New travel program to focus on civic engagement

by Nathanael King / Beacon Staff • February 4, 2016

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A Colombian student from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, a Duke student, and a professor from the Universidad Nacional.
Courtesy of Ryan Catalani
A Colombian student from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, a Duke student, and a professor from the Universidad Nacional.
Courtesy of Ryan Catalani

Emerson is starting a new Global Pathways program in Medellín, Colombia, this summer, where students will create short documentaries recording the stories of individual locals, many of whom have been displaced by violence.

The college runs many three-to-nine week summer travel programs through the Global Pathways program, according to Emerson’s website. The experiences are designed to educate through cultural immersion.

Tamera Marko, the Colombia program’s director and senior lecturer in the writing, literature, and publishing department, has taught the course for 10 years to students from multiple universities. This is the first year the program will exist as a four-credit course organized solely through Emerson.

“This is a long-standing program with deep roots,” Marko said in an interview.

Up to 10 Emerson students will spend four weeks in Medellín, living with local families. Marko said that they will live near the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Medellín, close to the city center. According to the Global Pathways: Colombia website, Marko will be teaching in conjunction with Luis Serna, a professor and director of the arts programs at the university.

Anthony Pinder, assistant vice president for internationalization and global engagement, said  those in the program will collaborate with local university undergraduates on their projects. He said the students from Colombia will later come to Boston to present documentary projects of their own.

Marko said that while the program will focus on the short documentaries, it will also include written pieces and photos, many of which will come from the family photo albums of the storytellers with whom students are paired.

Medellín was once the site of some of the most brutal cartel conflicts in South America. Marko said that prior violence in Medellín and the surrounding areas displaced many people into the mountainous regions outside the city proper. Many of these people have built or begun to build their own permanent communities. She said these regions are where students do much of the documentary work, archiving lives and stories.

“It’s highly collaborative [with the storytellers], because we’re asking the Emerson students basically to go listen, give their time, and share the precious resource of technology and the ability to cross borders,” Marko said. “It’s [the storytellers’] narrative of love and hope and resilience.”

David Griffin, director of education abroad and domestic programs, said that the comparatively low cost of the trip, around $3500 for housing and tuition, made it more accessible. If the first trip goes well, they will be able to accept more than 10 applicants in later years. Marko said that the trip is limited to students who speak Spanish, with few exceptions.

Pinder said that he decided to help create the program after travelling to Colombia and seeing the value of the documentary creation process. He praised the grassroots nature of the trip.

“Out of all of our programs,” Pinder said, “Colombia has the most deliberate civic engagement aspect.”