Students travel to South America and India during winterim

by Grayce Gibbs | 1/3/19 2:55am

by Alexa Green / The Dartmouth

As most Dartmouth students finished exams and began their winter break, three classes reconvened after Thanksgiving to travel abroad for the culminating experiences of their fall term courses.

Economics 70, “Macroeconomics Policy in Latin America,” traveled to Argentina and Chile, Public Policy 85, “Topics in Global Policy Leadership,” went to Colombia and Biology 70, “Biologic Lessons of the Eye,” visited India.

Students were accepted into each course based on an application explaining why they wanted to be in the class and how it related to their course of study.

Economics professors Douglas Irwin and Marjorie Rose spent the fall term co-teaching a 16-student course studying economics in Argentina and Chile. After Thanksgiving, the class spent two weeks traveling around the two countries and meeting with policymakers.

“The travel component allows students to see economic challenges first-hand and do some intensive field work on team research projects,” Rose said.

In past years, students in the course have traveled to China, Peru and Poland, she added.

According to Rose, the group spent the first week in Santiago and flew to Buenos Aires for the second week, making this course Dartmouth’s first off-campus program to compare and contrast two countries.

Rose said that she and Irwin had both been intrigued by “the successful economic reforms and innovative macroeconomic policies” implemented in Chile over the past several decades.

“We were curious about what were the elements that transformed Chile from a poor developing country to a stable and successful emerging market economy,” she said.

According to Rose, traveling to Argentina allowed students to contrast their experiences in Chile with an alternative country that has had less economic success, despite historically being a richer country.

“One important objective [of the trip] was to see firsthand the impact of the economic issues we studied in class,” Rose said.

To achieve this, the group met with policy makers, business people and people on the street. For example, they met with Chile’s minister of finance Felipe Larraín.

Each person the students spoke with emphasized many of the issues they had studied in class, but also gave a more in-depth and nuanced description of the challenges each of the countries’ economies faced, Rose said.

According to Rose, the second goal of the trip focused on four team research projects that compared the Argentina and Chile on topics chosen by each group: income inequality, business entrepreneurship, female labor force participation and the pension system.

“The students were responsible for setting up their own meetings via email with academics, policy makers and government officials, business people, as well as ‘everyday’ people in Santiago and Buenos Aires to explore their topics in greater depth,” Rose wrote in an email statement.

Groups met with the CEO of Uber in Argentina, the head of the International Labor Organization for Latin America and Chile’s former Minister of Labor.

“It was a great experience in developing real world communication and administrative skills for the students,” Rose said.

Alison Greene ’20 found that being able to see the countries she spent 10 weeks learning about was “extraordinary.”

“All the theory that I have been taught became much more tangible and tactile,” Greene said.

Public policy professor Charles Wheelan ’88 brought 13 students to Colombia following 10 weeks of in-depth study of Colombian history and the Colombian peace process following the 2016 treaty that ended the country’s war with the FARC-EP, or known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, guerilla movement.

In Colombia, the students met with policymakers, representatives from non-governmental organizations, participants in the conflict and FARC kidnapping victims to gain new insight into the topics they studied in the fall.

“[The trip] puts a much finer point on all of the things that we studied,” Wheelan said. “It’s one thing to study something, [but] it’s quite another to speak to people who are working on the conflict [and] who were affected personally by it.”

The students flew to Bogotá where they met with officials from the U.S. embassy, someone working with the United Nations, representatives from non-governmental organizations and others working on the peace process. In Medellín, they met with a former governor who was in power during the most violent Pablo Escobar years. They also spent two days in Valledupar at camps that helped integrate former FARC guerillas back into society.

“One of my favorite parts of the trip was staying overnight in the two FARC reintegration camps,” Mark Daniels ’19 said. “For the entire fall term, we had been reading about the FARC and the conflict. Going to these camps allowed us to meet actual ex-guerillas and speak face-to-face. We could hear directly from the FARC about their motivations for fighting.”

For their final project, all 13 students wrote a collective paper that provided recommendations for the U.S. as a third-party actor in the Colombian peace process.

Wheelan said he chose Colombia as the focus of the course after having visited the country with his family in 2016.

“We were there right before the referendum was held on the peace agreement,” he said. “I found it to be a fascinating place and topic.”

Ashley DuPuis ’19 noted that the trip impacted her own career interests and how she envisions her career trajectory in the future.

“The trip had a huge effect on me,” Daniels said. “Reading about a conflict is much different than actually meeting with those who were involved. I think we all gained a greater appreciation for experiential learning. Plus, our class got a lot of practice with teamwork in generating a final product of over 120 pages.”

For the second time — the first being in 2016 — Biology 70, “Biologic Lessons of the Eye,” went to the Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai, India. Biology professor and Geisel School of Medicine professor of surgery, microbiology and immunology Michael Zegans and biology professor Dawn Carey co-taught the class and traveled with the students.

Since 1997, Zegans has been working with Aravind Eye Hospitals, a network of eye hospitals in India working to eradicate cataract-related blindness.

After teaching the course for the first time in 2014, Zegans said he thought it would be “amazing” to bring Dartmouth undergraduate students to experience the hospital.

According to Carey, in this capstone biology class, each student develops and writes an NIH-style written grant, presents the proposal to the class, receives feedback from the professors and then reworks the proposal. At the Aravind Eye Hospital, students got the chance to present their research to a panel of international experts at a joint education and research conference hosted by the Aravind Medical Research Foundation.

Having students present their ideas in front of an international audience heightened their level of preparation and seriousness, Zegans said.

“The experiential component of the course in giving a research presentation in a different country also definitely strengthened my scientific communication skills and encouraged me to think about making my topic accessible to a large audience,” Arvind Suresh ’19 said.

According to Carey, in addition to the presentations the Dartmouth students gave, they also attended oral and poster presentations by Aravind researchers. The trip also included a cultural connections program between the Dartmouth students and the master’s students working with the Aravind Medical Research Foundation.

“As scientific research is truly a team effort, the trip highlighted to me the importance of teamwork and academic collaborations in generating medical advances,” Suresh said. “With Aravind’s efficiency and success in treating patients, we have at least as much to learn from the Aravind Eye Care System as we have to share our own scientific research findings and developments.”

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