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Honors Students Abroad

Katherine Hanna (Special Education), Benin, Africa, Summer 2009

I spent a month this summer in Benin in western Africa with a non-profit organization called Unseen Stories. The organization is working on a documentary film about child trafficking in Benin. In June/July we showed a short cartoon film about two children's experiences of being trafficked into hard labor. We traveled many hours by car to neighboring villages where, with Peace Corps and local groups, we organized 14 showings of the film in French and some of Benin's 29 local dialects. The final documentary is due to be released next year.

It is almost impossible to put into words all that I learned from this experience. The largest underlying factor in Benin like all other developing countries is poverty. Poverty is the main reason for the lack of nutrition, poor medical care, lack of education because the children must work, poor housing conditions, government corruption and, of course, the child trafficking.

Despite the poverty, I absolutely loved Benin's culture. The clothing, food, smells, languages, local religions, gender relations, and living conditions were like nothing I have ever experienced in my life.

Chelsea Losh (English), Ireland, Summer 2009

Dublin changed my life. It was the visits to the Writer's Museum and The Long Room that did it.

The Writer's Museum was the neatest place I've ever been to -- mostly because I am in love with literature/writers. I was the last one out of the museum because I couldn't tear myself away. I am fascinated with the mentality of Irish writers, of their darknesses and pasts, their struggles and public images. I am moved by their language and inspired by their actions. I was excited to see how Lady Gregory and W.B. Yeats inspired a literary movement that has lasted until this day. It makes me want to spear-head a literary movement of importance in the United States -- we have so much to offer, but no one really cares. Literature is what moves people; it is what brings us together and exposes injustices. . .

Needless to say,  I spent most of my budgeted money FOR THE NEXT WEEK in the bookstore there! It was well worth it though. I have read 
poems by Seamus Heaney and Patrick Kavanagh every night since. . .

The other life-changing experience was visiting The Long Room. We had gone to Trinity College to look at The Book of Kells, and I was excited about that, but it really held little meaning for me. As we were walking toward the exhibit, I saw this picture on the wall of an enormous library with an arrow pointing up the stairs and my heart skipped a beat. I hadn't known that The Long Room was something we were visiting, or even something that existed! I looked at The Book of Kells, which was interesting, but my excitement to see this Long Room was rising in my stomach and eventually to my throat.  I went up the stairs and was getting kind of nervous… and when we got to the top and I walked under the initial arch, I burst into tears. No joke. My friend Christy made fun of me relentlessly, but I was grateful that she didn't think I was too much of a dork (which I am). I was crying so much that I had to sit down on a bench for ten minutes. I'd just never been in a room with so many old books! As a child I was fascinated with books and read entire shelves and sections of the library. My favorite pastime was to sit in the library for hours and look at book after book… and here in front of me, in a foreign country, with people I don't really know, I encounter 200,000 books that I can SEE. It was too overwhelming. My soul was exploding with joy.

OK, I know it's really sad and stupid that I was so moved by a bunch of musty inanimate objects, but… what can I say? I'm an English major.

Taken, with permission, from Chelsea's blog about her study abroad in Ireland.

Hannah Sadowski (Environmental Science), San Salvador Island, The Bahamas, Summer 2009

This summer I went to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas to study general ecology. I am an environmental science major and I was advised that this trip is an alternative to taking the class on campus. I went with a group of 15 students from Georgia College, headed by Dr. Melanie DeVore and received 4 hours of class credit, including lab. We spent the majority of each day in the field, snorkeling different coral reefs and hiking around the island. Among the activities on land, we explored caves and fossilized coral reefs and examined the human influences on the island. I loved snorkeling around the coral reefs; it was interesting to see how much the biota vary from reef to reef. I was able to observe some amazing organisms close up, including sea was amazed at how fast I learned the material. It is one thing to learn scientific names out of a textbook; but when you are able to hold the organism or observe it first hand, your learning experience completely changes. I could not have been happier with the program. I was able to observe ecosystems that might not be here in a few decades and the organisms that may disappear with them.

Chelsea Thomas (Mass Communications), Montepulciano, Italy, Summer 2009

On my five-week study abroad program this summer, I learned a lot about myself, my own country, and my host country, Italy. I got to see villas, basilicas, temples, fortresses, and ancient art. I lived in Tuscany in a 300-year old apartment, immersed in the laidback life on "Italian time." Being in Italy taught me about the depth of human history and the complexity of cultural human evolution. Italy specifically affected the majority of the world through both the Roman Empire and the rebirth of art appreciation during the Renaissance. Walking through the Roman ruins in Pompeii and down corridors of the Medici family's world-renowned art collection, I was taken aback by the significance of every artwork and aged stone.

One weekend, after snorkeling and kayaking all day, I found myself soaking in sunshine in Cinque Terre. I lay on a pebbly beach staring up at rock cliffs touching the clouds. In addition to the incredible art and amazing cuisine, Italy has natural beauty beyond compare. In the faces of aged women hanging their sheets out their window, Vespa's whipping around corners, pasta hanging over the edge of plates, and the local store owners bargaining, Italy represented a simpler life that I have really come to appreciate. Italians know that it's not as important to stick to a rigorous schedule as it is to make memories full of laughter, something many of us could learn from.

Christin Ivey (Liberal Studies), Tunisia, Fall 2008


Riding camel image

There is nothing more important and urgent in our shrinking world than the need to improve communication across cultures, borders, and picket fences. I believe that my generation will, and should, be the generation to forge the cultural and geographical ties that have separated us, and I've long felt that my place in this converging global community to be the Middle East. So I signed up for Arabic classes, and I took all the international relations and Middle East area studies classes that I could. I read books by Bernard Lewis that sent my head spinning, and had long talks with my Arabic professor, Imene Khalifa, that got my heart racing. I knew I needed to experience the real deal, and I knew I needed to be in the heart of a culture so few of my companions knew anything about. I knew there had to be some common ground, some humanistic characteristics that made us and them a lot more alike than some wanted us to believe. So I had to go, I had to dive in.

That's what I did; four months in a foreign culture, 5,000 miles away from home. And I couldn't have asked for a better experience. With my heart set on Tunisia, the only study abroad program that really fit the bill was SIT, School for International Training, which not only offered a semester-long program in Tunisia, but also had an esteemed reputation for hands-on, field-based, independent research training. I couldn't have dreamed for a program more in tune with my studies and interests.

SIT gave me a scholastic challenge, and allowed me to experience nearly four months of complete cultural immersion. I lived with a host family for the first five weeks of the program, and then lived on my own in an apartment in the tourist suburb of Sidi Bou Said. While taking classes on Tunisian culture and intensive colloquial Arabic, I learned how to draw beautiful Arabic calligraphy, cook delicious couscous, and even how to shake my hips like a true Tunisian belly dancer.' I sweated out the 103-degree heat of the African sun without air conditioning while fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. I road tripped across the country from the high mountain springs of El Kef to the rolling sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. I stood up on a moving camel and watched the sunset on the movie set of Star Wars. I also wrote a 50-page dissertation on Tunisian cultural identity as seen through Al Jazeera and Al Iqraa.

Tunisia opened my eyes to a way of life that expanded my perception of the world and my place in it beyond anything I could have imagined. I experienced hardships and cultural misunderstandings and wardrobe malfunctions. The people, the places, the situations that I never would have encountered otherwise made those four months of my life the most unforgettable thus far. Every day was an adventure and every day since then has been and will be an adventure; the spirit and fire for life that I captured from the hearts of the Tunisians I met have taught me to view life this way. I feel as if I found myself in Tunisia. I may not be a true-blooded Tunisian, but I know I'll always have a home and family and a history there.

This is an edited version of an article that Christin wrote for Terra Nostra; Georgia College's international education newsletter.

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