Section: Features

Oh, the places you’ll go! A look at study abroad experiences

Oh, the places you’ll go! A look at study abroad experiences

From Kazakhstan to Rome, Kenyon students traveled far and wide while participating in Off-Campus Study last semester. Students had the opportunity for new experiences, ranging from local languages to new cuisine. Four students have shared their stories from their past semester away from the Hill. 

Name and major: Jackie Samandas ’25, Psychology & Russian

Place: Astana, Kazakhstan

Reason for choosing your destination: 

I wanted to improve my Russian and thought that a full immersion is just what I needed to get to that “next level.” I was also interested in observing Russian language use and politics within the context of the war in Ukraine, but from the perspective of a Central Asian country that, politically, is still an ally, but socially, may have different perspectives.

Change in perspective or cultural difference moment: 

I think there’s a stereotype that Kazakh people are a bit cold and hard to make friends with.

I don’t think that’s true if you’re attending events that are centered around communication or are joining clubs. The students I’ve met at [Nazarbayev University (NU)] are incredibly passionate and love to talk about the things they’re passionate about. My friendships with Kazakh students, in general, I’ve noticed, will have both parties go to incredible lengths to do a small, kind thing for each other.

Favorite part or moment of your experience: 

Exploring Astana — its little corners, cultural events, meeting new people and so on — intentionally and with the mindset of openness and curiosity, is what left me with many dear and sweet memories. On a different note, I highly recommend frequent walks around the park behind campus [of NU]. The sunsets and sunrises just do something to you. 

Favorite local dish and/or activity:

You’ve got to try Beshbarmak, their national dish. Also, say yes to caviar-flavored Lay’s and little cottage-cheese bars (сырки).

Go to a баня (Soviet-style sauna — takes some guts, so maybe bring a friend or two).

Check out Gussi Cafe (“Duck cafe” — really cute and has a bunch of stuffed ducks) and Kunde Cafe at the university.

Name and major: Zeena Osman ’25, Arabic and Psychology 

Place: Amman, Jordan

Reason for choosing your destination:  My family is from Sudan. And I’d like to learn more Arabic because of that. There are actually two other Arabic programs. But I think Amideast is the one that mainly focuses on learning the language. The other two programs focused on either history or political sides, but I’m just more interested in language. One interesting thing is that there will be markets downtown, and if you can bargain with someone in another language, that’s how you know that you got the language.

Favorite part or moment of your experience: 

I actually got to know the people around my neighborhood. So I lived in an area called Khilda, and each neighborhood has a store with everything there. And [the people at the store] basically knew me because I came there so often. I also celebrated my birthday and holidays with my host family. And then not only that, my program has excursions that would take you places and teach you about the history and culture. So it wasn’t only learning the language, but we also got to learn about the history and culture, which I appreciate. 

Change in perspective or cultural difference moment: 

I live with my host family, and it’s a cultural thing where they will show you love by overfeeding you. My birthday was during the semester, and my host family made me four cakes. I will be like, oh I can’t eat anymore, and she’ll just put more on my plate. She has good intentions, but if I eat any more I’m going to throw up. 

Favorite local dish and/or activity: Shawarma — it’s so good. 

Name and major: Arianna Garcia ’25, Modern Languages and Literatures — Track 3 Spanish, with English or Psychology 

Place: Santiago, Chile 

Reason for choosing your destination: 

I was very enthralled by the literature and the creativity, and not only that but also their dedication to human rights. They’ve had a really unfortunate past with a dictatorship in the ’70s. It lasted for decades, and the impacts from it were horrendous. That brought a lot of national and international attention to why human rights are so imperative for so many groups in Chile. When I visited, it was actually 50 years of commemoration since the dictatorship happened. The people were resilient, and I think the resilience of the people in Chile is something that was made very apparent to me. My advisors — in the Spanish department, the English department and strangely even the STEM department — were the ones who really supported me in going abroad for a year, especially to Chile. Because this is the birthplace where the authors and creatives have cultivated hope and community. 

Favorite part or moment of your experience: 

I would say the ambiance. I think every day was an opportunity to learn something new. While I was abroad, I wish I had more time to reflect. I think after leaving, that’s when I can reflect. But every day just offers so much. I of course went to my classes, but on my journey to classes, I would see people and introduce myself and then over time build those relationships. So I built some really great relationships with people in my community.

Change in perspective or cultural difference moment: 

I kind of knew about this going in: I feel like whenever someone from the United States or another country goes to another country, then sometimes people are wondering, what kind of connection they have with the place. So with me being from the U.S., Chileans were kind of hesitant to connect sometimes. It [depends] though, because I’m not only from the United States, I also have my heritage of being Ecuadorian. And so I had this bicultural understanding; I know how to kind of move in these spaces. But with the U.S. specifically, there’s a sort of distrust that happened, because of U.S. foreign policy, because of Henry Kissinger and Nixon’s involvement in the dictatorship. I wouldn’t have encountered their perspective had I not gone to Chile and talked to the people themselves. That’s what was really important to me — to actually know their perspectives.

Favorite local dish and/or activity:

Fiestas Patrias. This is when Chile celebrates its Independence Day. Something that I really enjoyed that day was the Fondas, which are these huge parties that get everyone together. And there’s dancing! There’s a traditional dance called Cueca. It’s super difficult, but in Chile, it’s a dance of courting but also of independence as well. And then there are the delicacies. We have Empanadas de Pino, mote con huesillo, completos, anticuchos. The dancing there I think was the highlight. I have loved dancing my entire life and Cueca is not like anything I’ve encountered, so it was great to learn a new dance, the traditional songs that accompany it, and to do it with the people there. 

Name and major: Yifan (Sally) Shang ’25, Art History and Asia & Middle East Studies.

Place: Rome, Italy.

Reason for choosing your destination: I wanted to immerse myself in the Greco-Roman or Roman type of style in Rome. I’ve heard a lot of good words about how Rome is a great spot to study art history.

Favorite part or moment of your experience: 

For Baroque Art History, our class’s final project is a research paper combined with our presentation. So at first, the professor instructed everybody to choose one Baroque painting and research about that, but I feel less connected with Baroque paintings. So I asked the professor if it was okay to change my topic to something related to Asian culture or Chinese culture. He responded after one day and gave me some options. There was an Italian Jesuit person called Matteo Ricci. So what happened was that I did a presentation on the mutual cultural influence between him and the Forbidden City, which is located in Beijing, my hometown. I’m so proud.

Change in perspective or cultural difference moment: 

I thought studying art history was something that I already knew that I liked. But Rome takes it to another level. It gives me space to think about my identity first. I really like my Baroque Art History professor, and he respects me as a Chinese [student]. I’m a minority in the group, most are U.S. students. The professor gave me the space to think, “Okay, in this setting, as a Chinese student, how [can I] contribute to the art history discussion?”

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