By Corey Tierney | Photos courtesy of Molly Stewart and Sarah Freeze
Thousands of young adults flock to JMU to start a new chapter in their lives, but some students take it even farther, jetting off just as quickly as they arrived.
The JMU Office of International Programs sent 1,103 students on study abroad trips during the 2012-2013 school year, including both short-term and long-term programs.
Among these are students who take it to the extreme, making studying abroad almost a part-time job.
Students like junior sociology major Molly Stewart do it as a chance to learn more about themselves while helping others in return.
Originally from Lexington, Stewart has been on three study abroad trips, including the one she is attending right now in Amman, Jordan.
Unlike most students who wish to backpack Europe or have a romantic getaway to Paris, Stewart went for the unconventional journeys.
Her first trip was to Lebanon, where she focused on Arabic language and culture. This past summer, she traveled all the way to Ghana for both classes and an internship. While there, she took courses in sociology, psychology and African history.
Outside of the classroom, she had some eye-opening experiences.
“It made me more aware of what was going on in the world around me as well as more interested in the role that the United States played as a world power,” Stewart says. “I saw some things that I never could have guessed I would see, good and bad, and met some of the most amazing people in the world.”
Apart from a new worldview, Stewart got to work directly with locals, which included tutoring children while in Ghana.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to teach some of the smartest kids I’ve ever met, but some of them survive on next to nothing and they don’t have the means or drive at home to continue their education,” she says.
Her biggest reason for taking multiple trips is the people she came in contact with, both locals and fellow trip members.
“I will remember the lives I impacted while abroad, as well as the lives that impacted me. The people I have spoken with and became close with on these trips have changed my world,” she says. “Some of my best memories so far at JMU have been abroad.”
Other students go abroad in order to take part in opportunities that don’t present themselves in places like Harrisonburg.
Junior media arts and design major Stephanie Harris is currently studying in Europe and will be there for almost six months total.
She started back in June, where she spent six weeks all over Ireland, studying Irish theater, Irish film and narrative writing.
While there, the group attended The Galway International Film Fleadh (pronounced “F-lah,” meaning “festival” in Gaelic), where they attended multiple films and premieres.
In attendance at the festival, were movie stars Zachary Quinto (“Star Trek” and “American Horror Story”) and Saoirse Ronan (“The Host” and “The Lovely Bones”), who met the study abroad group.
“It was all so surreal. I was at a movie premiere and just inches away from A-list celebrities. It’s not an experience that I will easily forget,” Harris says.
After returning home for a month, she got on another plane and headed straight for London. There she has a full time school schedule and internship for the semester.
Students like Harris take the opportunities with OIP in order to get a jump-start into their career fields.
“One of the most enticing parts of these programs is that I will be able to put them on a résumé. I can show potential employers that I have international experience, which could really put me ahead,” Stephanie says.
She however, like many, also noted feelings of homesickness.
“I miss having JMU experiences, the Quad and social outings aren’t as prevalent abroad,” she says.
Stewart says, “I do think that many students at JMU are stuck inside the JMU bubble, but hey what 20-something college kid isn’t? It’s just most of us don’t always realize what the rest of the world has to offer or what the rest of the world is going through.”