ASIA

Perspective 101– What I Really Got from Study Abroad

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My major is international studies. Or, what I impulsively blurt out to random relatives when they ask is “I’m studying international relations and global development in South and Southeast Asia and after I graduate I want to work for an NGO because that’s what Google and Buzzfeed told me I should do—it’s a viable career path right, please don’t judge me.” Okay, so maybe those aren’t my exact words. But still, for a while, whenever I was asked about my major or what I wanted to do with it; I started asking myself the same questions. What am I looking to get out of this degree? I found my answer through the one thing I actually was sure of—studying abroad.

I spent an obnoxious amount of time mulling over which courses to take at my host university; trying to calculate my exact interest in each subject or decipher which class fit better with my chosen theme. When really, I could have had the same amazing learning experience by drawing classes out of a hat; because for me, the biggest thing my professors gave me was perspective. Studying politics in Thailand soon after a coup erupted, while being under Marshall Law, and being taught by a very outspoken local professor who didn’t necessarily agree with the government… was intense. I not only got to learn about the history of a less than stable government, I got to live it. And found that while other political situations may not be ideal, ours isn’t either; finding out that your country is not always the superhero definitely shifts your mindset.

SOLD project

What I found even more influential, dare I say, than my classes, were the excursions and volunteer opportunities I had access to. During my semester, a well-known human rights and security conference called APISA 8 (Asian Political and International Studies Association) was being held in Chiang Mai for the very first time—so I thought I’d go help out. It was an incredible experience; I had the chance to not only sit in on panels covering topics such as modern slavery, stopping violence against women, and sex trafficking but also talk with brilliant professors from all over the world. Plus there was a crazy karaoke after party. It made me feel like I was really starting to see things on a global scale, but also from a local point of view because these travesties are affecting a region that had become a home to me. Later in the semester we also got to go behind the scenes of the US Consulate in Chiang Mai, as well as the United Nations in Bangkok. Both of these visits were pivotal for me because I had begun looking into diplomatic work, but I really didn’t know that much about it. Both of these visits allowed me to ask active diplomats about their experiences and struggles and what it really means to work at home and overseas as part of the Foreign Service.

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Picture from http://www.apisa.org/

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So while I am still a sophomore, I am starting to get more and more confident of what I want to do beyond graduation. I found that I have an unexpected passion for international education and I would love to help other students have amazing and eye opening experiences like I did. And, if I can get through the apparently ridiculously rigorous exam sequence, I hope to become a US diplomat and see what I can do for the world.

 Photos and written by Lizzy Southard

Lizzy Southard is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador. She is a sophomore studying International Studies, and she participated in a UK Partner program (The Education Abroad Network) in Chiang Mai, Thailand.