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Ogden Honors Students Share Their Study Abroad Experiences
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Honors students Matthew LeJeune and Sarah LaBorde on their Ogden Honors in Oxford trip.

Dean Earle of the Ogden Honors College has one piece of advice for all incoming Honors students: “Your undergraduate years are the best time to study abroad.  Believe me, no one is going to give you the opportunity to spend four months learning in Florence, or Tokyo, or Cuba when you’re 40-years-old.”

According to Earle, academic rigor extends beyond the confines of the seminar setting. Excellence, he suggests, demands risk and discomfort by breaking routine. “There is something profound about having to learn to navigate the public transportation system in a foreign city, or how to withdraw cash from an ATM when the screen is full of Chinese characters.  These cultural competency skills are every bit as valuable as the types of knowledge transmitted in a classroom setting.”

The Ogden Honors College offers a variety of opportunities each summer for students to take their education to a different level through participating in study abroad programs. Over the past few years, Honors students have traveled to China, South Africa, Cuba, and London. Led by faculty mentors who are experts in their fields, these programs grant students the ability to go beyond the requirements of a typical college experience and step into a global classroom.  

Below, Honors students Matthew LeJeune, Morgan Johnson and Sarah LaBorde share some of their experiences on these programs.

Liberal Arts sophomore Matthew LeJeune attended the Honors College’s inaugural Ogden Honors in Oxford trip this past summer 2017. One of his favorite moments was the group’s day-trip to Bath, where the two courses he was studying — Classical Antiquity and 19th Century Ideas — came together. He was able to see the Roman Baths that resides there before heading over to the place where Jane Austen lived.

Students at St. Hilda's College, Oxford

“We got to see both of our classes together in one place,” he said. “We would learn in the classroom in the morning, and then spend the rest of the day seeing the places we learned about.”

Dr. Drew Lamonica Arms, director of the Ogden Honors in Oxford program, was keen to capitalize on the on-site learning opportunities.

“The real value of a study abroad program is the significance and understanding gained from seeing, touching, and experiencing what we analyzed in texts,” Arms said. “We learned so much about the 19th century worldview from the Albert Memorial in London, for example, or the Jane Austen exhibit at the Weston Library.  And, of course, the chance to live and study in college as students at Oxford have since the medieval period is truly once-in-a-lifetime.”

Deciding to hop on a plane to a foreign country generally makes for its own adventure, but LeJeune says that going with a group of people he had never met before offered its own opportunities for growth. What made the environment particularly interesting for LeJeune was being the only male student on the trip, though he says that by the end he had grown close to every one of his travel mates. 

“Overall, I loved traveling with other people, even if I didn't know them at first,” he said. “It allowed me to come out of my comfort zone and experience the world with fellow students.”

LeJeune believes that the study abroad experience has helped him not only to enhance his worldview, but also to appreciate what he is learning back at LSU even more. “Whatever my studies lead me to, I can draw back on those experiences, what I learned, down the road,” he said.

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Senior Morgan Johnson spent the summer of 2016 with the Honors College program in Cuba. As a political science major, Johnson felt that the trip was an incredible opportunity to learn about perspectives from a country with which the United States has had conflict. “We got to hear from Cuban professors from the University of Havana,” she said. “It was so interesting to hear their viewpoints on things like the Cold War.”

Associate Professor of English and Folklorist Dr. Solimar Otero has served as a leader of the Honors in Cuba Study Abroad Program. She says that this unique trip offers Honors students a valuable perspective of Cuban history and culture. “By interacting with regular people, professors, and artists, we get into a range of experiences that are almost always life-changing and memorable,” she says.

Student Morgan Johnson on her LSU Honors in Cuba trip.

Johnson says that the trip gave the students plenty of room for exploration. “We saw so many historical sites, and took excursions from the city into the country,” she said.

Studying the history of Cuba alongside Cuban art and folklore, the students on the 2016 trip truly had an immersive experience within the culture.

“We encountered people living very differently from the way we do here in the United States,” Johnson said.

Johnson believes that everyone should have an experience abroad, especially in an educational setting. “We have our own perspectives as Americans,” she said. “We are all humans, but we don’t have the same experiences [universally]. Going to visit places so different from ours shows us what we don’t see, and allows us to connect. It really teaches us to appreciate our own freedoms here in America.”

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Mass Communications and Marketing sophomore Sarah LaBorde also attended the very first Ogden Honors in Oxford program this past summer. LaBorde spoke about the experience of applying historical concepts to things she was seeing every day. “We would talk about a Jane Austen novel in the morning, and then go outside into present day Britain, and be able to apply those concepts,” she said. “It was so cool.” 

One of her favorite moments of the trip was getting the opportunity to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s own hometown. “We had spent the past several days and weeks reading the very text Shakespeare used to write the story,” she said. “And then we just saw the words brought to life.”

Ogden Honors in Oxford students in front of the The Eagle and Child.

The biggest takeaway from her study abroad experience, she said, was perspective. “Where you are and the people around you definitely has an effect on your worldview. Changing the place and the people really taught me that perspective is so important to relating to people in life.”

LaBorde added that the value of her study abroad experience extended beyond the authors and literature she explored along the way.

“It’s more than just learning about Jane Austen, more than Plutarch. It’s about gaining experience and layering your education so that you can apply that to how you view the world,” she said. “It’s about global citizenship rather than just focusing on your own community.” 

 

Story by Jordan LaHaye.