During the 2010-2011 academic year, at least four Lees-McRae students will leave the familiarity of Banner Elk to pursue their studies overseas. Two are headed to Northern Ireland, while two others will study in England and France.
Juniors Kenzie Simpson and Princess Neely have been accepted into the competitive Irish-American Scholars program and will each spend a semester in Northern Ireland. Simpson, a performing arts major, will attend Belfast Metropolitan College in the fall. For her, this is the fulfillment of a long-time goal.
"I have always wanted to go to Ireland, even since I was really young," claims Simpson. "It's so exciting to know that I can gain this opportunity while also enhancing my education. I can't wait to experience a new culture and actually be an international student!"
Neely, a psychology major, will attend University of Ulster in Coleraine in the spring. For her, the experience represents the opportunity to approach her studies from a different cultural perspective.
"Because the mind is so complex, it would be absurd to limit myself to studying psychology within a location in which I am comfortable and familiar," Neely notes. "Studying abroad in Northern Ireland will introduce new concepts and ideas I have yet to discover and will aid me in my future career."
This opportunity to study one's major from another perspective can be one of the most enticing, and most valuable, benefits of study abroad. This is particularly true for Nathan Larson, a junior business major, who will spend fall semester at the University of Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France enrolled in a European Union Studies program.
"I am really looking forward to learning about the European Union," says Larson. "It is such an influential organization"ï¿½Since I have started at LMC, the topic of international business has interested me in my business classes. So I can't wait to get some "real world" experience with it."
And of course, Larson looks forward to other benefits of study abroad as well.
"I can't wait to eat the delicious foods," he says.
Finally, Vicky Gianera, a senior criminal justice major, will be studying at the University of Lancaster, in Lancaster, England in the fall. She is particularly excited, as the experience will represent her first time traveling out of the United States.
"I am most looking forward to adapting to their culture," Vicky says excitedly, "and visiting all the cities I've heard about growing up, such as Liverpool and London." She also looks forward to learning more about how Britain's criminal justice system differs from that of the U.S., though she admits that England has yet another draw for her.
"I have wanted to visit England since I was a young child because I was raised listening to the Beatles, and they're one of my all-time favorite artists," she says.
Study abroad is certainly nothing new at Lees-McRae, but interest among students appears to be picking up steam, according to Global Community Center director Scott Crawford, who manages international programs on campus, including study abroad opportunities.
"It seems a culture of travel is building here," notes Crawford, who believes many factors, including the globalization of the U.S. economy, culture, and the workforce, contribute to this spike in interest. But Crawford also gives credit to past Lees-McRae students who have studied abroad and returned as advocates for the benefits of student travel.
Two such students, Austin Wright and Caitlin Jenkins, who just graduated in May, were so inspired by their international experience that they created a handbook for students who wish to study abroad. Creation of the handbook was a vital part of their senior project this year, and will serve as a tangible legacy of the positive experiences they had studying overseas. They hope it will inspire more students to study abroad in the future.
"Studying abroad is a challenge; emotionally, spiritually, and physically but the rewards are without comparison and are better than anything I experienced in my college career," claims Wright, who spent last fall semester at Swansea University in Swansea, Wales.
Jenkins, who spent the fall of 2008 in Paris, also lauds the rewards of study abroad, focusing on the invaluable multicultural experience one gains as a natural byproduct of a semester spent in another country.
"Living in Paris was wonderful from eating pastries to speaking French to experiencing a new culture," recalls Jenkins. "I lived in a dorm with students from France, Spain, Germany, Russia, China, America, Africa, and Italy; this melting pot of cultures allowed me to get a taste of many parts of the world."
Such experience seems to have served both Wright and Jenkins well. After graduating this May, Wright will pursue his MFA at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia while Jenkins will serve an internship at FedBid, Inc., a company in the Washington, D.C. area.
Crawford expects that Simpson, Neely, Larson and Gianera will have similar wonderful experiences studying abroad, and will return as global citizens with multiple opportunities awaiting them after graduation. Further, he hopes that their experiences will continue to stimulate the "culture of travel" catching on at Lees-McRae.
Pictured above is Caitlin Jenkins and her international friends at the Louvre in Paris.
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