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David Berger believes in service.
It’s easy to see his conviction by spending just a few minutes on his personal blog, highlighting his experiences in some of the 40-plus countries he has visited.
Berger, who graduated Arizona State University with a degree in global studies in 2010, has recently been named an Erasmus Mundus Global Studies (EMGS) scholar. As an international research-based master’s program, this prestigious consortium combines perspectives, methods and theories to investigate global connectedness.
Berger's first year in the program is spent at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. During his first semester, his studies have ranged from national identity to human rights, globalization and more. The final year of this two-year program will be spent at Roskilde University in Denmark, which focuses on global political economy, global governance, political culture and civil society.
Berger’s journey in becoming an EMGS scholar started in the summer of 2011, when he joined the services of the Peace Corps in Zambia, Africa. He lived locally in a fired-mud brick hut with a grass thatch roof — no running water, no electricity and a bicycle for transport.
“I believe in service. I listen first, observe and then help empower others to improve their quality of life through the practical application of information. I believe strongly in doing this with them, not for them. I was attracted to the Peace Corps and the opportunity it provides to work in the developing world because of these ideals.”
During his three years in Zambia, Berger worked hand in hand with local communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), health organizations and government agencies to build sustainable development. While using the local language of Bemba, Berger taught locals about best practices in sanitation and environmental health to help combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other infections. He also encouraged community groups to use the process of problem-identification, action planning, community responsibility and proposal writing so they could continue to develop programs on their own.
The Peace Corps provided Berger with a chance to integrate development and foreign-aid theories he learned while at ASU's School of Politics and Global Studies with the real-life practicalities of implementation. “The opportunity to interact, serve and collaborate with local stakeholders in the development process is without a doubt the most rewarding and humbling experience from my service. [F]acing the brutal realities of living in extreme poverty and on subsistence agriculture has changed the way I perceive the world, foreign aid and development as a whole.”
The experiences he had in Zambia have helped him bring more to the discussions within the Erasmus Mundus Global Studies program. The courses in Wroclaw are typically more focused on practical case studies and recent history, rather than theory.
The program has students from nearly every region of the planet. The diverse backgrounds of these students provide the group with rare and valuable insight into many subjects.
“[T]he program seeks to create a network of cooperation and collaboration between the universities involved, that allows for us to gain a more complete understanding of globalization and development," Berger said.
“I must say that without a doubt, this variety of students and faculty is the best part of the university. It adds a level to the academic rigor of the program that cannot be matched by literature alone.”
Working with the Peace Corps and getting his master's overseas has not stopped Berger from returning to ASU and mentoring future students. He is a frequent guest speaker in Charles Ripley’s career development course in the School of Politics and Global Studies, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“I deeply enjoy the questions, and the chance to share some of the lessons I learned from my service, as well as mentor and guide current students in their learning process," Berger said. "To be able to provide my story, experience and feedback in a constructive manner that can help encourage more students to join in development work and studies is a reward in and of itself.”