The Study Away program at Macalester is very popular, and offers a plethora of countries to study in and various subjects to study. The experience can be rewarding, but also trying. Hannah Bonestroo ’17 and Sarah Hendrickson ’17 shared the highs and lows of their study away experiences from the past year, along with their advice for those looking into the possibility of study away.
Bonestroo partook in the program Cities in the 21st Century, where she traveled to São Paulo, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa and Ahmedabad, India. The program “examines how geography, politics, economics, and culture shape social relations and the built environment in cities across the globe.” Bonestroo is a geography major with a concentration in urban studies. When asked why she picked this specific program, Bonestroo explained, “I’m super interested in cities and this was a program solely focused on cities…. I chose it primarily because it looked like I could travel the world!”
Hendrickson studied away in Santiago, Chile through the IFSA-Butler program. “I knew that I wanted to go to Chile for many reasons, including its history and its economy,” Hendrickson said. Originally, she wanted to go to the coastal town of Valparaíso in Chile, but Macalester did not offer it as an approved program. Though she was happy to have attended school in Santiago, Hendrickson stated, “I feel like the applications for non-approved programs are frustrating because they are very subjective and the reasoning is unclear to students.”
Overall, both Bonestroo and Hendrickson had positive experiences in their respective programs. Bonestroo said, “I had a great experience overall; I really liked the program. I think the program isn’t for everyone, because it’s really intense and you’re doing things from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m… but I really enjoyed it! I’m also really thinking I’m into exploring cities, and that’s all we were doing.”
Bonestroo admitted that it can be hard at times, because during the program you have little free time and you’re always with people. This was not something that personally bothered her, but is rather offered as a word of caution for those considering the program. Hendrickson shared similar feelings about her study away, stating, “My study away experience was amazing, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about it.” However, Hendrickson had her fair share of ups and downs, but thought it made the experience more powerful and allowed for personal growth. In the end, Hendrickson said, “I made so many friends and so many memories that I’ll never forget.”
Being in a different country or countries can be a new and sometimes scary experience. Bonestroo and Hendrickson both had different levels of comfort while studying away. For Bonestroo, since she did not direct enroll in any university, it was harder to find something constant in her travels. However Bonestroo explained, “The only people that I was solely making friends with were the 30 people who were traveling with me. It took a while for me to become comfortable with them.” Once Bonestroo made friends with some of the people, which took about four weeks, she felt comfortable during the program. Hendrickson had a different experience, never quite feeling comfortable in Santiago. Despite this, Hendrickson said, “I definitely got to the point where I was okay with being uncomfortable… After I became close with my host family, got into a rhythm with classes and made real Chilean friends, I was happy with my life there.” The overall level of comfort ranged between Bonestroo and Hendrickson, but both were able to enjoy their study away experience to the fullest.
The language barrier can sometimes be daunting for those studying away. In Bonestroo’s program there were translators that accompanied them on academic site visits and also helped them with individual research. However, when Bonestroo was on her own, the language barrier was more of an obstacle. “India… that was the hardest place. Gujarati is the language spoken. And we had to take these rickshaws to get to class, and the drivers didn’t really speak English,” Bonestroo stated.
Yet, Bonestroo never felt completely lost or out of her element despite the language barrier. Hendrickson had a more difficult time with the language barrier, because of how different Chilean Spanish is from the Spanish taught in the United States. They speak very quickly, use a lot of slang and have their own way of conjugating. “I feel like, no matter how much I prepared before I went, I still would have struggled. It took me about two weeks to be able to fully understand conversations between Chileans,” Hendrickson stated. Luckily, class did not start until three weeks after Hendrickson arrived. Academically, Hendrickson said, it was easier because of the lack of slang and more formal Spanish that was present.
Both Bonestroo and Hendrickson advised students looking into study away to really research the program and know what they want to get out of it. Bonestroo said, “Really think about what you want out of the program… do you want to be in a traditional classroom setting, do you want to be living on your own or in a homestay? Think about all these things carefully.” Hendrickson offered similar thoughts, and encouraged students to also talk to people who have gone through the program, but remember that everyone’s experience is different.
With a final word, Hendrickson urges students: “Once you find a place that may give you what you want, just do it. It’s scary, overwhelming, nerve-wracking, but just do it. It may change your life.”