Beyond Lex

Washington and Lee students share their semester-long abroad experiences


Phi Staff

W&L offers many popular study abroad programs during spring term; this year’s trips include a film course to Ghana, a physics course at CERN in Switzerland, and a cross-cultural Spanish course in Argentina and Uruguay. But other students find full semester and summer opportunities outside of the university to immerse themselves in foreign places for months on end. A few of them shared their unique experiences.

Abigail Summerville, ’19 (pictured in featured image): Barcelona, Spain

“While I was studying Barcelona’s history, culture and politics in my classes, I was also witnessing it first hand. This past fall was the height of Catalonia’s separatist movement and I was in Barcelona (which is in Catalonia) during the referendum for independence, the demonstrations and protests and the response from the Spanish central government. It was so interesting to be there during the height of the movement and to hear what Catalans had to say about it, and then compare that to how the media was describing the situation to the world.”

Kate Lesch, ’19: Gold Coast, Australia

“Going to Australia was such an amazing experience.  I loved being in a new country and getting to experience life outside of the US. My favorite part about Australia is that every place you go is different than the last.  I lived in a beach town, so that is what I experienced most, but then I took trips to the Great Barrier Reef, The Outback, Sydney and a couple of stunning rain forests.  Each individual place had so much history behind it, so I got to learn about all of these incredible places while having fun and making forever friendships.  Going abroad in general is a great opportunity to learn more about yourself and learn to adapt to a totally foreign environment.  By throwing yourself completely into the experience, you are forced to learn new skills about being independent and I will forever value that. “

Bowen Spottswood, ’18: Dunedin, New Zealand

“If you love being outside and don’t mind sheep absolutely everywhere, New Zealand is the most wonderful place to study abroad. I studied abroad at the University of Otago in Dunedin, which is in the South Island. My friends and I bought a car and traveled to incredible places each weekend— Mt. Cook National Park, the Fiordlands, Nelson Lakes. We lived simply— camping and “tramping” (hiking). The people, often referred to as “kiwis,” are so friendly, and the atmosphere is so relaxed.”

Emily Austin, ’18: Bali and Java Islands, Indonesia

“I study religion and art, and I could not have gone to a better place for that. Indonesia is home to five religions, all of which have very public displays: walking down the streets you would see floral Hindu offerings on every surface, you could hear the Islamic call to prayer during the day, and smell the incense from Klenteng Confucius and Buddhist temples. The experiences I had in Indonesia were so unique, from attending Masjid with my host mother in Java to attending the parades of Balinese new year in Bali, every day that I woke up I was still shocked and thrilled I was in Southeast Asia.”

Jake Sirota, ’19: Rajasthan, India; Kathmandu and Humla, Nepal

“It’s somewhat impossible to distill six months into one event, but if pressed I would have to say the time that I cut off an elephant in traffic. I was riding in the old city area of Jaipur, where there are often elephants being driven on the roads as a tourist attraction. I was coming up on the left and a rickshaw pulled out in front of me, so I swerved into the next lane and was yelled at by the man on top of the elephant. As a side note, if ever in the situation, don’t support this industry–it does not treat the animals well. It quickly lost its exoticism. This isn’t meant as a detriment. Rather the opposite. I tried not to form any preconceptions of the areas before arriving, but of course, that’s impossible and it’s difficult not to be swept up in a new situation. However, after spending more than a couple of weeks in one place you come to fall into step with the rhythms of the place and to lose sight of it as a “destination” and begin to see it rather simply as a place in which people exist, living lives among their environment. Studying abroad in itself is a wonderful chance for self-reflection. I feel that this has nothing to do with the specifics of the place, but rather the opportunity to throw oneself into a dissonant situation and the match between the place and the person’s interests. I wouldn’t recommend the places I traveled to anyone flat out, but for someone whose interests line up with what is to be found there, both India and Nepal are wonderful countries.”

Lorena Hernandez, ’19: Chile; Nepal; Jordan

“We spent about one month in each country learning about the situation of human rights locally, and connecting it to larger trends. We talked about large-scale national and international human rights movements, but what really made the program amazing was focusing on the local, grassroots level human rights organizations we spoke to. What I loved about the program was how experiential it was; we traveled and spent about half of our time talking directly to activists and organizers. Each of the countries was absolutely unique and beautiful, and I loved learning about so many distinct cultures and stretching myself to become comfortable in them.”

Morgan Dalton, ’19: Kunming and Hangzhou, China

“My favorite parts of China were the people and the food … I studied in China in the summer and the fall. In the summer I was in Kunming, which is in the west of China; I was doing an intensive summer language program for Chinese. In the fall I had the same language pledge but I was in Hangzhou, which is in the east of China. Both experiences were really good for my language, and during both experiences I had a Chinese roommate … I could just practice with them, or if I had homework questions I could ask. My Chinese improved such that in the fall I was a lot more comfortable … by the end I could have conversations with people in fairly dialected Chinese … I think that with better language that allowed me to converse with people … And it was really valuable to have that transition because I made good friends, best friends, where our friendship was formed when I was speaking Chinese; we didn’t speak any English at all. I was also able to do some traveling on my own … we hit all the high points like Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors and Shanghai.”