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Travel that transforms

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Comments from the “Religion and Christian Faith” travel seminar to El Salvador, January 2007


“Going on the trip to El Salvador was like getting stuck in an earthquake—it shook me and all of my values to the core…Never before have I felt so inspired or impassioned…”


“This trip gave me knowledge that cannot be learned in any textbook, but it is knowledge that one cannot do without in order to understand the magnitude of human responsibility, vocation, and global citizenship. Studying in El Salvador is simply the greatest practical application for understanding why our vocations matter.”


“The people of [El Salvador] are our textbook, and their stories are frightening and funny and inspiring. To say that everyone comes back changed is to make light of the experience. People come back enriched, enlightened, and energized.”


“The concept of affecting another human being by decisions I make made me see the world differently. … As a business major, I want to learn how I can help be a global citizen when globalization is the enemy to developing countries.”

Amazing. Life-changing. Transforming. Participants are not shy about describing their experiences on trips organized by the Center for Global Education. They seek out opportunities to talk about what they learned, and they want to return. The difference is that they have not been on casual, sightseeing trips, but reflective travel; and CGE has built a reputation as a national leader in international experiential education.

While the first student seminar in Mexico took place in 1979, it wasn’t until 1982 when Joel Mugge led a group that officially established the Center for Global Service and Education. He did this in response to a request from the Lutheran Church for programs to raise awareness of international issues.

Mugge developed a new form of international education, basing the curriculum on the educational principles of Brazilian educator and theologian Paulo Freire. In this, students learn in a cycle of three phases. Initially they have direct experience in the local community, listening to the voices of people not usually heard in mainstream media, telling their own stories and stories of their communities. Then, informed by readings, students reflect on what they saw and heard. Lastly, as a group, students share their reactions, discuss issues, and formulate actions to carry with them. It becomes a continual process of “learning how to learn.”

CGE’s programs include study and travel abroad for students, faculty development in global education, and customized group travel around specific issues or targeted for specific groups. As a result of these programs, CGE has served as a catalyst in the Lutheran Church for a new understanding of global mission, putting people from the U.S. face-to-face with people in local communities around the world to learn from each other and build partnerships across faiths. CGE programs tailored for small businesses have helped their employees understand complexities in social, economic, and political issues, and the development of more responsible global citizenship.

“The goal is not to simply educate persons, but to encourage them to pursue a life of involvement that will ultimately lead to wisdom,” says Larry Hufford, a political science professor at St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas, who has led numerous study seminars with CGE’s assistance and who finds them spiritually renewing.

During the 1980s and 1990s, CGE planned travel seminars literally around the world. Study centers with resident Augsburg faculty and staff were then established in three locations—Cuernavaca, Mexico; Managua, Nicaragua; and Windhoek, Namibia. Offices and staff are also located in El Salvador and Guatemala.

CGE became known for the quality of learning their travel provided; in 1988 they were hired by the American Society of Newspaper Editors to organize a seminar for journalists to Central America and Mexico. CGE has also received Fulbright grants to organize several group projects. In 2003, the program was named the National Society for Experiential Education’s Program of the Year.

In 2001, the position of CGE director was expanded to include the associate dean of international programs. The Office of International Programs (OIP) was created, which, in addition to CGE, includes Augsburg Abroad, the study abroad office; International Partners, including European institutions in Germany, Norway, and Finland that have reciprocal agreements for study with Augsburg; and International Student Advising, providing advising and advocacy for international students at Augsburg.


Shortly after the arrival of new Augsburg president Paul Pribbenow in 2006, the College began to focus on internationalizing Augsburg education. OIP launched efforts to integrate study abroad experiences into the curriculum of all majors on campus, seeking to create a culture shift toward a more internationalized campus and college experience for students. The goal is a more seamless relationship between campus curriculum and study abroad. Students may choose from the semesters abroad offered by CGE or participate in other study abroad programs approved by the Augsburg Abroad office.

In addition to infusing study abroad into all majors, CGE has made it possible for all students—undergraduate and graduate— to have a cross-cultural experience. For weekend students it means only a oneor two-week course, a shorter time away from family and work than the semester program. For graduate students, it means a short-term seminar that directly links to their program work or research. For all students, the direct, personal experience in another culture is carried back into their lives and work at home.


Following are examples of programs that have been designed for specific disciplines or target audiences:

Social work in a Latin American context

This semester-long program in Mexico for social work undergraduate students was developed within a unique consortium of eight colleges and universities in South Dakota and Minnesota—both public and private. It provides a common experience for students at schools lacking the resources to create a program of their own. This experience gives future social work professionals better preparation to serve the needs of Spanish-speaking clients in their home areas.

The social work students live at Augsburg’s center in Cuernavaca. They take classes in culture with Augsburg’s adjunct faculty there, and classes in social work theory and practice with a visiting professor from one of the consortium institutions.

In 2006, the consortium was awarded the Council on Social Work Education’s Partners in Education award for “advancing education for international social work.”


Students training to become physician assistants visited clinics in Guatemala, learning about healthcare practices there and presenting health clinics—such as teaching children about oral hygiene.

Exploring health care in Guatemala

In July the physician assistant studies master’s program became the third graduate program to offer a study abroad course tailored for its students. Twelve students traveled to Guatemala for two weeks to learn about indigenous culture, and specifically to explore health practices and spirituality in Mayan cultures.

While there, the students visited clinics, learned about deep social and cultural disparities, and presented programs on healthcare topics, such as hypertension and diabetes. They learned and saw how healthcare practices can be developed with vastly fewer resources—something which may serve them well as they seek physician assistant positions in areas with underserved populations.

Before traveling, the PA students raised money to buy supplies and materials to give to the clinics, such as over-the-counter vitamins and pain relievers, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, etc.


Students in the 2005 study seminar to El Salvador studied the legacy of Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed while championing the struggle of the Salvadoran people during their long civil war.

Lilly vocation seminars

As part of “Exploring Our Gifts,” Augsburg’s grant from the Lilly Endowment for exploration of vocation, a total of nine travel seminars have been designed with a focus on vocation.

Religion professor Bev Stratton has twice led a vocation-themed seminar—Religion and the Christian Faith (REL 480)—to El Salvador, where students have studied how powerfully the faith of the Salvadoran people has impacted their struggles for social justice. These courses fulfill the students’ keystone requirement—a seminar generally taken in their last year that pulls together their total Augsburg experience, combining the liberal arts foundation with their in-depth major, while revisiting the critical conversations about vocation.

The El Salvador group visited massacre sites, met with survivors, and heard from leaders such as Bishop Medardo Gomez of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, who spoke about how he sees his vocation at work in El Salvador. The group also became immersed in the work and legacy of Archbishop Óscar Romero, killed in the civil war in 1980.

The Lilly seminars have given students both a cross-cultural experience and a framework to understand how Christian vocation is part of daily life. Other Lilly seminars have taken students to Namibia, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.


As part of the Hoversten Peace Seminar, an Augsburg faculty, staff, and student group stopped for a photo while touring the fields of a coffee cooperative in Guatemala.

Hoversten Peace Seminar

Supported by the Hoversten Peace Endowment, this biennial travel seminar for Augsburg faculty, staff, and students aims to develop a strong learning community among participants. Pre-departure orientation introduces the group to each other, and living and learning together abroad strengthens their bonds. Upon return, the group continues to build community around their common experience by sharing it with the larger Augsburg community.

In August, 10 faculty, staff, and students—coincidentally, all women—participated in the 10-day “Peace and Reconciliation after Conflict: A Guatemalan Perspective.” The women learned about the history of civil war and the peace accords, heard from leaders with differing perspectives, and confronted the realities of the local communities.

The efforts to internationalize the Augsburg campus are showing results. In 2007-08, a record number of 221 Augsburg students studied abroad. As their first quarter-century came to a close, CGE director and associate dean Orval Gingerich noted in their anniversary publication that “the work of CGE is unfinished, and is perhaps more important than ever in bringing tools for critical analysis and action and ultimately hope to a new generation of students, professors, and global citizens.” Stay tuned for the next 25 years.

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