Education Abroad offers students a new perspective on the world

Changing his major from Biochemistry to Spanish was not an easy decision for Vincent Hendershot ’13 (Belpre, Ohio).

A biochemistry degree from Marietta College would have helped him get into dental school. Then something changed. Hendershot wasn’t happy and he wanted to find a new career path. With the help of Dr. Richard Danford (Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion), Christy Burke (Director of Education Abroad) and Hilles Hughes (Director of the Career Center), he discovered a passion for international public health.

“I know I have a passion for volunteering, health care and equal opportunity for all individuals,” Hendershot says. “I went with my gut feeling and did the unthinkable; I switched my focus of study and decided to go abroad.”

Hendershot, like 11 other Marietta College students, spent the fall studying abroad. Hendershot spent three months learning, living and volunteering in the Dominican Republic—an experience that not only changed his worldview but also affirmed his belief he made the right choice in both his major and career path.

“My experience in the Dominican Republic was rewarding in an infinite amount of ways. Not only did I learn about the diverse customs, traditions, beliefs, etc. within the culture, but I was able to discover who I truly was,” says Hendershot, who is minoring in both Biology and Health Communication, as well as earning a certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. “I was determined before I chose my destination of where I wanted to study abroad that I wanted a challenge, a challenge that would test me mentally and emotionally.”

Studying in a foreign country is something Taylor Landrie ’13 (Buckhannon, W.Va.) has planned on doing since she was 14. Then she stepped off the plane in Argentina and she immediately began to doubt the decision.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m never going to fit in here. What was I thinking?’ However, within a week I was eating like a queen, making friends with local students, and finding my way around the city without the help of my host family,” she says. “The atmosphere was much more relaxed in both countries and I really learned to live my life as an adventure. Whether it was a weekend trip in the rain forest, or just class and lunch with other students, I felt every day was filled with a new set of challenges as well as a feeling of success.”

Burke says adjusting to a new time zone, foreign language, different eating schedule, and style of teaching are just a few of the items students studying abroad have to encounter.

“The OEA (Office of Education Abroad) predeparture orientation discusses concepts ranging from communication styles (verbal and non-verbal), culture learning, identifying oneself as an outsider and adapting to new environments,” Burke says. “Study abroad students tend to find a routine, even in a country where they don’t speak the language, within the first month which helps ease the anxiety of culture shock. Patience, tolerance and being willing to learn from mistakes are the most important skills when learning to live overseas. Most students who study abroad come back saying they wished their time overseas was longer.”

Once she settled in, Landrie went on to study in Argentina for half of the semester and Peru for the other half. Whether she was on a weekend trip in the rain forest, or just class and lunch with other students, Landrie learned that every day was filled with a new set of challenges as well as a feeling of success.

“For me studying in both Argentina and Peru was great because I had so many misconceptions about the region,” Landrie says. “Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Lima, Peru, are immensely different cities. Buenos Aires has a strong European influence that is visible in the food, architecture and language. Lima, on the other hand, seems to have really embraced the indigenous identity of the country. It felt like I was on two separate continents. I found that the juxtaposition benefited my language skills and broadened my understanding of Latin American culture.”

Hendershot expanded his view of the world by volunteering for more than 100 hours for a medical clinic that helped low-income families in the Dominican. “I enjoyed it so much that this was the deciding factor of why I chose international public health. Overall I had a wonderful and enriching experience.”

Of all the students who participated in the Education Abroad program this fall, no one logged as many miles as Sam Thomas ’13 (Lorain, Ohio). The Psychology major did a semester at sea, which covered 28,345 nautical miles and she visited 12 countries. She also passed through the Panama Canal.

“It is hard to justify all my experiences into words. The people, the sights, the sounds, the smells; everything culminated together to give me the best experience of my life,” she says.

The Office of Education Abroad has seen a rise in the interest of non-traditional locations, specifically this semester with students in Russia, Poland and Argentina.

“We are hoping that more students elect multi-country programs like Semester at Sea, so they can experience a multitude of cultures and be able to relay the impact it had to future students who want to study abroad,” says Katie Kuhn, Education Abroad Assistant.

Landrie says studying abroad had its ups and downs, but it was constantly rewarding. On returning to campus this spring, she feels more relaxed toward her responsibilities at Marietta.

“I’ve also tried to keep the sense of adventure in my life. I forgot while I was abroad how much I really like late-night study sessions with friends, eating at Gilman when it’s packed and noisy, and hanging out in the library or the Recreation Center,” she says. “And I can’t lie, the fact that all of those activities involve my native language makes life just a little bit easier!”

And that has given her a newfound respect for the international students at Marietta.

“After a few months of struggling to understand accents and slang terms that I wasn’t accustomed to hearing, I realize how hard international students have to work,” Landrie says. “One of my goals for the new year is to spend a little more time getting to know international students in my residence hall.”

Hendershot agrees.

“My study abroad experience has enabled me to relate and understand many of the international issues presented in my classes. I am currently enrolled in the Health and Culture class instructed by Dr. Tomeka Robinson and I enjoy this class immensely because I’m able to relate and understand the issues discussed in developing countries, such as the Dominican Republic,” he says. “Now, I am even more culturally sensitive and have more confidence interacting with international students within the Marietta College community.”