Scouting international projects

Trent Bunderson travels halfway around the world and back every two months. As associate director of International Programs at Washington State University and a manager of four natural resource Extension projects in Malawi, Africa, Bunderson has his hands full.

“The travel is tough (an average of 40 hours each way), but you’ve got to stay in touch with both programs,” he said.

In Pullman, Bunderson works primarily to secure grants and contracts for development projects overseas, which range from agriculture to veterinary sciences. This includes funding from the private sector, he said. With projects in Africa, central Asia, China, South America and the Middle East, Bunderson and others from International Programs work to get faculty and students from WSU overseas for short-term projects and research.

“Our objective is to provide opportunities for faculty and students to be involved in international studies that enrich life at WSU,” Bunderson said.

In Malawi he manages projects based in agriculture and natural resources that aim to improve conservation and the livelihoods of people there.

“Right now we are trying to set up a scholarship, using donated funds, for faculty and graduate students to do research projects over there,” Bunderson said. “It could be for a number of departments. It would just need to be linked to (issues in) Malawi.”

Bunderson grew up in Africa, so it is no surprise he finds the continent homelike.

“I went to school in Kenya from kindergarten through A levels (British system),” he said. Bunderson then got an undergraduate degree and a Ph.D. from Utah State University with research work based in Kenya.

He started working for WSU in 1980 on an Extension project in the Sudan, remaining there until 1985, when he came back to work at the Pullman campus for 15 months. In 1986, Bunderson headed to Malawi to work for WSU Extension and has worked there ever since.

Despite his ability to adapt to the different landscapes of Pullman and Malawi, Bunderson does find some aspects of life in the States to be greatly contrasted with those in Malawi.

“Culturally, I am not used to the cold weather. It’s not cold for this (autumn) stay, but when I come back next time it will be so cold,” he said. “Also, I am not used to driving on the right side of the road!”

His observations extend into social aspects of life as well. “The wealth and waste people have over here is amazing. So much is thrown away in the States; in Africa, everything is used,” said Bunderson. “We focus on such small problems here, whereas in Africa problems are more survival based. People (here) don’t realize how lucky they are.”

His three children were also exposed to African culture from an early age. His eldest was born in Kenya, his son in Sudan and the youngest at Pullman Memorial Hospital. All three attended school in Malawi until age 13 or 14.

“We decided to move the kids here to Pullman for high school so that they might assimilate into a modern first-world country,” said Bunderson.

Bunderson’s eldest, Michelle, remembers one of her visits to the States and being so confused as to why the family could cross the entire country without using their passports once. “Everything here was so foreign,” she said. “It really was a culture shock to come here and live, but I think when you are young, it is easy to assimilate. We all did it quite quickly.

“My brother, sister and I are really fortunate to have been able to be exposed to so many different ways of living from early on,” said Michelle Bunderson. “I’m glad to have grown up there.”

And Trent Bunderson is glad to regularly return. He just enjoys the atmosphere of Africa. “You have great weather, exciting wildlife and outdoor adventures there,” he said. “You can have an adventure there every day.”

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