Written by Shakori Fletcher '16
Eryn Gorang '14 and Jordan Joshua '14 studied abroad on the same continent, but their experiences were entirely different. That's possible, says Kevin Morrison, director of study abroad and assistant dean of global studies, because at Elon students have the opportunity to make a study abroad experience their own.
“Many of our sites, in addition to courses, offer opportunities for students to become engaged in service opportunities, internships, or a research project,” he says. “Not every site has all of those opportunities – part of it is finding a good match.”
For Eryn Gorang, a human services studies major and African/African-American studies minor, a service learning program in South Africa was the ideal option.
“It had this hands-on piece that I wasn’t really seeing in a lot of other programs,” she says. “I was learning in a classroom setting and then applying everything I was learning in the South African community and actually getting to see the community in a whole new light.”
On Mondays and Wednesdays, Eryn took courses at the University of Capetown. She studied poverty and development, research methods and Xhosa – a South African click language. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she went to the township of Khayelitsha and worked at Masiyele high school.
“I've worked with high school youth in the Elon community and wanted to do something similar while I was in South Africa,” she says. “I introduced myself to teachers in the township and they were receptive to me getting involved at the high school. I met so many different students and was ultimately able to teach a course that focused on career development."
Eryn’s program required her to complete a capstone project of her experience – something to signify how she gave back to the community during her time there. She chose to culminate her experience by planning a career development day at the University of Capetown for her students.
“I got transportation for all 50 of my students to come to the University of Capetown where I had speakers come talk about their professions, current University of Capetown students - who had also grown up in townships - talk about their experiences transitioning into college, and workshops on leadership development,” she says. “And then we went around and they did a whole scavenger hunt on campus and they learned about the different academic departments on campus and got a feel of the campus.”
Jordan Joshua traveled to Ghana in spring 2013 and says taking courses abroad and adjusting to a new campus was part of what made his experience so enriching. He took a literature course, a traditional Ghanaian dance course, a qualitative research course that counted towards his sociology minor and a living and learning course that focused on breaking down perceptions.
“I really got exposed to a lot of things. I took time to meet with Ghanaian friends and professors,” he says. “I took an African-American literature class from an African perspective - it was interesting how they saw poverty and the struggle of black Americans and how they tied their culture into that.”
Joshua was completely integrated into Ghanaian culture – he lived in a homestay with four other international students and had a host mom, dad and uncle. He says his open mindedness during the experience taught him that he was capable of much more than he thought.
“One of the things I fought to do every day was keep an open mind about everything that I was doing because it’s so easy to shut down,” he says. “I had friends who spent a lot of money just to have Wi-Fi to be connected to America. I was glad I chose a homestay because it prevented me from getting so narrow-minded.”
What about scholarships? “There definitely is money out there, it’s a matter of identifying it for the right student,” says Morrison. Incoming students can secure funding for trips through need-based scholarships, Fellows and Watson & Odyssey Scholars programs that include travel grants.
Eryn received funding – a study abroad and research grant - from the Honors Fellows program. She used the funds to help organize the career development day. Jordan received the Gilman International Scholarship - an outside scholarship offered to students that are either from a traditionally underrepresented group or are studying in a non-traditional location.
“This is something my family’s never done. None of my family has ever been out the country,” he says. “This was the first time for all of us, let alone going to Africa where our heritage is – it was something I could go and talk to my family about. I showed them slideshows from all the places I went and it was mind-blowing because it gave them all new perspectives.”
Morrison says personal development, appreciation of different cultures and developing the ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds are a few reasons why students say their time abroad is life changing. Joshua, who traveled to the Ghanaian slave castles and presented on his findings upon his return, agrees.
“Going abroad really changes how you think about race and social constructs,” he says. “One of the reasons I chose Ghana was because I knew that’s where the slave trade happened and I wanted to see that part of my history and have something tangible I could bring back. I learned something completely new about stereotypes and generalizations.”
As Eryn helped her students to identify their career goals, she just happened to find her own. She’s applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to teach in South Africa and is also applying for Princeton in Africa, a program that would allow her to work for a nonprofit in Africa, potentially in South Africa.
“My time in South Africa influenced my career goals and where I want to be when I graduate,” she says. “The fact that I want to go into educational development in South Africa or another African country is because I had hands-on experience with my study abroad. I knew what it was like and knew it was something I was passionate about.”
Want to learn more? Visit the Study Abroad website to learn all of the ways that Elon can help you explore the world.
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