Students explore the world with new study abroad trips
The travel bug has spread rampantly around Centre College’s campus, and Parker Lawson ’15 and Julie Springate ’14 are just two of the 85 percent of students who choose to study abroad during their four years at Centre.
While Lawson spent this past summer break, as he puts it, “studying, teaching, learning, conversing and growing” as a person in the “beautiful classroom” of South America, Springate prepares to travel to Glasgow, Scotland, for spring semester.
What’s most significant about these two journeys is that they represent a first for both the students and Centre. Springate will be one of the first students to ever study abroad in Glasgow with Centre, while Lawson was the first first-year undergraduate student ever to receive the David Hershberg Scholarship for International Study.
In his travels, Lawson was joined by 35 other college students from across the country who participated in the five-week program organized by the Kentucky Institute for International Study (KIIS) and directed by Centre Associate Professor of Spanish Genny Ballard.
Centre held the largest representation of any school, with six students on the trip. Ballard and the Centre students were also accompanied by Centre Assistant Professor of Anthropology Robyn Cutright and Coquis Galvan, who taught classes along with Ballard throughout the trip.
The group explored numerous locations where they participated in excursions including zip-lining in Monteverde, visiting El Trapiche in La Paz where sugar cane is processed, spending time in the beachfront Rastafarian town of Puerta Viejo, touring the Bri Bri Reserve, snorkeling in Bocas del Toro, swimming in the natural hot-springs of the Arenal Volcano and spending the night with a turtle conservation organization. These activities were not only a great way to introduce the culture of each area, but also provided students with unique educational experiences.
“I [learned] in ways that I never thought possible,” says Lawson of their activities. “I’ve come to realize that the most tangible learning from study abroad comes in the most unexpected, ad hoc ways.”
Of course, students were also intensely immersed in the Spanish language during their stay, which Lawson recognized as “an incredible opportunity to improve” in fluency.
“I surprised myself at what I [was] capable of,” he explains, saying that some of his best practice took place within the homes of families he stayed with. “I [gave] English lessons to some of my host-siblings and had one of the most significant conversations of my life with my host-father. He doesn’t speak any English and I’m not a native Spanish speaker, but that did not take away from the conversation.”
Lawson also had the opportunity to showcase his comprehension when he was asked to translate for the group during a tour. While it was unexpected, he reiterates that moments such as this illustrate “the beauty of study abroad; you are constantly learning without even noticing it!”
The most unexpected aspect of the trip, though, was the deep friendships that students made with locals throughout their journey.
“It is amazing at how close people become in [a few] weeks,” Lawson recalls. “When life is slowed down and true human interaction is embraced, differences in ethnicity and language vanish.”
The hospitality and kindness that the region is known for was always evident, and Lawson was surprised to learn that people he met were just as “curious and eager to learn” about Americans as well.
After spending five weeks abroad and becoming dramatically close to those who embrace an entirely different culture, the group’s departure “was a town event,” Lawson recounts.
“But no matter how many times you say goodbye to someone or some place, they and it will forever be with you, subtlety influencing your way of thought and perspective,” he says.
Reflecting on his incredible journey, Lawson offers a piece of advice for students who haven’t yet taken advantage of the travel opportunities that are offered.
“I strongly recommend that every Centre student takes this opportunity at least once, whether through a semester, CentreTerm or a KIIS program like mine,” he says. “Not only are you sure to learn a ton, but you’ll forge relationships and have experiences that will influence the rest of your life.”
Springate also understands the importance of being exposed to new cultures and areas of the globe. Before she recently arrived in Glasgow, she began to realize how much her experience there will change her life.
“I started to think about all the things that I would be doing for the first time. I will get the first stamp on my passport. I will pack my entire life into two suitcases and go to a place that I have never been. I will meet hundreds of new people from countries that I have never visited,” Springate says. “I will have the opportunity to start fresh—with no preconceived notions, no judgments—and be myself. I will be 5,000 miles from everyone, and everything that I know and love. For the first time, I will be completely on my own.”
Like Lawson, Springate is ready to experience what the world has to offer.
“I know that I will come back from Glasgow a different person,” Springate says. “The journey that I have wanted to take for so long is finally upon me and I can’t wait to make the most of it!”