Spotlight Iowa City: Cross-cultural man

Originally published in The Daily Iowan 12/16/2009

One of UI senior Paul Worrell’s fascinations lies in conflicting cultures living together. He observed such a divide firsthand in his hometown of Denison, Iowa, and the experience has forever shaped his interests in the world.

Worrell, 22, recalled the change his predominately white community went through when the Latino population amplified.

“During that time, my town faced a huge culture shock,” Worrell said. “Seeing that even though there’s not that much difference between people, I began to think about how different they were.”

Most recent data shows roughly 1,200 Latinos lived in Denison in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 17.4 percent of its population. In comparison, approximately 3 percent of Iowa’s population was Latino that year.

The clashes and cooperation all piqued Worrell’s interest in conflicting cultures, influencing him to travel to South Africa twice. He will graduate this month with degrees in journalism and international studies and a minor in French, which he hopes to use to pursue more worldly adventures.

Worrell first traveled to South Africa through the UI’s study-abroad program in the spring of 2008. He craved the cultural diversity and wanted to see the transitions the country had made since abolishing apartheid.

The semester abroad also led Worrell to develop an interest in traditional medicine — also known as ethno-medicine — and encouraged him to make the trip back to South Africa last summer to research.

Worrell said traditional medicine is very much a part of South Africa’s cultural conflicts — practitioners have more entrepreneurial freedoms, allowing them to market and sell their remedies more freely.

“It’s really fascinating to me — this old institution that’s being thrust into this modern world,” Worrell said. “You go to different places in South Africa, and it’s different because modern world hasn’t reached all.

His traveling has moved some of those he’s encountered, including his professors. Worrell took Writing across Cultures with journalism Associate Professor Gigi Durham. She recommended him for a UI Student Government research grant to return to South Africa this past summer.

“Paul has an adventurous spirit that has impelled him to venture into places many people wouldn’t think to travel,” Durham said.

In addition to traveling, Worrell has also served as a reporter and newscaster on KRUI.

He plans to attend graduate school to focus on African studies but hopes to culminate his interests one day and write for a publication that will allow him to travel and learn more about other cultures. His dream is to work for National Geographic.

No matter where his journey takes him, Worrell is convinced he will return to South Africa.

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