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Students conduct research over break

Joanna Lagedrost | Wednesday, January 16, 2013

While many students dedicated their time off from classes to some much needed rest and relaxation, a number of them took the time to conduct research abroad.

Seniors James McClay and Tre Carden jetted off to India to work in a Tibetan refugee community called Mainpat, assisting in the development of an artisanal handicraft business. Their work consisted of product design and development, marketing and business strategy.  

McClay said the pair spent a week in the village speaking with locals about their daily routines to gain insight for the project. When not working on the business project, they spent time studying Mainpat’s architecture, culture, and resources, all while living in the Mainpat monastery.

After the week in the village, McClay and Carden traveled to Mumbai, Varanasi, Dharamsala and Jaipur in India, as well as Kathmandu, Nepal.

“We chose these cities because they are unique and offered new perspectives on handicraft, Buddhist, Tibetan and Indian design,” McClay said.

McClay said he and Carden constantly interacted with local Indian people because their research required learning about local culture.

“The experience was incredibly eye opening and very beneficial for the [project],” McClay said. “I learned so much while also immersing myself in a new and different culture. My expectations were exceeded and my personal experience has changed the way I view things.”

Senior Katherine Damo, an account and Italian Studies major, spent a week in Trastevere, a historic neighborhood in Rome, researching how cultural differences between Italy and the United States affect business.

Damo said the opportunity to visit the PricewaterhouseCoopers Rome office was a highlight of the trip, having previously worked at the company’s offices in Ohio and Edinburgh, Scotland.  

“Researching corporate culture of the same multinational firm in three different countries has allowed for a side-by-side comparison which will be the foundation of my research project,” Damo said.

Although busy, Damo said she still had some time for fun while in Italy.  

“I conducted informational interviews throughout the week to obtain research but still had time to enjoy Italy – the sights, the food and the culture,” she said.

Senior Kalyn Fetta also traveled to Italy and conducted research on non-profits and non-governmental organizations in Italy.

Damo said she and Fetta had several chances to interact with local Italians.

“One person I interviewed later invited Kalyn and me out to dinner,” Damo said. “He picked a local restaurant and gave us a truly authentic Italian dinner experience. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk to him about life in Italy, and not just about the research project.”

Damo said she was happy to pursue a topic that interested her for the project.

“I’d say my trip exceeded my expectations because I was asking people questions about a topic I was genuinely interested in and I really enjoyed myself,” she said. “It wasn’t like most school projects.”

Senior Ellen Brandenberger spent a week in the United Kingdom to complete research for her history thesis. Despite the vast array of information available online, she had to go to the source for certain resources.

“I needed to access primary documents from U.K. archives that are unavailable elsewhere,” she said.

Brandenberger said she was productive during her trip, largely thanks to extensive planning.

“I’d say my research experience went very smoothly,” she said. “I spent a lot of timing planning, and as a result knew exactly where I was going and what I was looking at.”

Because she was sourcing her information from documents rather than interviewees, Brandenberger said she did not have many chances to interact with the locals beyond the confines of her hotel.  

“I had little free time because of time limits placed on me by my grant budget,” Brandenberger said. “Therefore I was overwhelmingly at libraries and archives working alone.”

Although her trip was a busy one, Brandenberger said she enjoyed the experience and would recommend research abroad to other students.  

“Though research requires a lot of hard work, it is very rewarding to produce a large project as an undergrad. Notre Dame does a great job of making these opportunities available to students,” she said. “We just need to be smart enough to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Contact Joanna Lagedrost at jlagedro@nd.edu