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For Study Abroad students, the world is large and small

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LaTrease Davenport with schoolchildren she met in Johannesburg, South Africa
LaTrease Davenport with schoolchildren she met in Johannesburg, South Africa. She spent fall semester studying in Namibia.

Photo: LaTrease Davenport

By the end of this academic year LaTrease Davenport will reach several milestones in her undergraduate career, but two will shine above the rest.

Davenport will become the first in her family to graduate from college. She also made history in the Study Abroad program as the first UIC student to participate in a program in Namibia, Africa.

“I was really inquisitive about the African culture and I had heard a lot about it,” she said. “I am interested in public health, so I wanted to go because of the different cultures.”

Davenport is among a small percentage undergraduate students nationwide who take advantage of study abroad programs.

UIC Study Abroad director Christopher Peter Deegan says that although the number has increased over the last two decades, only 2 to 5 percent of undergraduate students participate each year.

UIC programs are offered both semesters and during the summer, Deegan said, adding that about 200 students participate each year.

The programs are all for credit; knowledge of a foreign language is not required.

Many students don’t think study abroad is financially feasible because they are unaware of the many scholarships and financial aid available, Deegan said.

Davenport’s semester abroad last fall was funded by a Gillman International Scholarship she received as a Pell Grant recipient and a Nation Building Scholarship specific to the Namibia program.

“I was elated when I found out about receiving the two scholarships,” she said.

“I would have gotten loans out to go to Africa, but knowing that the entire thing was paid for and I would have extra money to use for other things was great.”

The Study Abroad Office sends the students’ families information throughout the application and preparation process to keep them informed.

Davenport’s family had concerns about her plans to travel so far away, she said.

“At first they didn’t believe me,” said Davenport. “Then they asked me why I wanted to go to Africa because they have stereotypical views about the African culture.”

When students sign up for classes in their study abroad program, they are encouraged to take courses not offered at UIC.

Davenport said her instructors in the program at Augsburg College based in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, connected courses with the students’ interests.

“The instructor tried to incorporate public health and policy into my history, political science, religion and development courses,” she said.

Davenport also worked at the local Planned Parenthood in Namibia twice a week, where she helped write grants, attended seminars and worked with a local youth group.

The study abroad program included stays with local families in Johannesburg, Windhoek and rural Namibia.

“The family in South Africa spoke fluent English and we lucked out in the rural home stay — the mother was fluent in English because she was a nurse in the capital of Windhoek,” Davenport said.

“Some families barely spoke English so we learned the basics of the native language before we left.”

Davenport and her classmates spent the last week in Cape Town before returning home.

“The most important thing that I got out of this program is that they (people of Namibia) are no different than us and do the same things that we do,” she said.

“I learned that we are all equal, but a little different, and that I could learn from them just as much as they can from me.”

Davenport keeps in touch with her 23 former classmates and the friends she made who are native Namibians.

“People are just so friendly and they treat you like you have known them forever even if you have only known them for a day,” she said.

After graduation, Davenport plans to earn a master’s degree in public health. Because of her experience in Namibia, she is considering work overseas in areas of the world with fewer resources than the United States.

“I am interested in behavioral sciences and health care education,” she said. “I want to educate underprivileged communities on different diseases that are prevalent in that specific area.”

March 20 is the deadline to apply for summer session study abroad. For more information on the various programs, call 413-7662 or stop by the Study Abroad Office in 502 University Hall to speak with a counselor.


Students in the Namibia study abroad program on an excursion to Victoria Falls in Zambia.

Photo: LaTrease Davenport

Students in the Namibia study abroad program on an excursion to Victoria Falls in Zambia.

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