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Margot Wagner in Senegal, Africa.

Margot Wagner traveled to Senegal with SPAN to explore that country's dialects and languages and how they will survive in post-colonial Africa.

SPANing the globe

Minnesota's oldest study abroad program celebrates six decades of promoting amity among nations

From M, fall 2007

After WWII, a group of local students, faculty, and community leaders decided the need for international understanding and amity was greater than ever. Their solution--the Student Project for Amity Among Nations (SPAN)--celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

"The project was started to help students experience the wider world," explains U history professor Theofanis G. Stavrou, who's also the executive director of Minnesota's oldest study abroad program. Bridging two academic years, SPAN is recognized for its unique combination of international education, cultural immersion, and independent research.

A student-run organization, SPAN offers undergrads and graduate students from all Minnesota colleges and universities an opportunity to earn University of Minnesota credits for an in-depth research project on a self-chosen topic.

In 2007, students focused on Egypt, Greece, or New Zealand. During their preparation semester in the spring, students select a research topic and make connections with experts in their host country. They also study history, culture, language, and current events. Summer is spent doing research abroad. Upon their return, students write an extensive thesis.

Many SPAN alumni continue to credit the program. John Lindstrom, B.S. '56, M.S. '61, went to Turkey in 1954. "I traveled with the UN food and agricultural team for several weeks," he says. "The experience stimulated my appetite for learning about different cultures." Lindstrom later went into the Navy, learned to fly, and was a Delta Airlines pilot for 34 years.

Ten years ago Lindstrom decided to establish a scholarship for SPANers. "International education is more important than ever because of globalization, the Internet, and the world situation," he says. "We have to be educated about what's going on. SPAN is ideal for this."

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