Can a student’s education be measured strictly by the success they have within the parameters of a lecture hall? To quote Indiana Jones, “You want to be a good archaeologist? You’ve got to get out of the library.”
With the assistance of the Education Abroad program at Texas A&M, students of nearly every degree program are provided with global opportunities to study and gain firsthand experiences. This past summer, four Aggie students booked their plane tickets to some of the furthest corners on the map and came back ready to share.
For six weeks during the summer, political science senior Christopher Godkin immersed himself in Santiago, Chile, as a policy analyst, overviewing strategies to prevent violence on school grounds. Godkin said he looks back on his time in Chile fondly, even the initial struggle to grasp a language he hardly knew.
“Those first three weeks I didn’t realize how difficult it would be not being able to adequately express myself,” Godkin said. “Because I was trying to immerse myself, I didn’t want to just speak English. So having to use a very limited Spanish vocabulary and knowledge was very strenuous. I’m privileged enough to live somewhere where that is my first language. Coming back home I was very grateful for that fact and able to empathize with people who struggle with that a little bit more.”
Everyday tasks as simple as ordering a salad were suddenly challenged by the Chilean culture’s conflicting interpretation. According to Godkin, this difference made interning abroad all the more interesting.
“There were a lot of things I really took away from Chile, and one of the big things being how we approach the same problem very differently,” Godkin said. “That’s not a bad thing. I think it’s very important that we have these different approaches to problems in order to put them together and figure out what’s going to work the best for that situation.”
Having already lived in Japan for five of the last seven years, international studies junior Lucas Mendoza said his three months of organizing strategic visions with the Franklin Covey company’s Tokyo branch felt right at home.
“My degree focuses on Japanese and business, so getting to experience both those aspects in one program was really good,” Mendoza said. “I got to understand how Japanese people interacted and really understand how important the client relationship is. [The Japense] speak about clients in a very respectful way and getting to see that was an important cultural education for myself.”
Just as a Texan’s handshake acts as a first impression, Mendoza said there’s an art to handing out business cards in Japan. He said he would not dare forget it.
“In America, it’s just something you throw at someone, but in Japan, there’s a specific process of how you hand it to someone,” Mendoza said. “I had to learn that and practice it before I went on my first client sales visit. Otherwise, I wasn’t going. A lot of that might seem silly from an American perspective, but it’s all about making sure you show the appropriate amount of respect.”
If history sophomore Renee Rodriguez wasn’t on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea one day, she was exploring the world’s largest cathedrals the next in Seville, Spain. Thousands of miles away from home, Rodriguez said studying the history of Latinx identity allowed her to garner a deeper appreciation of her heritage.
“My family has always said we were from Spain,” Rodriguez said. “So to go on that trip and understand where the Spanish culture originates from and how it [has] changed over the years really opened my eyes to my own family’s history.”
While the historical monuments of Seville impressed, Rodriguez said nothing topped Spain’s gelato and the handful of friends with whom she shared it.
“I made some really great friends in Spain,” Rodriguez said. “Being the only English speakers we knew in a foreign country, we were forced to stick together, but there were great friendships that came out of it.”
One of those friends is interdisciplinary studies senior Mary Macora, who said a month abroad in Spain was an invaluable experience which more students ought to consider.
“Before going on [a] study abroad, I thought ‘I’ll never be that person, that’s a waste of money.’ That’s completely wrong,” Macora said. “Being able to study abroad is so cool because you learn so much more than you would have had you gone on your own because your professors have that scope of knowledge and they know what to look for within the countries you visit. Yes, it’s great to learn from the books here, but it’s a whole new lifestyle when you’re able to take in information and experience it first hand.”