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Dare to be Different: Study Abroad in Tanzania this Summer


With the end of the semester nearing, sunshine, barbecues, beaches and hot summer nights dominate the minds of The University of Mississippi students and teachers. However, that is not the case for Dr. Laura R. Johnson, associate professor of psychology, who is leading a group of UM students around Mt. Kilimanjaro in a community conservation research and study expedition in Tanzania from June 18 to July 15.

Johnson is a two-time Fulbright Scholar and intercultural communication and cross-cultural engagement expert. She was awarded a research grant from the National Geographic Conservation Trust to conduct the ‘Faces of the Mountain’ project that supports community action research in villages encircling Mt. Kilimanjaro, also known as the snow-covered rooftop of Africa.

She recently won a Faculty Professional Development Award for Campus Internationalization from the Office of Global Engagement, which allows students the opportunity to participate in the project.

“This award will fund an intercultural research expedition around Kilimanjaro,” Johnson said, “[And] it will engage students and partners in meaningful research.”

11070201_10206180964748610_883734586810890119_nJohnson has been leading study abroad in Tanzania since 2009 and has always dreamed of organizing a trip such as this one.

“It is the perfect compliment to an already amazing study abroad course that includes safaris, beach time in Zanzibar and a longstanding partnership with the Jane Goodall Institute’s Roots&Shoots program (www.rootsandshoots.org),” she said.

During last year’s trip, students were involved in research training and pilot programs. This year, they will experience deeper connections by visiting several of the forest village communities. Short, educational video screenings are planed in the villages and at the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF).

Rachel Marsh, senior from Trophy Club, Texas, went on the trip last year.

“My time in Tanzania was incredible,” Marsh said. “Getting involved with international service work and connecting with individuals from a culture completely different than my own was truly amazing.”

LS8A6095Marsh encourages other student to go on the trip because it is a wonderful opportunity to do something different.

“You are out of your comfort zone and you learn so much about yourself and the world around you,” Marsh said. “Not to mention, it is a rare opportunity to work on a National Geographic Project.”

Johnson hopes that these grant opportunities will inspire students to ‘go global’ beyond their study abroad experience, and that they will continue working with data in the lab or even taking language lessons in Swahili upon their return. She believes that introducing students to applied psychology and international field research can widen student perspective.

Johnson’s program is aligned with efforts to increase cultural competence at the global level occurring within psychology. She discusses the limits of psychology and the need to apply the practice to meet worldwide mental health needs and to address societal challenges, such as interethnic violence and the climate change crisis in her recent TEDx talk.

Student’s who participate in this year’s program will experience classic bush and beach safaris, make real friendships with Tanzanian youth, see lions and elephants and take in the sweet smells of the Spice Island of Zanzibar. A video of the trip from a few years ago is available here.

12646917_10207229711956436_5595952719017591978_oApplications are online and there are opportunities to work as an undergraduate research or training assistant under Johnson. There are a few more spots available and 3-6 hours of class credit is awarded. The cost of the study abroad is $4,750 plus airfare.

For more information, contact Dr. Laura Johnson at ljohnson@olemiss.edu or visit the information and sign up session tonight at 5 p.m. in Peabody lounge.

Joanie Sanders is a senior print journalism major at The Meek School of Journalism and New Media. She can be reached at jgsander@go.olemiss.edu.

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