“Sometimes we think we know what to expect, and what will happen, but in reality we don’t. Life is full of surprises and adventures, and it’s up to us to explore them. That’s the mindset and belief I am taking with me to Zanzibar.” So wrote Zulekha “Zee” Abu ’14 in her blog post before beginning her six-week summer internship in the island region of Tanzania in East Africa. And so, what has happened since then?
“I have to say, I see the world very differently,” says Abu, whose internship has focused on teaching English to primary and secondary students at the International Muslim English Speaking School. “Growing up, you’re always told to be thankful for what you have, but until you truly travel aboard and experience firsthand how others live, I don’t think you will ever really know how lucky you are. This trip has made me grateful for little things we take for granted like toilet paper, running water, electricity, and even western-style toilets.”
A political science major, Abu is one of 10 Washington College students who traveled this summer to Zanzibar, Morocco, Indonesia and France on internships through the International Studies program. Several are IS majors, with others from environmental studies, English, and business management. All but one of them are representatives of America’s Unofficial Ambassadors, a non-profit which sends citizen volunteers to countries in the Muslim world to work hand-in-hand with people on a variety of projects with the goal of breaking down barriers and stereotypes between the cultures.
Connecting students to AUA is just one way the College’s International Studies program creates global opportunities for its students, who must study abroad for at least one semester and participate in at least one “experiential learning” activity, such as an off-campus Model United Nations simulation, a national or international conference or an internship. “We believe strongly in helping students link what they learn in the classroom with real-world experience,” says International Studies Program Director Andrew Oros.
Abu says she’s done internships in the Maryland General Assembly and with a Maryland congressman, but “never anything like this.” She learned about the internship through posters she saw on the campus, and after political science professor Tahir Shad advised her on ways to fund the trip through grants, she realized she could go. Abu and some of the other students received funding for their internships through the College’s Institute for Religion, Politics & Culture, the Goldstein Program in Public Affairs, as well as the Bennett Endowment for International Studies.
“Zanzibar is very exotic; I can honestly say it’s like looking at a picture,” Abu says. “But even though the people here are really friendly and it’s absolutely breathtaking, this is still a developing country. You can see that when you go into the neighborhoods and the schools. Some people come to Zanzibar and see the beautiful beaches and resorts but never see the developing part of it. I’m glad I get to see both parts.” Abu says the experience has also helped her focus her goals after graduation. “I realized I really want to work for an NGO specializing in education.”
That kind of revelation, Oros says, isn’t unusual. “International Studies majors have discovered a wide range of career passions through their experiential learning— diplomacy, medicine, cultural preservation, teaching. There are no limits to the major in this globalized world. The challenge is connecting students to these opportunities early on. I think that Washington College is a leading institution in this area—adapting a 200-plus-year-old liberal arts education to twenty-first-century needs.”