Dean Rusk International Studies Program: Dracula in Romania, Malaria in Africa, Memories in France

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It can be tough to choose from among the many offerings on the Davidson campus calendar, but it’s always worth poking around there. Recently, I gravitated toward a couple of talks sponsored by the college’s Dean Rusk International Studies Program, a result of that office’s partnership with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting’s Campus Consortium.

Cox in front of “Dracula’s” Bran Castle in Romania

• Dracula tourism in Romania pique your interest? Jonathan Cox ’14 had the topic covered in a recent afternoon presentation in the Dean Rusk International Studies Program’s student lounge. Cox, who grew up in Romania, among other places, detailed a spirited (but not bloody—yet?) debate in that country about the desirability of basing tourism on a literary myth that originated in Yorkshire, England. Cox’s work was funded with an Abernethy Grant, he said, and he has an article under contract with Verge Magazine: Travel With Purpose. Working title: “Dracula Tourism and Its Reluctant Stakeholders: Romania’s Love-Hate Relationship with Its Hometown Vampires.” Cox also has received funding through Dean Rusk for India-based work through the Pulitzer Center that got picked up by The New York Times and beyond.

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• A few days after Cox’s presentation, New York-based science journalist Amy Maxmen graced the same space. She writes about medicine, health, neuroscience and evolution for outlets that include NatureThe ScientistScience NewsPsychology TodayCell and the Lancet. She gave students a globe-trotting reporter’s-eye view as a preview for her talk that night, “Tracking Malaria in Africa.” How did a Harvard Ph.D. in evolutionary biology go from marine biology to freelance international journalism? Jealousy, she said, of the reporters who used to come interview her: “They waltzed in and learned all the cool stuff, then waltzed back out again.” Maxmen said she learned on the journalism job by sharpening her “beginner’s mind” skills, learning to ask and re-ask questions, and always paying attention to crucial cultural differences when abroad. No better message to deliver at Davidson, where approximately 80 percent of the student body study, travel, work or perform service in another country.

Pi Delta Phi inductees, April 16, 2014. Click to enlarge.

• On a personal note, moi-même was one of those study abroad students 30 years ago, when the French Junior Year Abroad program was in Montpellier on the Mediterranean coast, where I still regularly visit my “French family.” Talk about lifelong learning! The French study abroad program, now based in Tours, turns 50 next year, pioneer that it was in 1964 for Davidson study abroad programs to follow in other farflung locales.

Moi-meme, 1984ish, home from JYA France with a new sense of hair stylin’.

I was reminded of all this yesterday as I accepted honorary membership in Pi Delta Phi Société d’Honneur Française, alongside a cadre of proud students of French whose esprit de corps and joie de vivre harked me back to my own school days as a French major. At that time, it should be disclosed, I was not inducted into any honor societies, French or otherwise, but I was proud to be among these students yesterday.

La nostalgie? Mais oui! I have already checked my frequent flyer point balances and begun daydreaming of my next trip. Vive la France!

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