MACON – Dr. Chinekwu Obidoa, assistant professor of global health in Mercer University's College of Liberal Arts, and six students traveled to Bermuda over the recent winter break to examine the country's influence on the global economy as well as social determinants of health in the British island territory.
The weeklong trip, which began Dec. 12, marked the first study abroad venture to Bermuda for the University, as well as the first group of students to visit the island under a new educational tourism initiative begun by Jeremy and Tinashe Johnson to foster relationships with U.S. and other foreign institutions.
Dr. Obidoa and students Devin Blais, Allie Collins, Sally Idehen, Amore Jones, Aaron Scherf and Lakendra Young visited many different sites to learn about the history, industry, geography and culture of Bermuda.
The highlight of the trip was a visit with the Premier Michael Dunkley, who conversed with the students and invited them to attend a parliamentary session during which legislators debated cigarette laws.
“This was a significant experience for us, not only because we were in Bermuda to explore the social determinants of health, but also because it was an opportunity for us to observe how public health policymaking takes place at the national level,” said Dr. Obidoa.
While in the House of Assembly, Deputy Speaker Suzann Roberts-Holshouser formally welcomed the Mercer delegation during the session, which was broadcast on local radio. Several calls came in to the group's tour guide inquiring about the students' visit, and the country's only daily newspaper, The Royal Gazette, later published a story about the trip.
Another notable Bermudian the group met was the island's 6-foot-7 town crier Ed Christopher, who rendered a public welcome to Mercer faculty and students and explained his duty to make public pronouncements to the citizens as an officer of the court.
While visiting several companies, the students learned that, despite Bermuda's British charm and island soul, its primary industry is not tourism but international business.
They met with the president of Symphony Management, a firm that specializes in reinsurance. Reinsurance is the process of insuring the insurance industry, mitigating the risk of potential incidents for corporations around the world while also allowing them to declare assets in a tax-free zone. Bermuda has the second-largest reinsurance market in the world.
The group also visited the international headquarters of Bacardi Limited, the largest privately owned spirit producer and distributor in the world.
The students were given a tour of King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, the only hospital on the island, where they learned how the healthcare system operates both on a day-to-day basis and in the event of a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis.
The group visited several other healthcare facilities, including WindReach, a four-acre recreational and development center that offers therapeutic and educational experiences to people living with special needs; Packwood Home, a senior-living facility where the students sang Christmas carols and visited with residents; and SmilesInc dental clinic, which is run by an American dentist who splits his time between clinics in Hamilton, Bermuda, and Boston, Massachusetts.
The trip also included a chance encounter with local legend Johnny Barnes, as the students helped the 92-year-old cross the street. Barnes has become a symbol for the island's gregarious nature by standing at its busiest intersection and waving at passing cars. He has greeted island-goers with his signature phrase, “I love you! God bless you!,” for more than 50 years and will retire soon due to knee problems.
“Our experiences in Bermuda taught me so many new things – I can hardly believe that it was only a weeklong trip,” said Scherf. “Though I am not part of the Global Health Studies program, I learned a great deal from the conversations we had with local residents and the reflections we had as a group. As a soon-to-be international businessman, seeing the impacts of the global financial industry on the island and how it related to the local community was particularly insightful. One of the bank managers we met with actually suggested I send him a resume once I get closer to graduation.”
Mercer's Global Health Studies program is one of three academic majors in the International and Global Studies Department (IGS) that require a study abroad experience.
“The evidence is clear, study abroad is a transformative experience that profoundly impacts the development of the students intellectually, culturally and professionally,” said Dr. Eimad Houry, professor and chair of international and global studies.
“The IGS faculty organize and lead more study abroad programs than any other department in the College of Liberal Arts and deeply believe in the lasting value of the cultural immersion experience. This year alone, faculty in IGS have or will lead programs to four destinations across three continents: Bermuda, Dubai, Tanzania and South Africa.”
The University's Office of International Programs offers a wide variety of study abroad opportunities to students. In addition to faculty-led programs, the University offers a number of internships in South Africa, more than 12 tuition exchange programs and the opportunity to study abroad at the University of Oxford. For more information, visit the office in Ryals Hall or its website at mercer.terradotta.com.
“Dr. Obidoa's faculty-led program to Bermuda has truly provided an impactful educational experience to our students,” said Bryant Harden, coordinator of study abroad programs. “This program is illustrative of the incredible study abroad opportunities that we offer at Mercer, in which students build upon the knowledge that they've learned in the U.S. through discussion, observation and interaction abroad.”