Photo courtesy of Emma Horgan (C’16)
By Fleming Smith
Studying abroad involves many choices: where to study, what classes to take, and figuring out how that experience will change you. Some opportunities take learning out of the classroom entirely: a program through the International Service Learning Partnership (IPSL) places students directly into high-pressure internships in local communities.
“I worked 20 hours a week at Jane Olevelos Orphan Center. I taught the ‘baby’ class from 8:00-3:30, then helped getting dinner ready for the children who stayed at the orphanage,” said Emma Horgan (C’16), who did a Spring 2015 program in Tanzania. “I mostly taught basic English, so colors, numbers, counting, nursery songs.”
Arianne Newton, Director of Programs for IPSL, recently visited Sewanee for the study abroad fair on September 19. “Just being on campus and starting to get to know Sewanee students and what this school is about—exploration in the liberal arts—I believe that that sort of mindset Sewanee has is a really good complement to IPSL’s mindset,” Newton explained. “It’s about exploring the world.”
IPSL programs try to introduce students to new experiences, some of which may be outside of a student’s comfort zone. “One of the things that’s really eye-opening at most of our sites is that you don’t really know what you’re getting into until you arrive. You just have to take that leap and trust yourself,” said Newton.
“I was the only person in the program, so it was a little intimidating to go by myself,” Horgan described regarding her experience in Tanzania. “But my host family was amazing and the IPSL directors are really hands on and always down to grab lunch.”
Before students begin their study abroad, IPSL gives orientation classes. They teach students how to manage culture shock as well as how to provide service in an ethical and sensitive way. While in their specific country, students participate in a more specific orientation geared towards involvement in a particular field. Every participant usually matches up with a grassroots organization that suits their interests and skills.
“You can study abroad anywhere in the world, but this opportunity to be embedded in the community on a local level, working with grassroots organizations and local people, is not easy to come by,” said Newton.
Students typically return from an IPSL program with 16-20 credits. The course offerings for any particular country often involve the politics or culture of that country in order to fully immerse oneself in the academics in the environment.
“I stayed with the Dean of Students and his family while I took classes at Mount Meru University,” said Horgan. “I was in Swahili, History of Tanzania, Family Life: HIV and AIDS in East Africa, Colonialism and Nationalism, Institutions in Society, and an online IPSL reflection course.”
IPSL offers a wide range of different programs and countries. While Horgan studied in Tanzania, the undergraduate offerings currently list 14 other countries also available for students, including locations such as Ecuador, France, and Thailand.
“This is definitely a very rustic study abroad experience. My family didn’t have running water and the electricity was out more often than on,” said Horgan. “However, there was no better way to learn about the culture and political structure than to experience it first hand living as a middle- to lower-class Tanzanian. My experience brought a whole new dimension to what I had learned while in class at Sewanee.”