Seeking an educational challenge and a new way of seeing the world, 100 students left for the Fall Semester of 2014 with grand expectations and returned with the knowledge one can only learn from living in a different place and learning in a different environment than Sewanee. In fact, Sewanee students traveled to a total of 25 countries, including Germany, Argentina, Vietnam, and Australia.
Three students who left the Domain to study are Dave Dermon (C’16), Lorna Harkey (C’16), and Emmie Oliver (C’16). Dermon partook in Medieval Studies at Oxford University, Harkey studied Environment & Sustainability in Freiburg, Germany, and Emmie Oliver traveled to Vietnam, Morocco, and whisper, but if it was a longer conversation, you took Bolivia in search of both cultural immersion and conservation studies.
Dermon recounts his experience as a predominantly academic challenge. A History major, Dermon wanted an experience that allowed him to delve deeper into Medieval His-tory and the culture that has formed in Oxford to-day. He had tutors with whom he spent an hour a week discussing with, and the assignments that followed entailed reading a handful of relevant texts. Over the week, he would read and write essays in the library. With at least six books to read a week, he spent a great deal of time in the library. One adjustment he found difficult was coming from the absolute silence of the library in Ox-ford: “People really treat it as a quiet work space, not a social space… You could a program in Freiburg, Germany, that focused on for-est management, energy, that outside.”
Outside of his studies, Dermon took himself out of his comfort zone and joined a recreational hockey team. “Don’t be scared to go out and try new things. I know it sounds cliche, but… whether or not you’re abroad or in a new city here — even in your own home-town — there’s no reason to act like that.” On Fridays, a group of students went out to the bars then came back to play hockey. Most of them had little experience, but it was a formative way for Dermon to branch out, make new friends, and learn a sport.
Before she embarked on her experience abroad, Harkey planned to travel to Germany for a language program, then she decided on the Environment & Sustainability major. She found and green living. They took classes one at a time, each lasting three weeks. Monday through Friday, students had afternoons free to do work and explore Freiburg. “We had a lot of field trips, which I liked a lot… One day, we drove out to a town where they only use reusable energy,” she said. Through the program, Harkey found her passion: “I learned about geothermal energy, which is what I want to do for the rest of my career. I want to some-how figure out a way to learn more about it here [at Sewanee].” Though she found her calling in geothermal energy while studying in Freiburg, Germany, she was not completely satisfied with the program on the whole: “The classes weren’t that challenging, and I think the program does that on purpose so we can have more free time. But I want to go deeper into what I was learning about.”
Harkey recounts the bonds she created with her house and classmates. Leaving, she said, was difficult. “I didn’t realize this while I was there, but I realized it when I got back, but my life didn’t stop when I went abroad. I thought my life was gonna stop, and that the semester was going to be full of amazing experiences. I had a lot of re-ally terrible things happen to me abroad… I think the fact that I was abroad made it so much better because I had friends who were really supportive, and I couldn’t because I wanted it to be the best semester of my life. It was, but I was still living.”
Oliver went to three different countries through the International Honors Program, Climate Change: The Politics of Food, Water, and Energy. “I went to Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia. In each country, we were based out of one city, where we lived with a host family in pairs, but we did a lot of traveling throughout each country and I feel like I got a really good taste of each country. I took four classes, just like any other semester, but one of my professors, who traveled with us, taught two of them. The other two were co-taught by faculty in each country: some of which weren’t professors but rather NGO workers, scientists, or corporate leaders. Because those two classes were taught by so many professors, it lacked continuity throughout the program. But what was lost in continuity was gained in expertise: we were being taught how Climate Change will affect the Mekong Delta by Vietnamese scientists, how the Quinoa market has transformed Bolivia by a quinoa distributor, and how a water bottling plant impacted a small community in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco by a leader of a resistance against it.”
One of the benefits of living with a host family was being able to practice to languages with them. “I had two 20-something brothers in Bolivia who I loved to practice Spanish with over beers at a discoteca downtown or on hikes in the mountains by our house. In Morocco, we had a long weekend so I took the train to Marrakech and the nearby town of Essouira with three friends and spent our days meandering through the markets, lounging on the beach, and eating too much cous cous. In Vietnam, I got to go on a trip to Ha Long Bay, where I stayed overnight on a boat and got to go caving and kayaking. Thinking back on this, I can’t even believe that I can say that I did all of those things!”
Dean Jones said, “I would say nowadays Study Abroad pertains to every major in the school. I have worked in the area of Study Abroad now for 22 years. There are so many different models for it that each student can expect very different things. We talk about the investigative model, where people learn the methodology of research projects, the service model that allows students to learn through community engagement, and programs like island programs… And through these, students gain a sense of self-reliance, confidence in tackling different kinds of tasks, and there are lots of personal impacts in the regard, and of course they’re learning information about whatever they’re studying.”
When asked about the best program he’s visited so far, Jones said, “What really stands out to me is when I visited a program last spring that was in Serbia, Bosnia, and Cossova. It just knocked my socks off. I could not believe the questions people were investigating in that area. I love other programs, too; I’ve visited centers in Lon-don and Tokyo — I loved Sydney, Australia, but the depth of those questions of what is going on in Serbia and Cossova — it was an astoundingly well-run pro-gram.”
For those interested in studying abroad, consult the school website at ttp://studyabroad.sewanee.edu/where. For those interested in Medieval Studies, contact Professor Matthew Irvin in the English Department. Dermon, Harkey, and Oliver would also be happy to answer questions about their own experiences abroad.