my Master's in Social Responsibility & Sustainable Communities. I have a passion for indigenous cultures and their human rights. It is my hope to return to Peru next winter and work on my own research instead of just observing. This experience allowed me to finally put into perspective all that I have read about and studied in courses at WKU, yet never fully understood. I would advise any one with even a remote interest in study abroad to join us next winter!
Manuel Ramirez Jr., Brandi Button, children of Comandancia, Chad Green and Nathan, another student participating in Peruvian Winterim through Florida International University
Brandi Button with Manuel Ramirez Sr. in Comandancia
When I first heard about the opportunity to go to Peru as part of the Amazon Winterim I immediately filled with excitement. For most of my life I had dreamed about visiting the rain forests in South America. Combined with my love for the environment and outdoors along with being a part of the SRSC program, it was a perfect match. The trip was an unforgettable experience. Being submersed in a completely different culture with exposure to the various communities and ways of life in the region is something I continue to cherish. In fact, the trip has provided me with the kind of meaningful research project I wanted—the impact of oil drilling along the Amazon. In addition, I made some incredible friendships and created some lasting relationships along the way.
Chad Green with a child in the village of Comandancia