Sigma Iota Rho Honor Society for International Studies -
Stories from Students Abroad...
Kenny Nguyen, Global Studies major, class of 2014
I've been in Spain for over two months now. It's been an amazing, scary, and exciting experience so far. Ever since my freshmen year, I've wanted to study abroad. However being here now is extremely surreal. I wake up almost every morning in awe that I'm an ocean away from home, an ocean away from my comfort zone. But life is all about adapting. Adapting to new situations is a great opportunity to grow. I've learned a lot about myself and how to assimilate into a new culture and new language. It took some time, but with every success, there has to some sort of struggle. It's hard to think that I will eventually have to return to the United States, because I am so used to this life here in Spain now.
I remember how hesitant I was to do this. Once I booked my flight, it was official. An experience like this cannot compare with any experience I've ever had. As a global studies student, I strive to leave a profound mark wherever I am in order to improve the world, somehow, because I want to inspire people and make them think twice about their everyday actions. This experience has taught me a lot about myself and how I can better leave a positive mark on this world. An experience like this takes you beyond your comfort zone. You meet new people, experience new things, and are forced to really assimilate into the culture. It's only been a little over two months, but I feel like I have grown so much. I cannot wait to return to the United States and use this experience to show others that there is more to life, and that traveling and opening the eyes to a broader perspective will one hundred percent be a benefit.
Some on the UVM campus will likely remember Samuél Lopez-Barrantes, an alumnus who was awarded the "Outstanding Senior in European Studies" prize upon his graduation in 2010. He has since been living in Paris, and offers the following report from the banks of the Seine:
I am sitting in a small apartment overlooking the rooftops, writing away in the Parisian twilight. I have been living in France for the past two years, teaching English and writing a novel. I am thoroughly convinced that if it weren’t for UVM’s European studies program, I never would have been able to live out this fairy tale.
When I first started at UVM in the fall of 2006, I didn’t even know there was a European studies program. I was a student from a small high school in North Carolina interested in philosophy, history, Holocaust studies, social theory and French. And like many coming into college, I was clueless about which major to choose. When I realized that I could have an academic cocktail of everything that made me tick, I immediately knew that European Studies was a perfect fit.
As a freshman I took one of the most important courses of my college career, a TAP course called "The Holocaust in Historical Context." This class changed all that would come after it. When I received my first paper grade, I was shocked to realize that college was indeed much more rigorous than anything I had done before. Coming from a graduating class of thirty-five in a school that didn’t even give grades, I assumed my professor would give me a break on my first paper; even if it wasn't my best work, I thought he would take it easy on me. I quickly realized this was not the case. Three years later, the same professor who wrote, “it needs a lot of work” on my first work in college turned out to be the best and most demanding mentor and thesis advisor I could have hoped for.
Before my sophomore year I decided to apply to the Honors College. This was by far the best choice I made as a UVM student. The Honors College teaches you to challenge yourself as well as to strive for excellence, two lessons that have served me well throughout my young life. I was lucky enough to be able to publish an essay in the UVM History Review during my sophomore year, and after a successful sophomore year defined by completing the majority of my Holocaust studies minor and playing in a funk/jazz/rock group called The Sepia Tones, I was ready to jump across the pond.
Although initially intimidated by the prospect of immersing myself in another culture for an entire year, I decided to study abroad for ten months in Paris (an experience that the GRS program strongly supports and, in fact, recommends). I enrolled in local universities, played piano and sang in jazz clubs, picked up blues harmonica, and became so immersed in the language that by the second semester I rarely spoke English. And as the romantic image of Paris would have it, I met a Parisian woman, fell in love with her and the city, and immediately came back after graduation to (sound the cliché horns) write a novel.
But that was only junior year. Upon my return I put my head down and began the arduous process of pursuing thesis work. I spent a hectic month preparing a proposal that went through seven drafts, and then spent several months and countless hours on Bailey Howe’s third-floor producing a thesis based in my interest in the history of the Holocaust entitled, “The Jewish Councils of Poland and the Evolution of Historical Interpretation.” I graduated from the Honors College in May 2010 and have since moved to Paris to write fiction.
No, it’s not a book about an American moving to Paris to find himself. Fueled by my interests in history, totalitarian states, and philosophy, the book is a semi-parodic and quasi-dystopian story about an oppressed nation and the individuals within. The work is a critique of the pervasiveness of fear in modern society–specifically, how the media purveys fear (for example, one of the main characters is a newscaster struggling with the fear mongering that slowly infests his broadcasts)–and how each of us attempts to overcome our anxieties.
The novel is written from the perspective of a narrator who has lost most of her memory due to vague and sinister circumstances. Hoping to remember what happened, and as a nod to my historical roots, the narrator is aided by a mysterious whistleblower who provides her with historical “sources”: leaked documents, transcripts, wiretapped conversations and surveillance footage that recall memory and uncover the truth behind a tyrannical regime’s paradoxical strategy to use coercion and fear to liberate. I plan to revise the novel once more before learning just how hard it is to get a novel published, and I look forward to what seems to be a Sisyphean process of getting something in print.
Which brings me back to this small Parisian apartment where I am still writing. In my opinion, it clear that the liberal arts education is one of the greatest things about the United States. As an extension, global and regional studies are symbolic of this very American ideal to pursue what we love versus what will guarantee us a steady job. Because I was allowed to take an interdisciplinary approach to academics, I have been able to travel and expand my own ideas of what I want to do with my life. I intend to enroll in a master’s program in the U.K. next year (for European studies or history), but I also intend to keep writing novels for my own interests, with the future goal of inspiring others. I love living in Paris and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
The European studies program changed my life. Although I hate to use clichés: I am an American living in France who wants to publish novels, play music in jazz clubs, and one day become a professor–it’s almost painful when I say it out loud. But the European studies program and the professors associated with it have allowed me to live a life I was skeptical even existed, and as far as choosing a major at UVM, I know I made the right choice.
Jocelyn Young-Hyman just returned from studying abroad in India and shares her experiences with Global & Regional Studies...
It has only been one week since my return from study abroad and I am still feeling the excitement of India. Just last week, I completed four amazing months in India, first studying abroad in Jaipur and then interning with the Non-Governmental Organization, Jatan Sansthan, in Udaipur. The program that I participated in, Minnesota Studies in International Development is an International Development study abroad program that gave me the opportunity to explore, learn and experience the culture and development of India. My program consisted of two months of classes and two months of working with an NGO. During the classroom phase of my program, I lived with two wonderful families, one in Jaipur and one in Udaipur. Once this phase was finished, I moved to Udaipur for my internship. I also was able to live with two wonderful families during my classroom phase, which took place in Jaipur. During my class room phase, I took courses in Hindi, the national language of India; cultural analyses, which included politics, agriculture, the arts, health care and other relevant topics; and also the History of India. For the second phase of my program, each student was able to choose an internship focus and was placed with various NGO’s that enabled each student to learn more about that topic. Some of the tracks you could chose from were health care, small businesses, agriculture, education, social services. I chose health care.
For my internship with Jatan Sansthan, I moved to a beautiful city called Udaipur, also known as the city of lakes. While working for Jatan, the majority of my time was spent meeting with women and youth groups, who were being educated about safe sex, the sex ratio issue in India, women’s rights. I also worked with women in pre and post natal care. As part of my NGO experience, I was able to stay in the villages where Jatan was implementing different projects. This experience allowed me to really understand the lives of these women and experience a culture that was very different from the way of life I had witnessed in both Jaipur and Udaipur.
I have traveled to other parts of the world but I have never experienced a place like India. As everyone would always say both Indian and foreigner, anything can happen in India! I have ridden on camels, elephants, on top of busses. I have seen Jain, Hindu, Buddhist temples, Mosques and Churches. I was able to see the snowy mountains of the Himalayas where the Dalai Lama resides, to the deserts of Rajasthan, the European city of Mumbai, down to the beautiful beaches of southern India. It is a place that has a surprise for the senses every day and is so culturally diverse that going a few kilometers in any direction can seem like you have traveled to a different country. Studying abroad in India was the most amazing experience and after I graduate this year, I can’t wait to get back next year!
Interested in studying abroad?
Contact the Office of International Education for more information.
Last modified April 14 2014 04:06 PM