The Awakening: A Testimonial

Chasity Cooper
Major: Psychology
Intercultural Communication & Ethnography in the Dominican Republic, Spring 2017
Cultural Connections in Senegal: Causes of Globalization and Consequences on Systems, Summer I, 2017

For many students who feel like: “I do not have time to study abroad, I do not want to study abroad for a whole semester, I do not know any other languages, I have never been outside the United States or no study abroad experiences give credits to my major” STUDY ABROAD IS FOR YOU! Many college students have come in contact with the study abroad office via: study abroad alumni, the study abroad fair, flyers, emails and more. I have attended several study abroad information sessions, even one in high school through a college prep program. (Upward Bound) At one of the sessions one study aboard ambassador said, “If you study abroad once, you are more likely to study again.” That statement became my reality.

Image: Group shot the Dominican Republic

In the spring of 2017 a unique study abroad program came about. The first annual Kalamazoo Promise Study Abroad experience. The trip was to Dominican Republic in the spring of 2017. This trip only lasted 10 days during WMU’s spring break and included some classes, pre-departure and after we returned. (For 3 Credit hours) This was my first time out of the country, I did not know Spanish and the course focus was Intercultural Communication and I was a Psychology major. Seems like the perfect match? It is not an understatement to say that this experience was the best time of my life. My cohort all merged so well and brought diversity to this new shared experience. In those 10 days our schedules were packed with: classes, tours of historical sites, volunteering with kids, meeting WMU alumni who lived in D.R. and so much more. One thing I love about the D.R. is the culture! We got the chance to attend carnivals, danced so much, were treated with amazing hospitality, ate local foods and mingled with natives often.

After returning to United States I felt awakened: it was the first time I noticed my identity as an American. Also, I realized there was a whole world out there that I had never seen and I wanted to continue to broaden my mind. My friend texted me about a summer abroad program and how I should apply. This study abroad was a month in Senegal and a class about the consequences of globalization. I had not spoken French since high school and I knew nothing about globalization. It was another perfect match for me! Why you ask? Because this experience allowed me to learn from every aspect: educational, linguistically, culturally and more. Although, the Dominican was new for me it still shared some American influence. In Senegal, their culture was rich and their own. 95% of their population are Muslim. Their religious practice was influential to their rules and daily society. I was able to witness call to prayers, we traveled during Ramadan and visited a few mosques. What was special about this study abroad experience was everyone was responsible to conduct their own research about whatever topic. I was able to study mental health and compare the matter in Senegal oppose to the United States. We were busy doing interviews, journaling and so much more.  I still connect my host family and friends via social media.

Senegal group
Image: Group in Senegal

Study abroad was by far my best educational experience in undergrad. It allowed me to see myself, in comparison to the world and cultures around me. I was able to meet so many amazing people, do research and make memories that will last me a life time. One of the students I studied abroad with said, “If study abroad doesn’t change you, you did it wrong.” Which is absolutely correct. Going abroad is not like a vacation and being a tourist. It is about emerging in a culture that is not your own and truly embracing and learning from it. I encourage everyone to study abroad, it is opportunity you will regret if you do not participate.

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