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Saint Mary’s students reflect on travels, intercultural learning after fall semester abroad

| Monday, January 24, 2022

Last semester, several Saint Mary’s students were among the first to study abroad after the College canceled all programs in the 2020-2021 academic year. The Observer chronicled their experiences studying throughout Europe and learning how to adapt to international living during a pandemic.

Sydney Ellis — Maynooth University, Ireland

Ellis, a junior global studies major, found studying law and criminology in Ireland to be an eye-opening experience.

“I took a lot of classes in law and criminology, which is really cool,” she said. “[Maynooth University] had a lot of classes that Saint Mary’s wouldn’t really offer.”

In regards to the restrictions in the country throughout the semester, Ellis recalled having to show her vaccine card to be allowed into indoor spaces but experiencing otherwise relatively normal protocols.

“The restrictions weren’t too bad,” Ellis said. “They kind of like eased up when we were there. The only thing [was] the pubs and stuff were closing a little earlier than they normally would, and when you would like go into restaurants, you had to show your COVID [certification], which was different than here.”

Courtesy of Sydney Ellis
Ellis, who studied in Ireland, cited creating many cross-cultural connections with Irish students in her program.

Another part of living in Ireland that Ellis found different than being in the United States was learning about Irish culture through the international students she met in her program.

“I spent a lot of time with Irish students, and really got to know the culture in that way,” she said. “I think a lot of American students like kind of stuck together and they were like traveling all the time. So I think that I like really got to feel like the culture and learn a lot about it.”

These intercultural connections caused Ellis to think about her relationship to the United States, she said.

“It made me think about American culture more because a lot of people like would share their opinions like, ‘Oh, you’re American, and then they would kind of go on a tangent about how they feel about the states,” she said. “And so it kind of made me think about it more and when I get back [to America], I just, noticed things were a lot nicer there and more approachable. I think it’s harder to talk to people unless you know them [here].”

Ellis noted that she learned a great deal about herself while she was abroad, including in an instance where she had to independently reschedule travel plans after her group missed their flight back to Ireland.

“You know, I was like, on my own and I was like, ‘Wow, I really have to like figure out what to do,’” she said. “So I think I like realized that I have like more problem-solving skills than I thought I did. And I was able to get through things on my own without relying on other people to fix it for me.”

“It was just a unique experience that I don’t really think you can get just in school here or reading about culture,” Ellis said. “I think that like actually being there — it makes such a difference.”

Annika Smith — Budapest Semesters in Mathematics, Hungary

Smith, a junior mathematics major, studied advanced math courses during her time in Budapest. Considering her previous experience traveling, she discussed how she found the perfect combination in Saint Mary’s mathematics study abroad program.

“I’ve always really loved math and so I always knew I kind of want to be a math major,” she said. “That gives me purpose and I had actually been to Budapest before just a couple times randomly so I knew I loved the city. I love the math and it was perfect.”

Courtesy of Annika Smith
Smith, studied various in various mathematics courses as she spent the semester in Budapest, Hungary.

Smith remarked that while she could travel within Hungary, the program’s COVID restrictions asked students to stay within the country.

“It was pretty much normal, except our program did restrict us to travel only inside Hungary so we weren’t able to travel outside of the country,” she said.

The more time Smith spent in Hungary she realized a distinct change in how Hungarians and Americans act in their day to day lives.

“In the United States, we’re always rushing or so hurried,” she said. “We’re trying to be the most efficient, do everything the fastest and get everywhere and get everything done … I’ve never lived anywhere else in Europe, but I can speak for Budapest [and] everybody is just more mellow. Everybody is busy. Everybody’s doing things, but it’s not like life or death.”

One of Smith’s favorite memories was watching the sun rise with a group of friends.

“We took the bus at like 5:36 a.m. and then hiked up Gellért Hill, and watched the sunrise over the skyline,” she said. “Getting up at the crack of dawn is not my favorite thing, but it was always worth it every time to see that sunrise over the skyline.”

As the first Saint Mary’s student to be accepted in the Budapest Semester in Mathematics, Smith hopes other students feel invited to join the program in future semesters.

“It feels wonderful. I’m so proud and I’m so grateful that I was able to kind of bridge the gap,” she said. “Because truly, [it’s] incredibly challenging, but [also] such a wonderful fulfilling experience.”

Madeline Law — John Cabot University, Italy

Editor’s note: Law is a current Viewpoint columnist for The Observer.

Law, an English literature and communications studies major, explored a variety of humanities courses while she studied abroad in Rome. Considering the COVID-19 protocols she faced while in the country, Law noted that many were not unusual.

“I think we had a better end of the deal going last semester than this semester, because at the end of my semester, the cases were rising,” Law said. “However, while I was there, the restrictions were what we might consider normal.”

Courtesy of Madeline Law
Law, pictured here climbing Mt. Etna, studied at John Cabot University in Rome for the fall semester.

Law reflected on how she was able to travel outside of the city and see natural landscapes, which added value to her trip.

“Hiking Mt. Etna was stunning,” she said. “My favorite parts were all the small towns, and the natural phenomenon. And I love the history, but like, that’s where my heart is.”

Law also learned about creating a work-life balance so she could travel.

“When I’m at school, I’m really focused on the school part of it, and I still hang out with my friends,” Law said. “I like the academia part of it and trying to balance my desire to do that with my desire to travel was really difficult for me. I think I learned a lot about compromise and balance and being in the moment and not overthinking.”

Now that she is back in the United States, Law describes how she misses the European classroom environment.

“I really miss the truly diverse classroom environment and being around all of that the value of being able to talk about those cultural differences — talk about politics and religion and differences of opinion and all of that — without the heavy taboo and cancel culture that the American culture has,” Law said.

Law hopes students learn about navigating intercultural differences and creating mindful dialogues when they decide to study abroad.

“I really think that if more people studied abroad and grew from that and developed those interpersonal skills and communication skills and that worldview — a worldwide instead of an Ethnocentric worldview — we could have a lot more productive conversations.”

Shania Quintana — L’université catholique de l’Ouest, France

When she spoke to The Observer, Quintana — a global studies major — noted COVID-19 did not affect her plans to study abroad during her junior year.

“Although COVID-19 has impacted life in so many ways, it never changed my plan,” Quintana said. “Therefore, I like to say that my year abroad was meant to happen.”

Quintana noted she is spending a year in courses taught exclusively in French.

Courtesy of Shania Quintana
Quintana, studied in Angers through an immersive French language program. Here, she documents her trip to Nice, France.

Because she is still in the country with the rise of the Omicron variant, Quintana is beginning to see a change in protocols in France.

“At the moment, the Omicron variant has pushed for change in legislation in France,” she said. “People in France now have to be updated on all their COVID vaccines doses in order to be able to travel, go to restaurants and attend events.”

During her first semester, Quintana noted she was able to travel widely in France, including Mont-St. Michel, Mont-St. Malo, Chambord, Chenonceaux, Nantes, Paris and Nice. Quintana has only been outside France to travel to Monaco, she said.

Quintana is excited to be abroad for the entire academic year because she can create lasting connections with the people she has met.

“A full year abroad is great,” she said. “I am able to build a bond with my host family for a longer period of time, and I am also able to observe changes as my time here goes on.”

Quintana urged French students to apply to the program.

“Please do not hesitate to apply,” Quintana said. “Everyone is here to learn French, and it is so cool to see how many other students around the world are also passionate about learning French.”

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About Genevieve Coleman

Genevieve Coleman is a junior at Saint Mary's majoring in English literature, creative writing and secondary education with a minor in theatre. She currently serves as an Assistant Managing Editor.

Contact Genevieve