Schreyer Honors College South America Program
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Laura Nejako

Major: English, Secondary Education (English Education), English (M.A.)
Hometown: Lansdale, PA

How did you learn about this opportunity?

I found out about this experience at the Schreyer Honors College orientation for gateway scholars.

Tell us a little bit about your experience.

It is hard for me to sum up my time in South America in a way that would make any logical sense. When I picture it now I remember a series of vibrantly colorful images of places and people, trials and triumphs, and the taste of passion fruit flavored ice cream. Luckily, I kept a journal during my time abroad and have a meticulous record of everything we did (and we did quite a lot) as we visited eight cities in Colombia and Brazil in only five weeks. The content in these records ranges from the feeling of having dozens of Brazilian schoolchildren run up to our group at one of the schools as they asked for our autographs to hearing the stories of the Meninas de Sinha as they told us of their hardships. Also recorded is the spontaneous riding of horses (and a mule) through the Colombian countryside and the hours spent with local university students who showed us their cities. I learned that experiential learning is exactly what it sounds like. It is an experience. And in this experience, I found memorable friends and a once in a lifetime learning experience.

How did this experience impact you academically?

This experience helped me academically in ways I never could have expected. Before taking the class, I had expected to learn facts about South American schools and education. Instead, I learned that there is a human side to academic study. In the midst of textbooks and exams this is sometimes easy to forget. But it is in the moments spent interacting with and learning from others that the real learning takes place. In a foreign country, this learning becomes obvious because in some ways it becomes necessary for functional reasons. But in the humanities, it is important to always keep the true purpose of learning in mind. On this trip, new learning made me uncomfortable at times, but it also made me smile and laugh at myself as I attempted to navigate unfamiliar territory. And in these attempts, I grew as both a learner and a person.

What are your career goals and plans?  How did this experience impact them?

Eventually, I would like to teach English at the university level. I chose this particular program because it involved studying South American education and was related to one of my majors. Yet, this experience taught me to accept the situation and always pay attention to my interactions with those around me. I learned to be humble and listen to others because most things were completely unfamiliar. While I learned a lot of information related to my area of study, it was these skills that I will take with me in my future career endeavors.

It is in the moments spent interacting with and learning from others that the real learning takes place.

Would you recommend this experience to other Liberal Arts students?

Studying abroad in South America taught me to live in the present. I learned to pay attention to the small but important details that separate cultures. In recognizing these differences, I became humbled by the realization that there is not always a clear "right" and "wrong" when it comes how one should live. Instead, there is acceptance and a learned openness. For students studying the humanities, this realization is critical.

How has the Paterno Fellows Program had an impact on this experience?

The Paterno Fellows Program motivated me to sign up for this experience. Originally, I took this class to fulfill the global studies requirement. However, from the very first day, this class changed from a requirement to a once in a lifetime opportunity. I will never forget the evenings spent walking around the cobblestone streets in Cartagena while in Colombia and the often humorous attempts of mine to speak Portuguese in various marketplaces in Brazil. I studied school systems and inequalities and learned to love not knowing what would happen next. It was an adventure and an incredible opportunity for experiential learning. I am forever grateful to the Paterno Fellows program for this "requirement."

For more information on global opportunities for Liberal Arts students, visit our website.
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