How do you see the students change over the entirety of the Albania project experience?


Robert Hersh: Most fascinating is seeing how they change from the point they first understand their project—even in the term preceding their arrival at the project center—to when they leave for home. When they come to Albania, they often think they will be the experts teaching those that they come across. There is an aspect that with their expertise and technologies they are here to provide people with solutions to problems. That is dispelled quickly when they realize that the people they are working with have incredible knowledge on the project topic. They also realize that the idea of making a difference—a youthful passion we encourage—becomes complicated when they see what is happening in the country they're visiting.

What happens over the seven weeks is that they become practical visionaries. They understand that the projects themselves raise issues that are complex with respect to politics, culture, and the public or community acceptability of a particular solution. They begin to understand that making a difference is a very difficult process that requires from them the ability to understand social complexity and the need for a long-term commitment to something that their sponsors typically have.

When they arrive they are usually enthusiastic and naïve, and when they leave they have a much better sense about the demands that social reality creates for their project. They know what it means to persist over time to work with people on a collective problem for the benefit of the organization and a wider social good. It’s an incredible learning experience for students that have never had the opportunity to work in a different culture.