By Cecile Schoberle and Vicki Hildner
When Samantha Miles wandered into the Study Abroad: Global Education office last year, she had a vague idea that she wanted to do research in a foreign country. Today, this CU Denver senior laughs when she says, “I had no idea I was enrolling in a revolution. But the experience was absolutely life-changing.”
Last Spring, along with 10 other college students from across the country, Samantha traveled to Tunisia just as popular protests forced President Zine El Abidine Bel Ali out of the office. This revolution is considered to be the impetus for the 2011 Middle East and North Africa protests.
Samantha had picked Tunisia for her Study Abroad program because she was interested in the ways that women were using social media to advance human rights in the country. Because of instability in the country, her group spent four weeks studying in Morocco until the State Department lifted the warning on travel to Tunisia. When she arrived to live with a host family in Tunis, she found a beautiful country--under siege.
“There were army tanks lining the neighborhoods,” Samantha recalls. “Everywhere you looked there were men with guns. Many of the signs portraying the former president had been half torn down. People left up half the sign in order to publically humiliate him.”
Although Samantha admits to being “always vigilant” because of ongoing tensions between radical Islamists and secular groups, she says she was much more excited than frightened. She credits Director of Global Education John Sunnygard with “preparing me to survive as a woman in the Middle East.”
Samantha also credits the women of Tunisia for giving her courage to continue her research despite the challenges of working during tense political conditions. “They were the most incredible women I have ever met,” she says. “They were ready to put their lives on the line for the right to do so many things that we take for granted in this country. They were absolutely inspirational.”
Samantha Miles might be considered an inspiration by some. She worked in cosmetology immediately after graduating from high school in order to pay for her continuing education. Miles is also a TRiO Student. TRiO Student Support Services at CU Denver helps first-generation, low-income students and students with disabilities reach their full potential and achieve academic success.
In addition, Samantha is an IIPP recipient (Institute for International Public Policy). This six-year scholarship program prepares students for a master’s degree in international relations and aids them in advancing their career in international public administration and global politics. Samantha was awarded a Gilman scholarship for $8000 and a generous scholarship from the School for International Training to support her travel abroad. She is also on the Dean’s List.
Samantha’s research titled “Women and Capacity Building through the Jasmine Revolution” will be published by Forum on Education Abroad, Undergraduate Research. http://www.forumea.org/
According to Sunnygard, study abroad enrollment has increased by 70 percent in the past three years, as many students see the advantages of gaining a global perspective. Samantha Miles now plans to work for human rights and global health in countries that are experiencing rapid political change.
“I had the extraordinary opportunity to experience the birth of a revolution,” she says. “Now I know that anything is possible if you are determined. And for human rights, it is worth the fight.”
To learn more about Samantha Miles’ experiences studying abroad, check out her blog at:
Contact: Cecile.Schoberle@ucdenver.edu and Vicki.Hildner@ucdenver.edu