There are few times in a person’s life when the opportunity to travel abroad is offered nearly every week in an email. At Ball State, there are numerous study abroad trips taken every semester, all varying in location, cost, and duration. Those who are interested in traveling, if looking in the right places, will be certain to find a trip that suits their interests and educational goals. I have been fortunate enough to travel abroad twice during my college career—two experiences that have been the most valuable in my life thus far.
The first opportunity to travel abroad came to me my freshman year. I received an email asking for students who were interested in teaching English at a summer English camp in Thailand. Students did not need English as a Second Language teaching experience, or even need to be English Education or ESL majors. I am an English Education major, so the opportunity to teach English and travel was one I could not pass up. I spent three weeks during Summer 2008 in a completely different culture, learning and experiencing Thailand’s customs, beliefs, values, and lifestyles. I, along with a dozen other Ball State students, taught at the Prince of Songkla University in Phuket. As a part of the trip, I was able to travel through Thailand with my students and Ball State peers, visiting many towns and cities such as Bangkok, Trang, and Surat Thani. Through my interaction with the Thai students, I developed a deeper appreciation for a culture much different from my own. I also gained valuable experience in the classroom, which has helped greatly in my other endeavors in the English Department and Teachers College.
The trip was so rewarding that it sparked an interest for more traveling! I asked the Rinker Center to put me on the mailing list for other study abroad programs, and also started checking out the study abroad fair that takes place at the beginning of both fall and spring semesters in the Atrium. Eventually, I discovered the Worcester Centre, which is a six-week summer program in Worcester, England. I learned that I would be able to take between six and nine credit hours from a list of courses offered in the program, and also have the freedom to do a lot of traveling in Europe.
During the summer of 2010, I was a Worcester University student. I took a British Life and Culture course and a British Literature course with English and German tutors (professors). The classes were interesting, challenging, and immersed me in the culture of England. I had class Monday through Wednesday, and Thursdays were designated for organized class day-trips around England. The British Literature course was especially interesting because I was able to visit the homes and places of inspiration of various authors we read in class. For example, after reading Romeo and Juliet, my fellow BSU students and I took a day trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare, and had the opportunity to handle some of Shakespeare’s original manuscripts. We also saw a production of the play in a replica of the Globe Theatre.
Other places of interest that coincided with course readings were Bath, Birmingham, and Malvern. After reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, I walked through the streets of Bath that inspired some of her novels. I also toured through the remaining back-to-back houses in Birmingham after studying the history behind Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton. Hiking through the Malvern Hills and drinking its famous natural spring water (originally believed to heal the sick) helped me understand why C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were inspired to write some of their most famous books there.
Having the chance to visit the places I read about in books is truly a unique experience that enables me to understand the literature and authors in new ways. When I read about the neon signs and bustling sidewalks of Piccadilly Circus in London, I can picture it. I can remember what it feels like to be there, and I therefore have a deeper connection with the text.
As I alluded to earlier, I was given the freedom to explore Europe independently, and I certainly took advantage of that opportunity. Friends and I spent a weekend lying on the beaches of Tarragona, Spain, and admiring the famous architecture in Barcelona. Another weekend entailed French chocolate, a baguette lunch by the Eiffel Tower and a bicycle tour through Paris. One of the most memorable weekend trips was a three-day tour through the southern part of misty Ireland, which is the greenest, most beautiful country I’ve ever seen. I also spent time exploring London and the quaint city of Worcester, which is about the size of Muncie. During these explorations, I learned a great deal about the types of food, music, literature, and entertainment people of different cultures enjoy and value.
My parents have always told me that a truly educated person is one who has seen the world. While I have yet to see many places, I have traveled enough to realize how valuable and life-changing it is. With that said, I would encourage anyone to travel abroad if the opportunity presents itself. In college, such opportunities are always there if you look for them. Take them while you can. After college, they tend to present themselves less often (and are usually not accompanied with scholarships or financial aid that will help pay some, if not most of the way). My college experience has been much richer and fulfilling because of my travels, and has also filled up my resume quite nicely, distinguishing me as a student and knowledgeable future teacher who can bring the world to her students.