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Lessons of Life and the Heart and the Mind and the World

Lessons of Life and the Heart and the Mind and the World April 21, 2010

“I have been fortunate enough to study off-campus twice, and my semesters in Chicago and Florence were both lessons of life and the heart and the mind and, especially, of the world.”

– Ana Kennedy, Lawrence University

See video clips of the students’ presentations!

Each year, more than 3,500 students leave their ACM campuses to study on off-campus programs. Scattered around the globe, they meet challenges, make friends, question long-held assumptions, and, day by day, do their best to adapt, learn, and understand.

Thirty-three of those students gathered at the ACM Student Symposium on Off-Campus Study on April 16-17 in Chicago to share their experiences, their insights, and their stories.

Sarah McNutt during her off-campus study in South Africa and Namibia.

Photo courtesy of Sarah McNutt

They talked about immigrants and people without clean water and the scourge of modern-day slavery. They told of finding serenity in Tokyo’s subways and of forging deep personal connections with people halfway around the world.

They grappled with questions of ethics and creativity, stereotypes and humility. They discussed the responsibilities that come with education and using their knowledge to take action.

They spoke with sincerity, conviction, and humor.

Over the course of two days, the students’ compelling stories of challenge and change, stitched together by connecting themes, created a vibrant, brilliant tapestry illustrating the academic richness and personal growth fostered by off-campus study.

To make the Symposium accessible to a wider audience, it was streamed live on the ACM website and video clips of all sessions are available on the Symposium webpage.

Students were nominated by their colleges to participate in the Symposium, and the delegations from the campuses included faculty and administrators. Along with their individual presentations, the students participated in panel discussions in which faculty served as moderators, raising issues, highlighting themes, and facilitating questions from the audience.

Shinto shrines tucked between Tokyo skyscrapers.

Photo courtesy of Madeline Horan

“Mysteriously, serenity may be found anywhere”

“When I thought of Japan, I thought of crammed schools, salary men, crammed streets, crowded subways – all images of stress,” said Madeline Horan from St. Olaf College. As she arrived in Tokyo in January, she said, “I felt as if I was about to enter the heart of stress.”

Beneath the surface, though, Horan found a pervasive calm, where a subway ride became an oasis of silence bracketing hectic workdays, and where Shinto shrines, tucked into slivers of space between towering office buildings, brought soothing islands of nature into the center of the packed city.

“Mysteriously, serenity may be found anywhere,” said Horan, as she described how her assumptions about Japan fell away.

It was a theme that recurred throughout the Symposium – How do we get beyond our assumptions? How can we communicate across cultural divides? Can we truly see the world through someone else’s eyes?

Erin Anderson speaking at the Symposium.

Erin Anderson, an environmental studies major from Carleton College, reflected on the profound effect of living with families in Guatemala and Mexico this past winter, and how the experience caused her to examine – and question – her assumptions.

“What I once thought was a clear-cut boundary between poor and privileged became kind of blurry to me,” Anderson said. “I had initially viewed my home stay living conditions as ‘poor.’ … But then after awhile I really couldn’t imagine calling a place that felt so warm and loving and like a home to me a ‘poor’ place to live.” Why, she asked, was she associating more material possessions with happier or better living conditions?

“I am an abolitionist”

“I’m Ellyn Arevalo and I am an abolitionist. I want to stop modern-day slavery,” the St. Olaf College senior began. “You might be surprised to know that today there are more people enslaved than there were at the height of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

Arevalo described her academic internship with the Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking at the national headquarters of the Salvation Army in Washington, DC. In the face of the ugly reality of sexual trafficking – which enslaves millions of people worldwide, including in the U.S. – she discovered the power and relevance of her academic studies at St. Olaf.

Ellyn Arevalo

“I was able to use my experience in the classroom to wrap my head around what was happening in the real world,” said Arevalo. “All this had the effect of showing me that academics need not stay in the classroom, and not stay in the ivory tower.”

“As an academic,” she concluded, “I have a responsibility to take a definitive moral stance on societal issues and then use my knowledge to try and rectify areas of oppression.”

Using the knowledge gained through off-campus study was a topic raised in presentations and panel discussions throughout the Symposium.

“This day and age is a very globalized world, where our actions can affect people around the world,” noted Cornell College student Sam Arnold during a discussion session. “Until you go out and see those people and how they’re being affected, you don’t really stop and think about your own actions.”

“For our class, seeing such destitute poverty with children (was) particularly hard to see,” said Sarah McNutt, referring to her off-campus program’s travels in South Africa and Namibia to study post-apartheid language policy.

“Now that we have a better understanding of that, I understand that our knowledge is limited, but I think that we have an obligation to interact with the world differently,” said McNutt, who is majoring in French and politics at Cornell College. “We have an obligation to use that knowledge wisely and to be citizens who contribute to the world, rather than just take from it.”

“I gained a knowledge that will be mine forever”

The impact of connections with people was another theme to emerge during the Symposium. Genevieve Jauregui, from Coe College, told stories about the children she cared for at an orphanage in Thailand during the service learning component of her program.

Genevieve Jauregui (left) during her service learning in Thailand.

Her bonds with the children were close, she said, showing photos of them as she told her story. But her time with the children was brief.

“Although I think it was a really good experience for me to get to know them and form those relationships, I did leave after four months,” Jauregui commented. “I’m not sure if maybe people going in and out of there as often as they do benefits (the children) more or hurts them more.”

Ana Kennedy spoke of two women who were pivotal to the depth and richness of her off-campus study experiences – her internship supervisor on the ACM Urban Studies Program in Chicago and her host mother on the Florence Program.

“These two women, both teachers, feminists, mothers, and artists, so much like my own mom, shared with me the necessity of compassion, patience, and finding personal empowerment through your voice, your actions, and your artistic contributions,” Kennedy said.

“By forming these two special relationships,” she said, “I gained a knowledge that will be mine forever.”


At her Urban Studies Program internship at Young Women’s Leadership Charter School in Chicago, Ana Kennedy (second from right) poses with students and her internship supervisor, Csilla Rosa (left).


Photo courtesy of Ana Kennedy


“Being a responsible citizen is a lifelong journey”

Jerry Seaman, Dean of the Faculty at Ripon College, opened one of the discussion sessions by underlining the close connections between off-campus study and education in the liberal arts and sciences at the ACM colleges, and the long-term value for students.

“We see (at this Symposium) students who are amazingly independent, self-directed, and motivated,” Seaman said, “that they engage in project-based learning; that they undertake creative research that is carefully designed and executed and that has an extensive experiential component; that the topics they take on are challenging; … that they undertake this research in unfamiliar settings; that they enter those settings with care, but with various levels of prior experience; and so they are challenged by those settings and they emerge changed.”

“The large goal of liberal education is to create socially responsible citizens,” he concluded. “We talk about lifelong learning. Being a responsible citizen is a lifelong journey.”


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