Much of what we might learn can be found in books or collected in the classroom from more knowledgeable others. However, some lessons can only be learned through life experience, and experience often takes us far from home. When it comes to the development of new perspectives and the synthesis of old ideas, few academic experiences can compare with study abroad. Through engagement with other persons in other cultures and through direct experience with their thoughts, customs, costumes, foods, and ways of life, we are made able to reflect more meaningfully on our own ways: often we can best see where we are by learning where we aren’t.
The Honors students whose stories of study abroad are shared below understand this. Please take a moment to read these excerpts from their own reflections on their travels.
Charlotte Pate, senior in Anthropology:
If I were to make another person understand my experience in Southern India this past spring in five seconds, I would need to honk a horn in their face, throw sand in their eyes, turn up the heat to 105˚, put the most delicious Biriyani into their mouth, and fill their nostrils simultaneously with putrid sewage and the most heavenly smell of jasmine you have ever smelled, all the while serenading them with Tamil chanting in a distant loud speaker. To me, India was a blissful sensory overload.
Hindsight being 20/20 I am beginning to realize how much India changed me. I recognize a shift in my perception of community, my understanding of the link between my body, mind, and spirit, and my understanding of my personal agency regarding the current planetary environmental crisis.
In the end, how I have changed is immeasurable. I feel that I am more confident, more community focused, and I feel empowered to change what I dislike. I also am more aware of the many different ways I can choose to live my life.
Sarah Gentry, senior in Interdisciplinary Studies:
Never before had I been so captivated by a region and a field of study as I was during study abroad in Israel. We traveled from Lebanon in the north to Gaza in the south, from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea and from the lush greenery of the Golan Heights to the barren Negev Desert.
The most significant experiences, however, came from direct interaction with people: our Israeli graduate student leaders who were willing to answer any and every question the class had about Israel, the combination tour-guide-taxi-cab-driver in Bethlehem who was willing to talk to us about living in the West Bank, and the Israeli Arab kebab-stand owner whose strikingly paranoid and fearful reaction to the IDF soldiers in his vicinity spoke volumes.
I came away from my trip to Israel with a slightly better understanding on how complex the situation is. There are so many different views and opinions on what the best course of action is. “Yet many Israelis and Palestinians still have hope that there can be peace, and that is the most important fact of all; for it is when people lose hope that they become rash, that they are willing to do anything and go to any length without regard of the consequences; that is when violence erupts. Hope keeps the effort of peace alive, hope that the future will be better than the present and that their children may one day live in harmony.
Jessica Hill, senior in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies:
Students in my Amsterdam study abroad group were from France, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, Austria, Brazil, Poland, South Korea, U.S.A., and Greece. I learned so much about other cultures from talking and spending time with these people; it made me feel a lot closer to the rest of the world.
Although I spent the majority of my time abroad in Amsterdam, my friends and I also traveled to several other countries. During the semester I traveled to Belgium, Italy, Ireland, France, and Croatia. I realized that traveling often turns out differently than I expect, and that is one of the most wonderful things about it.
Learning to deal with difficulties on my own and being so far away from home made me feel much more empowered and able than I did before I went abroad.