For many of you, the only kind of learning that you have ever done was based on a curriculum. In high school, you read textbooks in search of answers for your homework and saved it in a folder to study for your exam. You may have enjoyed the occasional out-of-classroom field trip or ventured to a community college for a College in the Schools course, but for the most part, you sat at a desk.
College brings a sense of personal freedom, but within the confines of a classroom, where often times teaching styles are virtually the same. In other words, you just might find yourself sitting at a desk again.
Fortunately for you, St. Thomas has a program called Study Abroad. I’m sure the name rings a bell because each year more than 1,000 of our students enroll in either a semester-long or J-Term course. Unfortunately for you, university deadlines for January trips are looming over the potential for adventure.
The university’s program offers courses for a variety of fields including: engineering, business and communication and journalism, all with opportunities for financial aid. Travel destinations vary from year to year, but popular locales include Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom. Open Doors’ 2011 survey ranked St. Thomas fifth in the nation in the the doctoral institution category for undergraduate study abroad participation.
Now let me put this in college terms:
You want to study sea life? Then dive into the crystal clear waters of Turks and Caicos. Get friendly with the turtles, scuba dive with the seagrass. The only school you’ll be a part of, is a school of fish.
You love history? Then hop the pond, land in Italy and meander through the Colosseum. Make a wish at the Trevi Fountain and roam the corridors of St. Peter’s Basilica (no pun intended).
Or perhaps you’d like to learn about culture and communication from a different angle, like I did. So I went to South Africa.
It took nearly 22 hours of travel, two movies, one sleeping pill and two passport stamps before I set my sights on the other side of the world just two years ago. Little did I know, my years learning about communication in the classroom would soon be reinforced by a dose of reality that textbooks couldn’t illustrate.
For one month, I studied post-apartheid South Africa from the inside. I met the people, ate the food, toured the embassy and danced to their music. I spent evenings discussing the economy with farmers and politics with Nelson Mandela’s prison mate. When I wasn’t busy, I spent my free time at the Indian Ocean, exploring beautiful vineyards and cage diving with great white sharks in Gansbaai Bay (yes, I managed to go home with all 10 fingers). Ultimately, I fell in love with the country.
I’m certain that my respect for its culture was born from hands-on experience and a tangible curriculum. St. Thomas provides us with one of the best educations in the country, but it also provides us with one of the best educations outside of the country. Take the opportunity to travel while you are young, the professional world doesn’t have a J-Term. It does, however, have a lot of desks. We all know how I feel about those.
Carly Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.