Assistant Online Editor
If you look at my bio for UpdateSC.org you will notice that it states that I love to travel. That phrase feels like an understatement to me.
What would be more appropriate to say is my soul is that of a wanderer, travel calls to my soul the way my heart pumps blood through my body. It is such a natural call, that I don’t think anything of it when I get the urge to travel, to wander until I feel at ease and right again.
That’s why when I had the opportunity to travel abroad in the fall of 2015, I grabbed onto that opportunity and never looked back.
I am not the only person at SC to have studied abroad and loved it. Maggie Collett, graduate fellow for student life and leadership, spent a semester abroad in Salzburg, Austria during the spring of 2013.
Michael Tessmer, professor of Chemistry, spent the fall semester of 2104 in China.
Meagan Morrow, theater junior, spent the month of July 2015 in Beijing, China.
All of these people had unique experiences in how they ended up studying abroad, each going about it in their own way.
“I originally applied for the Disney World College program because I wanted to have a unique semester experience and I got rejected from that opportunity so studying abroad was actually my fall back plan,” said Collett.
“I actually heard about it from a website that I frequent, called Reddit. I follow the Buddhism sub-reddit and it was actually a program dedicated to studying the culture of China through Buddhism. For an entire month I lived in Buddhist monasteries throughout the Beijing area,” said Morrow.
“I went over and taught a chemistry class in English to Chinese students. I had 40 Chinese students in this class and I taught a very math intensive class. I used a Chinese textbook, I can’t read Chinese, but it was very math oriented so I was able to do it,” said Tessmer.
While each had their own experience in deciding to study abroad, they all had similar messages for students about taking the initiative to study abroad.
“The biggest thing is you just have to do it. There’s no other way than to just dive in head first,” said, Collett.
“There will be a lot of details and sometimes those can be reasons not to go when you look at all the hassles, but I would recommend to any student, just go for it and all that other stuff will take care of itself,” said Tessmer.
“It was scary because I didn’t know anyone. I don’t speak mandarin and I still really can’t. It was essentially like walking into a world I really knew nothing about, couldn’t speak the language, couldn’t read any of the text, and did it anyway and it was a blast,” said, Morrow.
Beyond taking the plunge and deciding to go study abroad, there are steps that every student has to take to get there. These can be technical issues or they can be more emotional issues.
Either way, these steps are just a part of the process and are not good excuses to not study abroad.
“There’s paperwork involved, then there’s the person at the university in China that you go back and forth with. Then for me there’s the emotional side of it, to get ready to be that far away for that long. There will be times where it will feel lonely in the beginning,” said Tessmer.
Morrow said that packing was the biggest feat for her when she was prepping to go to China. “Packing was like a Tetris game of what do you really need and what you can leave behind.”
For Collett the biggest decision she made was picking the program she would go through. “At Southwestern you can choose to go about it on your own and apply to a school by yourself and figure out your own housing, but I was not up for that so I chose a third party program provider, The American Institute for Foreign Study.”
After getting accepted into the program of their choice, for Collett it was a program through AIFS and for Morrow it was the Wood and Fish program, they got to experience what life was like studying abroad, while Tessmer got to experience what it was like teaching abroad.
Tessmer said, “Part of it for me is, I encourage everybody to go abroad so we decided to take our kids over and do a study abroad before they got to college.”
Collett said, “It was interesting the first couple of months. I was homesick, but then after I adjusted and after a couple of months it was amazing and I didn’t want to leave.”
Morrow said, “It was amazing, first and fore-mostly. I would not trade that experience for anything in the world. I learned so much and to go to a place that is so different was phenomenal.”
Morrow went on to say that she has never felt more at home, when she wasn’t actually at home than she did while she was living in China and that the combined classroom experience with having wonderful peers really made her time in China special.
“It was such a pleasure to be in the company of other students with a like-mindedness in what they were looking to find. Whether it be spiritual or academic, both were there. These are students from Harvard, Berkley, Princeton, you name it, and they were there. My favorite part about the whole thing, was the people that I met there. Whether it be the monks or the Chinese tea master you make so many friends,” said Morrow.
Studying abroad was an amazing experience for each person and they loved their time spent abroad, but they also had to come back home, which turned out to be a harder adjustment then any of them thought it would be.
“Coming home was rough. We had all kinds of re-entry preparation while we were abroad. You hear people talk about re-entry shock and reverse culture shock and think it’s not going to affect you, but it totally did,” said, Collett.
She went on to say, “It was like you spend four months in a fairy tale and then you come back and there are a few people willing to listen to your stories but the most part you’re in the middle of a 20 minute long story and you look up and their eyes are glazed over and they are not listening and they are on their phone. It’s kind of heartbreaking to come back because nobody really understands except the people who have done it.”
Morrow said, “I had really, really bad reverse culture shock, I won’t lie. It took me about three weeks to get readjusted.”
She went on to explain that readjusting back to eating habits and meal time habits were a challenge but also just readjusting to the fact that she could comprehend signs again.
“Being able to read things again was also a shock. I was like, ‘I can read that sign it makes sense’ because when you are in China, a lot of the things are in English and its very friendly usually towards abroad travelers, but sometimes when you are in the more rural areas it’s just in Mandarin and your like ‘I wish I knew what that said but I sure don’t’.”
“For me coming back from China this time, I was just really amazed at home much stuff my family has,” said, Tessmer.
He went on to say that compared to everyone else Americans have a lot of stuff and that compared to living with only what they brought with them to China, it just left him in a bit of a shock at how much stuff his family owns.
Even dealing with readjusting back into life in the states, all of the participants said that going and studying abroad is something they all recommend doing.
Collett said, “It was rough but after a while you adjust and it’s just good memories.”
Mrrow said, “I believe to understand the differences of another culture just helps see the world as a more connected and unified place, because I think we can be so nationalistic that we forget that the heart of it all, we are all just people.”
In the end, Tessmer really just had this to say to students:
“Over all I really recommend the experience to any student here, it will open up new doors and really change your life to see another part of the world. I can’t recommend it strongly enough in fact,” said, Tessmer.
If you’re interested in studying abroad you can contact Maggie Collett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-353-4654 or you can contact Kurt Keiser, professor of business at email@example.com or if you are interested in doing the summer program in China, Debbie McAlister is the one to contact at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Maggie Dunning is a senior studying communication. You may contact her at email@example.com.