Courtney Kimball is an Ambassador who studied abroad in India.
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I wanted to study abroad for a new academic and personal experience. I'd spent my whole life in central Minnesota, and I wanted my education to encompass more than that.
That being said, when it came to selecting a program, I knew that I wanted to spend time in a place that would challenge me, a place that was entirely different both physically and culturally from everything I have ever known. For this reason I opted for a non-Western program, and was immediately drawn to the India program for its small program size (get to know my peers at a very personal level), the host family living situation (experience the culture with the people who know it best), its ability to offer me classes I can take with other Indian students, and the aspect of incorporated service learning. It was these academic and cultural features that sold India to me.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression
The best cultural experience I had on my study abroad program was service learning, teaching English and math at the Loreto Day School. As an all girl's school, at Loreto I was able to observe first-hand gender roles in India. Similarly, as Loreto also houses and covers the tuition of around 200 girls from poor backgrounds (ex. rural villages, child workers, etc.), I was also able to witness issues of economics and poverty in a very personal way by relating to and befriending students. However, what has made the greatest impression on me was a group of six or seven girls I worked with consistently, all of whom were behind in their studies. I later discovered these girls were behind because they had not yet been enrolled in classes, as they came to the school from an NGO for trafficked woman and children. I befriended these girls and learned that their lives would be and have been incredibly different from mine. I grew up in a nice suburban neighborhood with loving parents, these girls were uprooted from their homes (and possibly their families) and been carried along through a system of human trafficking. I was given a great education and had much encouragement from my peers, whereas these girls have been denied these things. It was this experience that really made a social justice issue meaningful to me, but more so revealed to me aspects of life in India in a very personal way that otherwise I would only be able to read about, and this has made a lasting impression on me.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My study abroad experience ranged from the most challenging thing I have ever done to the absolute best, and everything else in between. I was able to connect with my peers in a new culture while at the same time discovering within myself a certain sense of competence and independence when it comes to living in a new place. And perhaps this may sound cliche, but learning about world issues (ex. poverty, the economy, human trafficking, hunger, education, etc.) becomes so much more meaningful when you are able to apply what you learn in a classroom setting to what you see around you live in person each day, and studying abroad in India truly allowed me to apply and engage in my academics a whole new way.
To put it bluntly, studying abroad was the best experience of my life. I have been back for about four months and not a day goes by where I am not thinking about and missing London. The directors, the students, the city, everything was just amazing. It is hard for me to put into words just how much I loved London and the study abroad experience. Our group became extremely close during the program, and I can truly say that I made 24 new close friends. We will always have that bond and love for London that will always hold us together. I think that every student should have the experience of being abroad. You learn a lot about yourself and your future goals.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
Some benefits of spending a semester abroad are: Getting close with a group of peers from your campus who you might not have known otherwise, being able to experience another culture with said peers and a skilled and knowledgeable faculty director, and overall expanding your perspectives.
Academically, study abroad allowed me to experience how education functions in a different culture. It also allowed me to study real life issues and see them at work first-hand (ex. human trafficking, poverty, economic growth in developing nations, etc.)
Personally, study abroad helped me to expand my perspectives and experiences outside of my central Minnesota existence. I also came to realize that I am capable of navigating new and foreign places and interacting with others who come from different backgrounds than myself. These skills I will take with me in my professional life as well. As an Asian Studies and Theology double major, studying abroad allowed me to experience an Asian nation with a wealth of religious tradition, both of which relate to my field of study and could translate to experience that would support my professional endeavors.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
The best advice I can offer is to seriously consider challenging yourself when selecting a program, and to put sincere thought into applying for a program in a developing or non-western nation. All of the study abroad programs that CSB/SJU has to offer are going to be of the best quality, and they undoubtedly offer students the opportunity to grow as a person while at the same time molding how we view the world. But I cannot stress how much more meaningful the experience will be to you when you take the plunge and find yourself in a place that you would have never thought yourself capable of dwelling. Get the most out of your abroad experience by opting for that added physical, emotional, academic, and personal challenge; you won't regret it.
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