Global Spotlight: Mueller’s [most-recent] Global Experiences

Posted: Wednesday, March 23rd 2016 at 4:23 AM

During her sabbatical in 2015, Julie Mueller, associate professor of economics, stretched her global boundaries beyond what she thought she had before.

Mueller’s previous travels have included Belize, India, Morocco, and China [Global Spotlight story HERE].

In an unexpected turn of events in February, Mueller found herself on a Management Systems International (MSI) consulting team conducting in-country visits in Nepal, Zambia, and Rwanda, returning from these whirlwind trips by May 5. And even though she is a seasoned traveler of the globe, both as a tourist and as an academic, what she learned from this round of experiences was an unexpected level of deep gratitude.

MSI does economic development. At the end of an hour-long phone conversation, they offered Mueller a consulting job to help them assess if USAID-provided Arc GIS programs and data were being utilized in several foreign countries and if so, in what ways. [Sabbatical story HERE]

In Katmandu, Nepal, the World Food Program and the Red Cross use the products, e.g., the World Food Program uses it after an earthquake to decide which crops will be impacted and therefore limit food supplies. They send food to those regions.

“It was incredibly inspiring to meet with people doing such vital work on the ground,” said Mueller.

“We were also assessing a crop monitoring tool, so we went to the Terai region of Nepal which is the flatlands where no tourists travel. The Terai had the most abject poverty I’ve seen – ever. We also ended up in the middle of a Maoist protest as the region seeks to succeed from Nepal,” she recalled.

“I only spent 3-4 days in the Terai but with the long workdays and the sanitary conditions, I ended up getting so ill I had to visit the ER as soon as I arrived home.”

And then…

And then the earthquake hit Nepal about one week after Mueller returned to the U.S., on April 24th.

“The hotel where we spent 12 days conducting interviews was in the area of Kathmandu hit the hardest. Had I not left when I did, I probably wouldn’t have been able to leave, and I probably would have been in a nearby hospital. I had this feeling I’ve never had in all of my travels, and I left just in time. It was a profound experience for me, and very unexpected in light of how many places I traveled before..”

Lesson Learned

After her experiences in Nepal and with the global affairs in Africa, Mueller found herself hesitant as she moved into that segment of her commitment. She negotiated a shorter stay in each African country with hotel stays in Europe on both ends of the trip.

And she reversed her decision to travel to Kenya.

“They asked me to go to Kenya, and I said yes. The next day there was the mass shooting at the Kenya University, so I said no. And I was very tentative going to Zambia and Rwanda,” she said.

Fortunately, she found that travel in Africa was easier than Nepal.

Cultural Differences

This seasoned traveler of diverse world cultures was taken aback by the imbalance of gender of the GIS specialists and its reflection on their cultures. Perhaps three of the 100 people interviewed from the Terai ministry were women. In Zambia, the specialists were all men. In Rwanda, the mix was almost half and half. Mueller found Rwanda inspiring and incredibly advanced in terms of their technological knowhow.

Nothing but Gratitude

“I thought I had this really great grasp and gratitude for everything, for what I get to do in an average day here in the U.S. I mean after China, India, living in Belize… you’d think that eventually I’d fill up on [gratitude]. But coming away from the situation in Nepal left me even more grateful for the freedoms we have here.

“When I chose to be here at NAU, part of that choice was because I wanted a more balanced life. If I had gone elsewhere, I couldn’t have taken on that work [with MSI]. “And it led to this just absolute eye-opening experience about what I thought I already had [in my life]. About how great my job is and how different life is working at NAU and living in Flagstaff relative to millions of people around the world who struggle to survive..

“I didn’t think that my sabbatical was going to be that way. I had thought, ‘I just came back from India. I’m totally happy do research, snowshoe in the winter and ride my bike and surf and make it a local sabbatical.’ And while I was happy to do that, that’s not what happened… with a phone call. It was just one unexpected, unsolicited, phone call.

Gratitude is just one of the many things Mueller’s brings back to the classroom with her from her global travels.

More About Mueller

Faculty profile HERE

Franke News Index HERE

Categories: global spotlight global faculty spotlight julie mueller nepal sabbatical sabbatical 2015 2015 2016 spring 2016 management systems international msi zambia rwanda usaid arc gis world food program red cross terai gratitude