NU profs research abroad

Caroline Dzeba

When Anthropology Prof. Kearsley Stewart goes to Cuba on Wednesday, she will bring back an unusual souvenir: a Northwestern course.

Stewart will be attending the 2009 Global Forum for Health Research to begin a 10-day period investigating what she calls the “paradox of the Cuban health system.” She will be touring hospitals and pharmacies for a future global health class, “Plagues and Peoples: Global Health and Anthropology,” to be offered next quarter at NU.

The Cuban government spends thousands of dollars less per citizen annually than the United States does for health care yet achieves similar infant mortality rates and life expectancies through a greater emphasis on family physicians and preventative care, Stewart said.

“Most students in the U.S., if they know anything about Cuba, it’s the political relationship,” Stewart said. “So (the health care system) is a surprise.”

Stewart, a medical anthropologist, is one of the increasing number of Weinberg faculty traveling abroad to research for course materials. She previously traveled to Uganda for both independent research and the Global Health Study Abroad program in Jinja and said NU students can learn more about the international community while focusing on health care.

“Whether you’re interested in global health or Cuba, you can see that the U.S. can learn things from other countries,” she said.

German Prof. John Paluch, treasurer for Weinberg’s Council on Language Instruction, said it has become more common for professors to research abroad for unique classes, given the emergence of the information age and the interconnected global community.

Paluch said, as a nation, the United States is “becoming ever-more dependent on others,” which facilitates the need for professors to travel abroad for research in all fields. The Council for Language Instruction helps provide financial assistance specifically to language professors seeking to expand curriculum in their departments.

Spanish Prof. Lucille Kerr traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a participant in a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar, “Jewish Buenos Aires” in Summer 2007. Since then, she has developed her research into several courses focusing on Jewish Latin America with the financial assistance of the Sava Ranisavljevic Endowment.

Kerr first taught a special topics course last winter named “Discovering Jewish Latin America: From Jewish Gauchos to Cosmopolitan Culture in Argentina.”

“That course came out of my research and experience in Buenos Aires, which had laid the foundation for teaching courses about Jewish culture in Latin America,” Kerr said.

Kerr said she was glad to have the opportunity to do research abroad for the initiative.

“I have been interested in this field for a good number of years,” she said. “When I was chosen to participate (in the seminar), it gave me a wonderful opportunity.”

Kerr’s research abroad also led to the development of a class offered this fall, “Discovering Jewish Latin America,” which she said she hopes will become a permanent part of the curriculum. Kerr will teach a freshman seminar titled “Exploring Jewish Argentina” next quarter.

Paluch pointed to the “changing environment” of curriculum development and the evolution of studies at NU as a possible motivation for professors researching abroad.

“Curriculum development is an ongoing process,” he said. “Professors are continually examining what they want to do and examine with their students.”

For professors like Kerr and Stewart, the opportunity to combine their individual research interests with teaching is an added benefit.

“A professor who is a researcher is creating new knowledge,” Stewart said. “You are learning from someone who is producing knowledge.”

Courses based on research in foreign countries are one of the assets to the NU community as a whole, Paluch said.

“That’s one of the interesting things about being at a research university like Northwestern,” he said. “The professors are always coming and going.”

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