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College students seeking knowledge across nation, globe
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These days, dental student Kaley Peek spends much of her time indoors studying.

But this time last year, Peek was across the world in Japan volunteering with an international group and learning about organic farming.

Peek, a Gainesville native, decided to take time off after graduating from Presbyterian College to volunteer and pursue her interest in organic gardening.

For three months, Peek learned and volunteered at the Asian Rural Institute.

“Each year they have about 30 students from all over Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands,” Peek said. “They come to learn more about sustainable living and sustainable farming.”

Peek said during her time volunteering in the fields and in the kitchen, she learned a lot from her peers from around the world.

“It was this crazy blend of cultures in the middle of nowhere in Japan, so it was a very cool atmosphere and a cool community to be a part of,” Peek said.

“In the U.S. we grow up thinking we are at the front of our times, that in a way we are the best. Having that experience was very humbling, knowing that I had not been living the best way I could have been here. It was neat having that and being able to bring that back and incorporate it into my life here.”

After leaving Japan, Peek spent six months volunteering at an orphanage in Honduras.

Peek was drawn to the orphanage because of its dental clinic, where she aided visiting dental teams treating the children.

“I thought it would be really cool to be able to experience dentistry that way before I went to dental school because I knew at some point I want to do some form of missionary dentistry,” Peek said.

Peek said her decision to take a year off after graduating from college stemmed not only from her love of travel but out of a need to take a break to prepare for the rigors of dental school.

“My junior year I studied abroad in Italy and it opened my eyes to traveling and experiencing different cultures,” Peek said. “I took the year off and I felt that if I did that it would arouse the passion for learning again. It would make me realize I’m learning because I choose to not just because I have to.”

Peek said though her path is somewhat unique, she had other friends who chose to take time off before starting graduate school or a career.

“There are several programs through churches that allow young adults to take a year off and they will help you go abroad and serve there for a year,” Peek said.

Facing a tough job market, it would seem that taking a year to volunteer or travel would be an increasingly popular option. Local schools, however, are seeing the opposite happen.

David Morrison, a spokesman for Brenau University, said the trend for many students at Brenau is to shorten the time it takes to complete a degree rather than spread it out.

“We’re actually building our future programs around the concept that students want to spend less time in school,” Morrison said.

Morrison said some students are interested in spending less time in class because they want to be able to start their careers as quickly as possible.

“From a student’s perspective, they’re interested in getting on with life,” Morrison said.

“From an educator’s standpoint, there’s a lot of traditional academic structure that’s kind of wasted.”

The new physician assistant program at Brenau in partnership with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine allows students to combine work toward bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Students spend three years at Brenau University doing undergraduate biology work and then go to Philadelphia for a year. They then return to Gainesville for clinical work to earn both degrees, Morrison said.

Chaudron Gille, the director of the Center for Teaching, Learning and Leadership at Gainesville State College, said many students approach her about incorporating travel into their time at the college.

“Students seem to be more aware of the need to have some sort of international experience in their education and they tend to contact our office earlier in their academic career to talk about what are their options and also earlier in the year,” Gille said.

Many of the college’s students are able to realize that dream by opting for short 10-day programs that pair with college courses.

“One of our challenges is so many of our students are working full time or have family responsibilities,” Gille said.

“We have tried to concentrate on short term programs primarily during the May term so that students can have an international experience that is integrated with their studies but that, one, is affordable, and two, integrates well with the time constraints that they have.”

Peek said she learned a lot through her experiences and thinks it would be a beneficial experience for all students.

“Especially If you’ve grown up in the same area of the United States and then you go to college in the same area, your beliefs tend to be formed a lot by the people you’re around,” Peek said.

"It’s really neat being able to get out of that bubble and experience the world and see that you are but a small part of this huge world. It really kind of puts you in your place.”
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