International Experiences of Some of Our International Studies Majors
There’s no better method to study a language than within a native country. During the summer of 2015, Ashley MacPherson had the opportunity to study international politics and the Arabic language in the country of Jordan through the ISA exchange program led by Utah State University. Everyday, she bused from the student housing complex into Amman University where she would listen to lectures from local professors on Middle Eastern politics and Arabic language learning.
One of the best parts about studying abroad for her wasn’t necessarily the phenomenal learning opportunities in class, but the experiences from simply being in a foreign country. Ashley’s program offered multiple excursions to various parts of Jordan. She gained valuable new insight on the plight of international refugees by visiting a camp outside of Amman, where government oversight was sparse and central planning was non-existent. Other excursions took her to the Dead Sea and Petra, where students could visit cultural heritage sites outside of the rigid structure of a classroom.
During the same summer, Ashley secured a position with the US Department of State where she coordinated Islam and Middle Eastern courses for the foreign service institute to prepare officers for positions abroad. The short commute from her apartment in Georgetown gave her plenty of time to experience the museums, nightlife, and activities in Washington DC. The internship was an opportunity to participate in real-world application of the international studies degree as well as network with professionals in her field of interest, giving her valuable insight into the type of work available after graduation.
There are many opportunities for study abroad outside of the political science department and even outside of university led programs. During the summer of 2015, Joseph Langley traveled from Istanbul to Paris in a series of academic experiences. With the Huntsman School of Business’s Go Global program, students travel to different cities in their chosen program taking daily business tours and discussing the relation to lecture classes taken before the summer. This gives students a chance to experience real-world business application of material learned in college.
Following the Eastern Europe Go Global trip in Istanbul and Budapest, students find that traveling around Europe is inexpensive and simple when you are already in Europe and many take the opportunity to explore different cities on their own. Joseph traveled through Vienna and Salzburg in Austria before taking a cheap flight to Jerusalem and then to London where he ended his personal travel time.
Taking the underwater channel train between London and Paris, Joseph ended his summer studying the French language through the American University of Paris, a program that allows students to audit classes for significantly cheaper than regular study abroad tuition rates. Most students, including Joseph, find that studying languages is more rewarding and learned faster when there’s consistent motivation to speak and read—and this is most easily found within a country that speaks the language. Joseph’s classes were structured to give students practice refining their grammar skills in class and then completing speaking assignments throughout the city with local Parisians.
During the 2014-2015 school year, Eden lived and studied international politics and history in Stockholm, Sweden. Having already learned Swedish prior to her study abroad experience, through years of “obsessive study and practice”, Eden was able to refine her language skills by taking classes in Swedish and living in Stockholm. For students with sufficient language skills, classes are available in the country’s native language rather than English. Eden found taking political science classes in another language served the dual purpose of solidifying her foreign language ability as well as giving her a European perspective on world politics.
Even without the in-country language, Eden found that most people already spoke at least some English, and becoming friends with other students from a diverse set of countries was easy and extremely rewarding. And spending an entire year in Sweden allowed Eden to solidify her friendships there and have some unique experiences that students on a shorter-term study abroad are less likely to experience; such as, spending a weekend at a Finnish friend’s cabin in the Arctic Circle underneath the Northern Lights or flying to Reykjavík and driving around the entire island of Iceland with a small group of students.
Like most students, finding a way to finance a year long program can be challenging. Luckily, a study abroad through Utah State’s affiliate ISEP can be the same price as regular semester tuition in Logan, with only the added cost of a plane ticket to the country. And most programs allow students to use any scholarships or government aid that applies to their US college account and Eden found that finding new scholarships for students studying internationally was simply a few mouse clicks away.
Utah State’s study abroad office offers a number of direct options for students wishing to transfer credit quickly and easily, including Blake’s Fall 2015 study abroad in Milan, Italy. There, he studied the Italian language and a number of international politics classes based on EU perspective. Without extensive prior knowledge of the Italian language, Blake was still able to have a fully immersive experience in Italy and participate in weekend excursions through the program to other parts of Italy, including Venice, Florence, and Rome.
Like other study abroad participants, Blake found other students to not only be exceptional friends, but also a crucial element in the education available outside of the traditional classroom. While there were other American students as well, Blake particularly enjoyed spending time with a diverse group of same-aged people with origins as far apart as Brazil, Japan, or Germany and comparing the differences and similarities between the United States and the rest of the world from fresh perspectives.
The Italian research-based academic system focused Blake on thinking critically and analyzing new information outside of a traditional lecture, and he often found his most educational moments to be beyond the university boundaries where he could interact with local people and events. Oftentimes, living in a country for an entire semester or year gives students the opportunity to experience cultural holidays and events they aren’t accustomed to; Blake was lucky enough to be in Milan during the 2015 World Fair and discover the world’s differences in nutrition and healthy eating.
Not every international studies student chooses to do a study abroad during their time at Utah State to fulfill their international experience requirement for the major. Sage found an internship with the non-profit organization, Candle of Light, in Cache Valley that gave her the flexibility to continue studying at the home campus as well as gain some valuable real-world insights.
Candle of Light is focused on improving living standards in impoverished countries. Sage worked specifically towards Honduras. She researched all different aspects of Honduran society that could affect Candle of Light’s in-country work. She also participated in fundraising events and taught classes to intern travelers once a month on first aid. During her internship, she also had the opportunity to travel to Mexico to work with the Roteract club at Utah State and build houses for struggling families.
Other than giving her new knowledge and perspective on the struggles and history of the people in Honduras, Sage found that her experience with Candle of Light has shown her entrepreneurial ideas and plans for after she graduates with a degree in international studies. She hopes to continue working with impoverished and developing nations and establish businesses in health and energy that the natives can eventually run themselves.