Sammamish residents search for a global perspective

February 15, 2011

By Christopher Huber

Not many college students get study credits for zooming down ziplines in Argentina, walking among hoards of Antarctic penguins, or traveling to serve orphans and schoolchildren in Cameroon.

But two former Sammamish students did just that.

Johnna Furcini, a 2007 Eastlake graduate, and Lian Yuen, a 2007 Skyline graduate, spent their January studying abroad in various parts of the world on Linfield College’s January Term Study Abroad program.

Lian Yuen, a 2007 Skyline grad, takes a boat tour near glaciers in Patagonia in January. Photo courtesy Lian Yuen

Furcini gained a new appreciation for world health after working in villages in Cameroon. Yuen learned Spanish while she studied ecotourism in what is widely considered to be the southern-most town in the world — Ushuaia, Argentina.

“It made me a better person, but also made me a better nurse, in terms of understanding the human body and humanity,” Furcini said after returning from Cameroon.

The college offers about 12 faculty-led off-campus courses each year, according to its International Programs department.

Furcini and Yuen’s respective courses earned them four independent study credits toward their degrees, they said. And only 10-15 students participate in each course, one aspect that helped personalize the experience for the two seniors.

Furcini, a senior nursing student, wanted to finish her program with a dose of real-world experience outside of the United States. She spent Jan. 3-31 working in northwest Cameroon with the Cameroonian Association for Women, Environment and Health, which was founded by Linfield alum Ruth Musunu Titi-Manyaka.

Johnna Furcini (left) talks with youth in Cameroon. Photo courtesy of Johnna Furcini

Along with two instructors and a few other nursing students, Furcini traveled five days a week to rural villages near Mangamba, conducting health checks and teaching locals about AIDS and malaria prevention and basic health practices.

“They were long weeks,” Furcini said. “The humidity just hits you like a wall.”

The group focused on working with youth in the Littoral region of the country, about 600 of whom were orphaned due to parents dying from AIDS, Furcini said. She heard harrowing stories of survival during her time doing health check-ups and basic assessments of patients. While working in the field each day, Furcini and fellow students worked with two instructors from Linfield.

“It was especially difficult because there’s only so much you can do. There were not only the physical needs, but a lot of emotional and spiritual needs that they had,” she said. “It was especially difficult to work with the kids who had lost parents.”

In addition to the work she and the group did, Furcini said they raised about $9,000 to provide mosquito nets and fund the organization’s follow-up visits to the schools and villages, as well as treatment for a few individuals with greater health care needs.

Ultimately, the study trip “sparked my awareness for public health,” she said.

But she’s not sure yet how it will play into her future career as a nurse.

Regardless, she came back with a better idea of how to work with a diverse group of people and needs in a real-world setting, she said.

One instructor stressed how trips like this one bring nursing students back with a bigger health care picture in mind.

“It’s important for our goal … that they see themselves as having a role in global health,” said instructor Sherry Archer, the trip’s co-leader and assistant professor of nursing at Linfield. “If you have a global perspective, you do (your job) differently.”

Yuen, a senior athletic training major, spent 24 days in Argentina touring and studying the impact of ecotourism on certain areas of Argentina.

After touring Buenos Aires for a bit, she and her group spent 10 days in Ushuaia, in the Tierra del Fuego region of Argentina.

There they interviewed tourists, local residents and scientific experts on various aspects of ecotourism, she said. The town is a cruise ship stop, so the students attempted to figure out whether or not the various ecotourism options played a role in travelers’ decisions to come to Tierra del Fuego.

“It’s a pretty amazing country,” Yuen said.

She also visited sites throughout areas of Patagonia and Buenos Aires, including national parks, research stations, glaciers, penguin rookeries and other important cultural sites. As most of the group did not know much Spanish, the students spent four hours a day for a week learning it to help with the language barrier, she said.

“The hardest thing for me was that I don’t have any Spanish background at all,” Yuen said. “Spanish lessons helped a lot.”

Ultimately, Yuen said, she wanted to experience another culture and see the world a bit.

“I really just wanted to travel. I have not got to see other cultures and countries,” she said. “If you have chance to do it, I don’t see any reason not to do it.”

Furcini agreed about her experience in Cameroon, too.

“It really improved the way I’ll manage care and treating my patients,” Furcini said. “I would encourage anyone who’s thinking of world travel to go ahead and do it, especially in college.”

Reporter Christopher Huber can be reached at 392-6434, ext. 242, or chuber@isspress.com.

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