One of the tenets that Chatham continues to uphold for students is travel and study abroad. Faculty and administration across campus stress the importance of taking a Maymester, summer, or semester abroad, citing that experiencing another culture can change the way one views and understands one’s own. This past summer 2012, Meaghan Clohessy and Seyhan Sagcan, both members of the Chatham Scholars Program, were two students to have a travel abroad experience.
Clohessy, who traveled across the pond to Cambridge University at Gonville and Caius College, discovered her summer abroad opportunity through one of those handy emails Dr. Lenz circulates among the students at Chatham. “I was going to ignore it,” Clohessy states, but in a turn of chance, “…[I] decided to look at it anyway. I looked at the University of New Hampshire website, the school through which this program was taking place, and realized that it was offering classes in both creative writing and history, the majors that I am completing here at Chatham.”
She applied to the program immediately and was accepted. Clohessy would be taking two classes during her time at Cambridge, which included Travel Writing and History of the British Monarchy. She wasn’t sure what to expect from this trip, her first time abroad alone, but found that any expectations she could have had were “far exceeded, as I did far more in England than I ever would have imagined.”
“When I was not taking a class, I was going on various excursions” she states about her adventures overseas. The Cambridge abroad trip offered a variety of opportunities: bus tours across England to Stonehenge, the Cliffs of Dover, the Canterbury Cathedral, and seeing Richard II at The Globe Theater. London, which was only forty minutes away from the university, became a frequent getaway during Clohessy’s stay. She even wandered off from the University of New Hampshire group to explore on her own, carefully planning and executing a trip to Wales, where she stayed at a bed and breakfast in Blaencwn, a village not far from Cardiff. She spent the weekend amongst the villagers, exploring the Welsh landscape, and scaling Cardiff.
Sagcan, meanwhile, took her 2012 summer abroad experience to Africa. She discovered the opportunity to travel to Cape Town, South Africa online, using the website Cross Cultural Solutions, which offers short-term volunteer abroad programs in 12 countries. She volunteered as a teacher’s aid for a 4th grade class of 70 students in the township of Athlone, in Cape Town. Sagcan also worked in a women’s shelter in Athlone, attending to the children in the crèche (daycare) while the women sought help for their individual needs.
Her experience abroad, however, did not end with her volunteer work. For the first three weeks after volunteering, her program provided a mandatory South African culture excursion. She explored Cape Town, dug deep into the history of District 6, learned about Islamic influences, the slave trade, and about current refugees. “I also had the opportunity,” she states, “to learn how to play a traditional South African drum, and learn a little bit of Xhosa,” which is the native language of Cape Town tribal communities. Sagcan also climbed Lion’s Head Mountain and took tours through Cape Point and Stellenbosch, rounding out her trip with plenty of volunteer work, lots of learning, and a little leisurely fun too.
There are also moments that stand out distinctly from her trip abroad. “One moment from [my trip] that I can never, ever forget is with this one lady I had a conversation with [one day during a free period at the women’s shelter].” Sagcan found herself connecting to a woman from a completely different culture as she explained her past hardships, and how the shelter had made a fundamental difference in her life. They spoke of how, someday, the woman wanted to learn how to use a computer and become a typist. “It was incredibly heart-wrenching to hear about everything that she has gone through,” Sagcan states. “She is a strong person, and all I can say is that I am so proud of her for being able to start back up at the shelter.”
For both Clohessy and Sagcan, their summer 2012 abroad trips are ones they aren’t likely to forget. Their experiences overseas did live up to what so many professors at Chatham stress: that once you return home, there is a fundamental change in how you view your own life and culture. For Sagcan, “this entire experience changed my perspective of everything…I think that learning about another culture and working with different individuals every day has allowed me to grow as a leader and a person…I can tell you that everyone will have a revelation after an experience outside of the United States.” Clohessy came to realize that she felt much the same way. “I have never felt so confident or independent in my life,” she says proudly. “The separation from what felt like ‘the real world’ helped to put my life in perspective. I will never forget the beauty of a rainy day in England…or the silence of the London streets during the Olympics. How do you experience these wonderful things and go unchanged? You can’t.”