Each year, hundreds of thousands of students study abroad. According to the Association of International Educators, approximately 1.5 percent of U.S. college students study abroad. Last semester, several AU students ventured across the world—from the Dominican Republic to Ireland.
Ashleigh Ellson, a junior Spanish major, studied in Santiago, Dominican Republic. While there, she studied at Pontificia Universidad Católica Madre y Maestra (PUCMM) with 11 other students in the study abroad program. Ellson stepped off of the plane with the intention to speak only Spanish during her four-month stay.
“For the first month or so, I felt like I wasn’t far enough in my studies to be there,” Ellson said. “I hadn’t taken Spanish composition or conversation and my speaking skills weren’t very developed.”
Ellson’s struggles were eventually put to rest. Although she spent more time speaking English than initially hoped for, Ellson’s Spanish improved tremendously while in Santiago. However, Spanish wasn’t the only thing that she took away from her time there.
“I love when people ask what I learned there,” Ellson said. “I think of things like speaking Spanish, and I learned about the country, but honestly some of the first things that come to mind are more ministry-related.”
One of the hardest things for Ellson was remembering that her purpose in the Dominican was to study, not serve. She wanted to get connected with her church in Santiago in any way possible, filling empty spaces and giving her insight when needed. Ellson quickly discovered that the church was already functioning well.
“In seeing that they didn’t need someone to come in from the outside and fix things, I learned that ministry isn’t always about doing different things in addition to normal life,” Ellson said. “Sometimes it’s about living your normal life differently.”
As she grew more comfortable with her school, church and home in Santiago, Ellson found herself soaking up the cultural differences from her home in Indiana.
“The most beautiful thing about Santiago was the sense of community, even amongst people who didn’t know each other. Strangers would tell one another about their families and public transit drivers would wave and talk to each other at red lights. It’s incredible to see that. If someone needs something, it happens. Everyone comes together to make it happen.”
Ellson was not the only AU student enjoying the community of another culture. Over 4,000 miles away was Ethan Utterback, a junior English major. Utterback studied in Dublin, Ireland at University College Dublin.
His most memorable moments in Ireland were interactions he had with strangers. “Older Irish people [would] randomly say things to me at the bus stop or in a restaurant,” said Utterback. “It was always a little odd or awkward at the time, but when I sat down and thought about what they said, it was actually really helpful and applicable advice.”
Utterback visited much of Ireland and parts of western and central Europe. After being away for so long, his return was bittersweet. “I will miss traveling and spending time with the friends I met from all over the globe,” he said.
In addition to traveling, Utterback experienced education as he never had before. Professors often missed classes with no notice. “I never thought I’d say this, but it felt nice to come back to some structure,” Utterback joked.
Sophomore biology major Brianna Beer also studied in Ireland last semester. She attended the University of Limerick, where she immediately bonded with a group of new friends.
“We would hang out all the time, study together, and we even planned most of our travels together,” said Beer.
In meeting her new friends, Beer found herself learning much more than just biology while in Limerick.
“While abroad, I learned to have an open mind,” Beer explained. “You will meet people that come from such different backgrounds and are so different from you, and those people can end up becoming some of your closest friends.”
Beer also did her best to take every opportunity to travel while abroad. She visited seven countries in addition to Ireland: England, Scotland, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
“I’ll likely never be able to do some of these things again,” Beer said. “I did everything I wanted to do out there and I had the best time of my life.”
“I was astounded by the beauty that God had created in every country, by all the diverse people He made in His image, and by every amazing opportunity He presented me with,” Beer said. “Studying abroad was the most amazing opportunity I have ever had, and I urge everyone to utilize Anderson’s study abroad program. I promise, it will be the experience of a lifetime.”