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Home > Publications > Quill > Generous student chapter gets more than it bargained for


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Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Generous student chapter gets more than it bargained for

by Sue Kopen Katcef, UM SPJ Chapter Adviser

SPJ National Campus Adviser At-Large

There are many worthy projects for SPJ chapters to undertake. The University of Maryland student chapter found one this year when it teamed up to help some fellow students in Indonesia. But it led to some hard lessons that we felt were important to share with other chapters undertaking a similar effort.

It started as a simple enough request: an e-mail sent from some students at a small university in Indonesia to several instructors at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. The English may have been choppy but the message was clear:

“We are from Sumedang Student Association for Communications and Media Studies. One of our aims is to facilitate our members to get literature in our discipline. Because, you must to know it, in our region (Sumedang City) books are in a very lacked conditions. Sumedang regency is a remote place in Java Island. Our University is Sebelas April University….We are very grateful if you could donate us books for our studies….”

The e-mail came at a most opportune time because our student SPJ chapter had decided to conduct a book drive/public service project for a program overseas. Now that we had a request, we could pursue the project with a beneficiary in mind.

We collected more than 150 books--over 190 pounds--and filled five boxes. That was the easy part. But, we had a major case of sticker shock when it came to making arrangements for shipping these books. Estimated costs put the tab around $800. We got a break by working through the Merrill College of Journalism’s Fed Ex account that reduced the charge to just over $200 (with a special discount by shipping the boxes out on a Monday). The books shipped on Monday, May 21st.

But the saga doesn’t end there. When the boxes arrived, the students could only afford to pay the duty and taxes on one of them. What we didn’t realize was the duty and taxes on the boxes were MORE than the cost of shipping them. And, we were facing a deadline to either find a way to cover that cost — or risk having the books returned to us at our cost. FedEx worked with us to get an extension on the deadline while we worked to find a means to either reduce the cost or find the means to cover it. The Indonesian Embassy in Washington does work with organizations such as SPJ to waive duty and taxes for the shipping of text and research books, but those arrangements have to be made before the books are sent. The embassy requires a complete listing of every book that’s being sent. So, we were out of luck on that count. Thankfully, the D.C. Pro Chapter stepped forward and offered to cover the cost of duty and taxes, and the books were delivered.

Sending textbooks to a foreign university is a worthwhile and noble cause, but it can be very complicated and very expensive. A word to the wise: once you identify a recipient, check with the nearest diplomatic officials for that country about the process for shipping textbooks and other related research materials. Ask about the cost of sending the books to the country, and what might be done to exempt the shipments from the tax and duty charges on the other end. And when it comes to shipping, realize not all delivery services are created equal. You can find incredible deals if you just keep working at it.

But the payoff is great. As the students at Sebeleas April University put it:

“We are very hopely (sic) for your donations, because the books will be very important and useful for helping us in getting knowledge more.”

And anything we can do to help make that possible is well worth the effort!

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