Daily O'Collegian, Oklahoma State Univ.

Feb 21 2014

Brandon Schmitz Features Reporter Daily O'Collegian

One of the first things stressed to Michael Anderson upon entering
Armenia was how conservative many of the people were. Imagine his
surprise, then, when the first Armenians he met outside of the country
were prostitutes.

Anderson, a Peace Corps member from 2009-2011, ended his second
service day by traveling to the neighboring city of Trabzon.

Unfortunately, his hotel reservation had been canceled, and he couldn't
simply check into a Holiday Inn.

Given the scarcity of his options, a pay-by-the-hour motel was
a godsend.

"So we're kind of terrified," Anderson said. "And there are these
three voluptuous women. They're asking us if, you know, we want to
spend a little money for a little fun."

It wasn't until the women began speaking Armenian among one another
that Anderson felt at ease. So much so that he and his friends decided
to join their table.

"They bought us tea and coffee," Anderson said. "Told us about all
of the good tourist sites. They were super nice ladies -- not the
type you would expect to have tea with."

The Hows and Whys

Oklahoma State University's Master of International Agriculture
Program has its fair share of requirements.

Specifically, all students must spend at least four weeks abroad,
while keeping tracking of his or her daily activities. The experience
culminates with the creation of an internship report, as well as a
PowerPoint presentation.

And though the basic guidelines are set in stone, the program is

"It's awesome in that students get to pick their own focus area,"
said graduate coordinator Katie Meeks. "You pick classes that pick
your professional, educational and personal goals."

Why Do People Join the Program?

Anderson initially wanted to work for the State Department and had
heard that the Peace Corps was a popular gateway. Underneath that,
though, his motivation to go abroad was much like his fellow student's.

"At least 95 percent of our American students - we are hoping to get
more international [ones] - are attracted by the opportunity to have
international experience," said program director Shida Henneberry.

"Also, having a master's degree that's this unique is important."

A Different Culture

If Anderson's experience is any indication, being one of the only
Americans in a given area is going to draw attention -- for better
or worse.

"You kind of become a celebrity," Anderson said. "But your privacy is
kind of taken from you. I mean, you want to be polite, but sometimes
you just want to be alone. People always want to ask you questions,
like 'how much money do you make?'"

Although Anderson began his service by training with seven other
American volunteers - people he came to know as friends - he was sent
off on his own three months later. It took some time to get used to
that - to say the least.

"It's, like, you go from this really high experience to kind of a
low one at first," he said. "I felt pretty lonely."

Lasting Impressions

Although several friends were lost, a new one was made. A woman, who
had been scavenging a cherry tree, spotted Anderson. Having taught
herself how to speak English, she was no stranger to Peace Corps
volunteers. It wasn't long until she became Anderson's best friend,
as well as his Armenian tutor.

Anderosn said he is most thankful for, though, is her introducing
him to dolma.

"Since it's cabbage-based, I thought it was disgusting," he said. "But
it's a poor country, so when you're offered something to eat, you
generally take it. I sort of learned to like it, and since then,
I've grown to love it."

It isn't just Armenian dishes that Anderson has brought home, for his
experience abroad instilled in him an unbridled belief in hospitality.

Certainly, being treated to a quality meal by a complete stranger
has got to be infectious.

"I used to be stingy when cutting cake for other people," Anderson
said. "Now they get the biggest piece."