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After eight weeks in Cameroon, criminal justice student advises all to study abroad

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Illinois native Markus Brooks traveled to Cameroon over the summer where he spent eight weeks working in the community engagement sector for a medical research laboratory. (Photo special to JSU)

Illinois native Markus Brooks traveled to Cameroon over the summer where he spent eight weeks working in the community engagement sector for a medical research laboratory. (Photo special to JSU)

A life-changing experience is how Markus Brooks, a senior criminal justice major at JSU, described the eight weeks he spent in Cameroon over the summer.

“I think everyone should have the opportunity to go abroad. It does not necessarily have to be the
continent of Africa, but go see how other people live,” he said. “They can share their perspective, and you can share yours and make a difference.”

From June 3 – Aug. 3, Brooks worked with the Limona Imaging and Medical Analysis Laboratory (LIMAL) Foundation in Cameroon. Located on the Gulf of Guinea, Cameroon is a Central African country of 24 million people, who speak French and English.

The internship materialized when Dr. Etta Morgan, who chairs the Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology, suggested the senior apply to study abroad through One World Exchange, a non-profit based in New York City.

“The out-of-the-country experience is invaluable. There is so much to be learned from other cultures that help our students appreciate what they have,” said Dr. Morgan, whose cousin, an attorney specializing in human rights advocacy and domestic public interests, co-founded One World Exchange after spending time overseas.

Markus Brooks, a senior criminal justice major, poses with members of the St. Francis Medical Center staff where he worked during his study-abroad experience in Cameroon. (Photo special to JSU)

Markus Brooks, a senior criminal justice major, poses with members of the St. Francis Medical Center staff where he worked during his study-abroad experience in Cameroon. (Photo special to JSU)

According to the website, the organization prepares “young leaders from under-represented backgrounds for future leadership opportunities through participation in eight-week international development and human rights service projects in developing countries.”

On a Monday in June, after a 13-hour drive from his hometown in Bloomington, Illinois, Brooks boarded an NYC flight to Montreal, Canada, then to Paris, France, until he landed in Douala, Cameroon.

“It was kind of a culture shock at first. We saw 12 people fit into one taxi. The driving was much different than the United States. There were not many rules to the road, I guess. I was a little bit freaked out at first,” he said.

A spectacular rooftop view of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, taken by Markus Brooks during his eight week stay in the French and English speaking country. (Photo special to JSU)

A spectacular rooftop view of Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, taken by Markus Brooks during his eight-week stay in the French and English speaking country. (Photo special to JSU)

Brooks and two other students, from Rutgers University and Touro College, stayed at a compound with LIMAL workers and engaged in various form of community outreach throughout their host city.

“We worked with a medical center called St. Francis. We helped donate medical supplies to them because they didn’t really have much,” said Brooks. “We also went out in the local community and passed out flyers to inform citizens about the medical center because a lot of people didn’t know it was in the area.”

By the end of the trip, the Illinois native said there was a drastic increase in the number of people using the medical center’s services.

Markus Brooks, a criminal justice major at JSU, and students from the East coast, indulge in local cuisine during their stay in Cameroon,where they witnessed the Cameroon justice system in action, toured the sites and helped residents learn more about the medical center in the ares. (Photo special to JSU)

Markus Brooks, a criminal justice major at JSU, and students from the U.S. East Coast indulge in local cuisine during their stay in Cameroon. (Photo special to JSU)

An aspiring criminal attorney, Brooks visited several law firms and was able to sit in a Cameroon courtroom and hear civil and criminal cases. “Their court system works a little differently than the United States. It was really nice to learn and gain the experience of what law is like in another country,” he said.

The JSU student explained that Cameroonian judges appear to hear a wide variety of cases, and the attorneys are well-versed in many areas of law. In contrast, Brooks said that  U.S. judges and attorneys seem to specialize in just one or two areas of law.

Brooks also credited the book “Playing Up” by Vaughn L. McKoy for influencing his career choice.

“He (McKoy) ended up becoming an attorney and eventually working for the New Jersey attorney general’s office,” he shared. “Being in criminal justice, I can do so much more. Having a law degree sets the foundation for what I want to do because eventually, I want to get into politics become a congressman and run for president of the United States.”

Witnessing how others live also gave the student a chance to focus on human rights issues, which he said ties into his future career plans.

The “amazing” food was another highlight of the trip, Brooks revealed. A dish he favored was Choti Choti and corn fufu. “It’s cornmeal boiled, and you have Choti Choti leaves. They kind of look like collard greens, and you can mix it with fish and chicken, or you can add plantains, too,” he explained. “You take the corn fufu and smoosh it in your hands and scoop up the Choti Choti, and then you eat it.”

Brooks said the majority of the food the group consumed was organic and very healthy. Although he admitted to being intimidated by some food options, he still tried everything he was offered, including snails. “I’m talking snails the size of my hand,” said Brooks of collecting the mollusks in the backyard for dinner. “They’re actually good, believe it or not. They were really seasoned.”

However, when it came to prepping the snails for cooking, he bailed. “They took a stick and unwound the snail out of its shell. I ran out of the room. It was too much. I couldn’t watch that,” he said, shaking his head.

A member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., Brooks said the trip taught him not to take things for granted like food and clothes. Complaining about school is another thing he added to his lists of don’ts. “A lot of people don’t get the opportunity to get higher education. It’s the cost. Some people just don’t have the money,” he explained.

In his downtime, the 4.0 student said he visited the national museum and markets, which he called intense.

“In Cameroon, you bargain if you want to get food or clothes. It’s very busy. There are a lot of people at one time,” he said. “If you don’t agree with the price that the seller is going for, you can try to bargain it down. Sometimes they go for it and sometimes they don’t.”

Brooks said he purchased sculptures, soccer jerseys, dashikis, and Cameroonian outfits plus keychains, bracelets, and trinkets at a discount for his friends and family.

One of the outings the student said he loved was touring the slave port in Limbe.

“That was a really emotional moment because we saw the shackles, where they ate, where they were caged and the ports that sent them off to the United States,” he said. “It was heartbreaking, but also a learning experience because I got to see where my ancestors came from.”

Brooks said he embraced that moment and reminded himself to take advantage of his opportunities because his ancestors didn’t have a choice.

Overall, the presidential hopeful said he wanted to thank Dr. Morgan, One World, and the LIMAL Foundation for the study-abroad opportunity.  “I did so much and learned so much from so many people. I would definitely do it again,” he said.