Honors College students make it a point to go the extra mile—literally.
Each year, many Honors College students take the time to go study in another country. While they are primarily engaged in academic pursuits, they also make time for cultural exploration and immersion.
Dr. Harald Leder, director of Academic Programs Abroad, believes that studying abroad is an important component of the full college experience. In addition to broadening your horizons and learning a new language, students also gain personal skills.
“I think study abroad should provide students with abilities and skills that otherwise they would not be able to acquire here at LSU,” said Leder. “These abilities and skills are really good when they start looking for work, or when they start applying for medical school, or for graduate school. So study abroad experience has real value.”
Both Christian Hess and Erin Baldwin gained all of this and more during their academic experiences abroad.
Christian Hess- A New World View
Christian Hess spent the past academic year attending Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. According to Christian, he chose the university to continue his political science and psychology studies.
“De VU (as everyone there called it) was a perfect fit academically because I intended to cover most of my international and comparative politics credits, along with taking advantage of the strong research program within the psychology faculty,” said Hess. “Another important reason was the ease in acclimating to Dutch life given their excellent English proficiency and Amsterdam's reputation as an expat center.”
While Hess found that some of his most challenging encounters were academic, overcoming these obstacles were also some of his best experiences.
“Much of the psychology work was great because it was very thorough and mostly research-based. My research methods class required me to conduct a new psychology study each week with a group, in which we would collect and analyze data ourselves with the help of a PhD student,” said Hess. “Despite not knowing much about data analysis, I managed to learn enough to actively contribute. I can say with certainty that it was the most demanding but also the most rewarding experience I had academically.”
Hess said that his political science courses provided a diversity perfect for an in-depth discussion of international issues.
“In my political science classes, I believe the international differences were more apparent,” said Hess. “Most of these classes had significant exchange student presence meaning that often times a wide spectrum of opinions were represented.”
As for assimilation, Hess found that Amsterdam’s bike culture was one of his favorite parts of city life. In addition, meeting people and making friends with the other students also contributed to his developing a feel for the international environment.
“My group of friends had weekly dinners in my floor's tiny communal kitchen but it was as the Dutch say, gezellig, which means cozy via direct translation, but its meaning really encompasses a warm, social atmosphere and good company,” said Hess. “Establishing a sense of belonging was amazing because being abroad definitely made me feel out of place at times.”
In addition to his university experience in Amsterdam, Hess traveled extensively across the Netherlands, and internationally to Belgium, Italy, Germany, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Sweden, France and Monaco
For Hess, the Honors College has given him the necessary support to pursue this life-changing venture.
“In the most tangible way, the Honors College has been very generous in helping me finance both this and the undergraduate thesis I've begun working on since my return,” said Hess. “However, I believe it has had a great impact as well through fostering intellectual curiosity for new and possibly unconventional ideas in classes here at LSU in the work I've done so far.”
Erin Baldwin – Outside the Comfort Zone
Erin Baldwin spent the Spring 2013 semester studying at Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris in Malaysia. Located in a small town consisting of five streets of shops and restaurants, the campus shared a view of a lake and mountains, allowing easy access to hiking excursions.
“I was attracted to Malaysia for many reasons, but partly because of its location in Southeast Asia,” said Baldwin. “There are so many amazing places to travel to in the area. I was also attracted to Malaysia because the culture there is so entirely different from my own, and I wanted to go to places that were less developed.”
Baldwin took several biology classes, as well as kayaking, rock climbing, and massage therapy courses. The university policy was that if at least one international student was enrolled in a course, the class would be taught in English rather than the Malay language. However, Baldwin discovered that often the classes were taught in a mixture of both languages.
“The most challenging thing was probably the language barrier when it came to issues like group projects or visiting the health clinic, but they key is just being very patient and finding humor in the inevitable misunderstandings,” said Baldwin. “Some of my favorite experiences were visiting my classmates’ villages with them, and getting to see their home life, go to weddings, or have feasts with their families while sitting on the floor and eating with only our hands."
Along encountering the day-to-day life of Malaysian families, Baldwin also discovered a passion for learning about different religions.
“After spending days at a Buddhist temple in Thailand practicing meditation under the guidance of a monk, living among devout Muslims in Malaysia, and visiting the Hindu enclave of Bali where I witnessed countless daily rituals, my interest in religion has grown so much,” said Baldwin. “I’ve decided to pick up a minor in religion and have started to study it independently as well. I’ve learned that there are so many inspiring and beautiful lessons to be learned from each of these practices and things that I want to incorporate into my own life.”
Before classes began, Baldwin spent one month backpacking through Thailand with a friend. She passed many weekends during the semester taking buses and trains to different parts of Malaysia, in addition to spending her mid-semester break in Bali. After her exams ended, she spent a few weeks in a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo.
For Baldwin, you have to step out of your comfort zone to have a fully immersive study abroad experience.
“The advice I have for other students who are going to study abroad or just traveling is to resist the urge to seek out the familiar, western, or American things in your surroundings. Try to live like the locals do and embrace everything that is foreign.”
Story by Jacqueline DeRobertis, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831