Tri-S travels to do good works

Tue, 2012-07-24 10:48 -- univcomm
AU students involved in Tri-S are making their travel plans to far-off places where beautiful white-sand beaches and poolside rendezvous are not on the itinerary. These students pay their own way to sweat and toil for two weeks in conditions most Americans can't imagine. The students' reward? If you have to ask, there are not enough words to explain, they will tell you. "Tri-S stands for study, serve and share, and the program here at the university has been operational since 1964," said Willi Kant, director of international study at AU. "We've probably had, over these years, 16,000-plus students, faculty and staff traveling around the world. Annually, we'll have about 450 students traveling.

"We go to an average of 30 to 35 locations around the world," he said. "We'll travel during the semesters in December and January. Groups leave a day or two after Christmas, and the trips are usually two weeks long. Some groups travel over spring break, but the largest number of students travel in mid-May right after graduation. Those are the students that are getting ready now." Some students do stay more than two months, Kant said, especially the students who spend their time at an orphanage in Hong Kong working with the physically and mentally challenged children who live there.

"There is a lot of learning that takes place," Kant said. "Learning about other cultures and people and their history. And our students learn a whole lot about themselves and their own cultural perspectives and assumptions."

And this kind of learning defines the mission of AU -- to produce well-educated young adults who know far more than can be taught by books.

For Heather Dollins, an AU senior from Seymour who is studying social work and pre-med, the 10 days in Honduras were spent translating for a group of doctors, nurses and interns from Ohio. It was a daunting task with a native dialect that was difficult to understand. And it was a glimpse of what life is like where common medical problems go untreated. One child, in particular, still haunts Dollins.

"The worst was to look into the eyes of a 9-year-old child who could have heart surgery to correct a defect in her heart if she were here in the United States," Dollins said Thursday. "But there was no way she will get that surgery there. And without it she probably won't make it into her teen-age years."

There were children suffering parasites and fungal infections. And there were many children and adults who suffer terrible pain each day. Those faces were hard to forget.

"We could give them medication that would take away their pain for five days, but then it will come back and we won't be there," Dollins said. "That's so hard to understand and accept. And that's why, as Christians, it was good to share the gospel with them and to give them something that is eternal. We can't fix their pain forever, but we could give them the gift of someone who can."

Through the international study program, students can earn up to three hours of academic credit for work during their visits. For example, a student traveling to Hong Kong would be given assignments focused on that nation.

In May, about 150 students, faculty and staff will travel to Romania, Hungary, Australia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Honduras, England and France. Some groups stay in the United States working on inner-city projects or with Native Americans on reservations in South Dakota and Arizona.

From freshman to senior, AU students are encouraged to take part in Tri-S. The students will work as student teachers, hospital workers, they will build churches, clinics, schools and water and irrigation systems.

This group leaves May 13 and will return May 27.

"The safety of our students is always the absolute priority, and given the events in the world today, that's a heightened concern. We study the region and we have help from the U.S. State Department and a number of other sources," Kant said. "And all of our groups work with a national host who is very familiar with events in that country. If that host thinks there is any risk, we do not go. The host also advises and directs the group and really minimizes the risk. We've had an excellent track record. In all these years, we've had no serious injuries to any of our students."

---Writer CINDY CARSON is a staff reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.