Sam Norton

Student Life Editor

 

As Mia Hulslander entered a Ghanaian hospital, she could not believe the scene that lay before her eyes.

Women who had just suffered a difficult pregnancy shared beds with one another in beds that were adorned with bloody sheets. A torn-down operating room from six years ago stayed untouched and served as a health hazard to patients who went in and out of the hospital. Despite these faults, this hospital was one which the citizens of Ghana were most proud.

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“We have such high standards for health and they cannot have those. They don’t have the luxury to have those high standards,” Hulslander said.

Ghana was just one of the 12 Third World countries that Hulslander and Hannah Bujnevicie traveled to during the fall 2011 semester. Rather than just the typical research papers, exams, and quizzes on the syllabus, voyaging across the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea, were the main areas of study.

These past four months were ones that opened Hulslander’s and Bujnevicie’s eyes to a whole new lifestyle. These Third World countries exposed Hulslander and Bujnevicie to extreme poverty and to a materialistic-free world.

“The poverty in other places is what makes them who they are and it is what makes their country. In India, as awful as it was to see the poverty, it is also what makes India, India. The people do not hate the fact that they are in poverty and living each day to get out of poverty. They are embracing their lives,” Hulslander said. However, not every country was quick to embrace students like Hulslander and Bujnevicie.

“It was totally black and white. Sometimes you were loved and everyone was psyched that you were there. And sometimes you were completely hated and being sworn at or spit at,” Hulslander said.

When the M.V. Explorer anchored in Morocco, Bujnevicie was about to experience just how black and white the attitude towards their presence was. While walking in Morocco, Bujnevicie was unexpectedly mugged. Her mugger took off with her camera in tow. Even though her mugger was caught, her camera was never found. Still, for Bujnevicie the experience was not all bad. “I had to deal with their police system and it really showed me how different their country is from America,” Bujnevicie said.

“In Morocco we were not treated well. I was sworn at in Morocco, I had a kid spit on me,” Hulslander said. Despite this negative treatment, Hulslander and Bujnevicie were more than welcomed in countries such as India. “In India, lighter skin is sacred. It’s what they don’t see. It was like we had three heads, they constantly wanted to take pictures of us,” Bujnevicie said. As Hulslander walked through a water village in India, people who wanted to touch her skin would constantly approach her.  When she would ask why they were fascinated by her ivory skin tone, the reply would be “I’ve never seen white skin before,” Hulslander said.

“Each place has their own unique aspect that is wonderful. It may make you scratch your head sometimes saying, ‘Why is that happening?’ but there is a whole reason to why that’s happening and to find out those reasons are the key to why people travel,” said Associate Director of the Global Education Office Steven Spiegel.

Understanding the fascination with differences in physical appearance was not the only unique aspect Hulslander and Bujnevicie encountered. Each country offered an economic standing that neither of the two had experienced before.

“Even if you found water and washed your hands, you can’t then touch food and put that food in your mouth because you will get sick from that water. We have involuntary functions like breathing where you don’t have to think about it. We have made so many other things act like they are involuntary functions we don’t have to think about and it was weird to have to switch to more of a survival mode,” Hulslander said.

“The more they know before they get some place, the better they are. That way you don’t make so many cultural mistakes. You are always going to be carrying your own cultural baggage with you wherever you go, but at least you can look at things with a little more understanding. And that is why with Semester at Sea they really prepare people for the countries they are going to,” Spiegel said.

The constant thoughts of learning how to control involuntary functions quickly disappeared once a historical monument came into view.

For Hulslander, the Taj Mahal was one of the most incredible sights she has seen, a far cry from the bloody bedsheets she saw just days before. “I was literally speechless. I couldn’t believe that a building could make me feel that way,” Hulslander said. However, for Bujnevicie it was not the architectural designs that caught her eye, it was the simplistic views of Cape Town, South Africa. “It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” Bujnevicie said.

“It has come so far. There is a lot of history with segregation in South Africa and it has come a long way with trying to make it better, so it was interesting to be a part of that history,” Bujnevicie said. Forever written in Bujnevicie’s and Hulslander’s history is how they traveled the world together to 12 unique developing countries, all of which offered their own memories and lessons- lessons that opened their eyes to new cultures and lifestyles.

However, this study away program comes with a hefty price tag, but Spiegel assures that “there are a lot of affordable programs that our office has.” Despite the dollar amount, for Hulslander and Bujnevicie this experience was unforgettable and priceless.

“I would definitely feel like my life was a lot less complete if I did not do this voyage,” Hulslander said.

 

Sam Norton can be contacted at snorton1@ksc.mailcruiser.com

 

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