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Challenges, Breakthroughs, and the “Four Best Months of My Life”

Challenges, Breakthroughs, and the “Four Best Months of My Life” April 7, 2015

“I thrive off adventure, my greatest joy comes when I’m challenged to experience and live in the moment,” wrote Yesenia Hernandez from Cornell College. Her off-campus study program took her most of the way around the globe to study human rights in New York City, Chile, Jordan, and Nepal.

Yesenia HernandezYesenia Hernandez (Cornell College)

“I was driven to reflect on not only my community’s issues but on the issues that face the larger world community,” she recalled. “My experiences abroad brought me in contact with the most inspiring, driven, and innovative change-makers in the world, subsequently challenging me to pass their wisdom onto my community.”

Off-campus study can be filled with challenges, and the stories that students tell about their study away experiences often revolve around the challenges they met and the academic and personal growth that followed.

On April 10-11, students from across the ACM will gather to tell their stories at the Student Symposium on Off-Campus Study in Chicago.

The annual Symposium, now in its seventh year, celebrates the vital role of off-campus study at the ACM colleges. Together, the member colleges have offered consortial off-campus opportunities, both international and in the U.S., for more than 50 years.

Participants in the two-day event were nominated by the off-campus study offices on their campuses. The students will give presentations about their off-campus experiences and engage in panel discussions moderated by faculty and staff from the colleges.

The 2015 Symposium webpage has links to profiles of the students and descriptions of their topics. Here is a preview of several of the participants and some of the challenges they experienced during their off-campus study.

Experiencing breakthroughs

Valeria Diaz de LeonValeria Diaz de Leon (Monmouth College) with her cooperating teacher.

“I was surprised at the difference 200 miles could make, particularly from rural to urban areas,” said Monmouth College senior Valeria Diaz de Leon, who left her small town college setting and headed to Chicago and the ACM Urban Education Program for her student teaching internship.

“The transition from rural to urban was a struggle, but I wanted to broaden my educational background as a future teacher,” she explained. “I had 31 students from diverse backgrounds and I had to rethink the lesson plans to fit the needs and cultural experiences of all my students. My amazing cooperating teacher and supervisor helped and guided me through the process. There would be bad days; however, I realized that my efforts would result in many good days where both the students and I would experience breakthroughs.”

Marina AlessiMarina Alessi (Lake Forest College)

“The four best months of my life”

“As soon as I put the pen down after signing my Chinese language pledge, I knew I was in for the four most intense months of my life,” wrote Lake Forest College student Marina Alessi, describing the start of her semester studying in Beijing, China. “Mondays through Fridays, I could no longer speak English; I would have five Chinese language classes a day and weekly oral and written exams. To say I was nervous is a slight understatement.”

“Regardless, I decided to sign the pledge and after that, I had the four best months of my life,” Alessi recalled. “I challenged my comfort zone in and out of the classroom and by doing that, I truly lived the authentic Chinese life and experienced all the wonderful places and times China had to offer.”

Becoming “even more invested”

Hannah Rehak and Will MatsudaHannah Rehak and Will Matsuda (Macalester College)

Will Matsuda and Hannah Rehak, both from Macalester College, found challenges studying new media and journalism in Morocco, where they pitched story ideas and worked with multiple editors from The New York Times and The Minneapolis Star Tribune in their off-campus study program.

After their off-campus research and writing focused on the topic of underage marriage in Morocco, Matsuda and Rehak are looking forward to further challenges in their field.

“After conducting this research, writing the story, taking/editing the photos, and getting it published, we both feel even more invested in the value of journalism as a means of cross-cultural communication and as a potential method to subvert dominant narratives and representations,” they concluded. “We seek to understand the full power of storytelling through a print and visual medium, and continue to confront the ethical issues connected with both.”

Katie TredinnickKatie Tredinnick (Ripon College)

Taking a new approach to research

Katie Treddinick, from Ripon College, said she chose to study abroad in Tanzania for the “challenging endeavor” of learning about a culture completely different from her own. Once there, she took the same approach to her academic work, as well.

“In the ACM Tanzania Program we had the option to complete an ecology research project in Tarangire National Park or an anthropology research project in the Maasai (pastoralist tribe) village outside of the park,” Treddinick wrote. “As a student on the Pre-Vet track, I thought it was necessary to complete a research project in the park because it would align well with my plans to go to vet school.”

“Instead, I chose to challenge myself and do something I had never done before and probably will never get the chance to do again: interview the local people and conduct a research project that sought to understand the medical treatment of their cattle and how it compared to that of the Western world. In the end, I was able to successfully take an anthropological stance on a topic related to veterinary science.”


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