Cornell University

November 18 2013

An Individualized Experience

Students craft unique international programs through ILR travel grants

Randy Markush '14What do you do if you want to gain international experience during summer or winter breaks, but few of Cornell's abroad programs are offered during those times?

Apply for an ILR International Programs travel grant.

Since 2007, International Programs has awarded 87 travel grants for activities in countries as diverse as Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Thailand and South Africa --35 countries in total.

Where the students choose to go, what they do while there and how much funding is needed for their projects is up to the individual student.

This autonomy not only allows students to tailor their program to their career interests, but is also an exercise in planning and budgeting -- two aspects of study abroad most students leave to their universities.

"It was a pretty intense process," admits Randy Markush '14, who spent three weeks in Zambia last summer at the Protea hotel chain.

Traveling to Zambia -- where 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and 42 percent live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank -- allowed Markush to experience HR in a different context than his internships in the United States, he said.

"There are far too few jobs available and too many workers to fill those positions," Markush said. "We think the jobs crisis here is bad, but it's significantly worse in Zambia."

Although his classes in collective bargaining helped him understand management's relationship to unions in Zambia, his travel grant gave him hands-on experience confronting problems HR departments face, Markush said.

While volunteering with Protea's HR department, Markush had to figure out how to terminate an employee while staying within the bounds of the collective bargaining agreement, as well as maintaining an amicable relationship with the union. That balance was "very challenging to strike," Markush said.

"Class gives you the buzzwords, but when you actually apply them, you have to rely on your own natural problem-solving skills," he said.

Was the experience he gained in Zambia worth the stress of organizing his own program?

The answer, Markush said, is a resounding yes.

"The process pushed me to come up with a program that I completely understood and felt well prepared for because I made all the necessary preparations myself," he said.

"I had a lot of unique experiences that were due to both chance and my own initiative, and I enjoyed the flexibility and freedom of doing my own program."