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Feb. 20, 2015
By Alexandra Mortallaro, media relations assistant
Two Northwest Missouri State University students stepped outside of their comfort zones and chose to venture to non-traditional locations last fall. As a result they realized no destination is out of reach and gained life-changing experiences.
Mary Kate Cronin and Abigail Larson were among those Northwest students who seized opportunities to study abroad during the fall trimester. Northwest offers seven different programs that offer opportunities in more than 40 countries. Students may decide where to study based on their majors, the region they want to visit, and the language they want to learn.
“Studying abroad gives students the opportunity to immerse themselves into a different culture and helps students learn more about themselves by discovering their true potential,” Jeaneth Puriel, Northwest study abroad coordinator, said. “Studying abroad gives students a broader perspective of the world.”
|Mary Kate Cronin studied at the University of Ghana last fall.|
Cronin, a political science major, applied to various study abroad programs in Africa and the Middle East. When the process ended, Cronin was awarded her top choice – Ghana. She studied abroad at the University of Ghana for four months and says her experience was unforgettable.
“Besides having a strong desire to travel, I wanted to go to a developing country in particular because since middle school my goal has been to join the Peace Corps after graduating college,” Cronin said. “I thought that living in a developing country like Ghana would give me a good glimpse into what that might be like and get me thinking more seriously about those options.”
Aside from academic challenges in Ghana, Cronin described her temporary home’s culture as dynamic, diverse and life-changing.
“I was pushed so far out of my comfort zone on a daily basis, dealing with things like a lack of hot water, language barriers, rolling power outages, little access to internet, the heat, and always standing out because of my skin color,” Cronin said. “I learned so many personal skills that I expect I’ll carry throughout the rest of my life, like having patience, learning to laugh at frustrations, and the importance of compassion and kindness. The people are so friendly and the landscapes are incredible. I saw beautiful beaches, waterfalls, dense forests and vast open plains.”
In Ghana, Cronin’s class sizes ranged from 100 to 200 students, and instructors lectured during class periods rather than allowing students to discuss and engage in group work. Some of Cronin’s coursework at the university included politics of international economics, public policy, African history and Ghanaian language.
“The whole academic experience gave me such a greater appreciation for the opportunities we have here at Northwest – all the resources available to students, professors who are so engaged in their teaching, and even having discussion-based classes,” Cronin said.
Northwest Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Brian Hesse and Puriel assisted Cronin throughout her study abroad experience. Hesse participated in the same program when he was in college and he, too, has a passion for Africa.
“He really eliminated any doubts I might have had and encouraged me throughout the application process, my semester in Ghana and since I’ve been back,” Cronin said. “Jeaneth made sure I got everything in place in time for things to work out for me. Even when I was gone, she would keep in touch and was always eager to hear how things were going.”
Cronin said she could have stayed in Ghana forever and hopes she will go back someday.
“The way of life is just so much simpler,” she said. “I didn’t live out of my calendar. I didn’t worry if my hair was frizzy. I stopped drinking coffee. These things seem so irrelevant to a study abroad experience, but I really feel they were such a significant part of mine. Adjusting to life back home has been a lot harder than I anticipated.”
|Abigail Larson, right, studied last fall at Thammasat University in Bangkok.|
Larson, a mass communication major, returned to Northwest this spring after enjoying a cultural experience during the fall trimester at Thammasat University in Bangkok. Larson studied mass communication and journalism there, becoming the first Northwest student to study abroad in Thailand.
“There was an intimidation factor there because no one knew what to expect,” Larson said. “I lived extremely locally, where I was one of three Americans. No English was spoken and some of the simplest tasks became difficult, but as time passed, I became well acquainted.”
Larson was in class three days a week and took advantage of her time away from schoolwork to get the richest travel experience possible.
“I backpacked most of Thailand, and took a trip to Cambodia,” Larson said. “I’ll never forget the sights I saw and the people I met along the way. I cannot describe how many times my heart felt like it was going to burst because of the beauty of the environment and the people. Thailand is known as the ‘land of smiles’ because of the kindness and gentleness of the people. I definitely try to keep the Thai smile with me back here in the United States.”
Like Cronin, Larson received valuable assistance from her academic advisor and study abroad staff. Instructor of Mass Media Jacquie Lamer and Puriel helped Larson prepare for her study abroad experience.
“I have a new confidence after seeing what I can achieve by myself in a different culture,” Larson said. “I have also really embraced the Thai-Buddhist, live-for-the-present mentality, remembering that most things are out of my control and stopping to take in the beauty of the present while it is in front of me.”
Puriel regularly consults with Northwest students to help them meet their study abroad goals and to evaluate their experiences as part of a re-entry orientation.
“Seeing how different students are after an experience abroad is priceless,” Puriel said. “Abby’s and Mary Kate’s experiences are unique simply because they chose non-traditional locations. It is always invigorating to see students who want to step so far outside their comfort zone and conquer their experience abroad as successfully as they both did. We want full cultural immersions for our students that will give them a sense of what life is like in their host country versus being a tourist hopping from place to place. Both Abby and Mary Kate are prime examples that no matter where you go it is the student’s choice to make the most out of their experience abroad.”
Students interested in studying abroad must have completed two trimesters at Northwest, be enrolled as a current student and have at least a 2.5 grade point average. Benefits to studying abroad include expanding career options, developing self-awareness and enhancing skills in leadership, communication, collaborating and problem-solving. For more information about study abroad programs offered through Northwest, visit www.nwmissouri.edu/international/studyabroad/.
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
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