The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Summer abroad: students explore international cultures

6 min read

Darroch on her trip to Cape Town / Tessa Daroch


Associate Editor

For students who don’t want to spend an entire semester abroad, UMW’s summer study abroad programs present shorter and less expensive opportunities for students who want to take classes internationally.

Chloe Datner, a junior English creative writing major, spent a month studying at Dublin City University in Dublin, Ireland this summer. The trip was led by Dr. Gary Richards, head of UMW’s Department of English, Linguistics and Communication. Datner said that even before coming to UMW, she had planned to study abroad.

“I chose to study abroad before I even came to college; both of my siblings did it and I had only heard positive things about it so I have just always known that it is something I would do,” said Datner.

“Originally I wanted to go to University of Edinburgh but it turned out to be a lot easier and more productive to do a summer program in Dublin. I knew I wanted to be in the UK because it is English speaking and just so beautiful over there,” she said.

Datner said her favorite part of studying abroad was getting to travel around the country and see popular tourist attractions.

“Going to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher was by far the best part. It’s something I’ll never forget. The coolest thing, though, was being able to spend enough time in a foreign city to know your way around. By the end of the month I knew where everything was and felt like a local,” she said.

Claire Marsala, a senior French and linguistics double major in the College of Education, studied at International American University in Aix-en-Provence, France for six weeks over the summer. “I chose to study abroad because it helps with language acquisition, and it’s a requirement for foreign language teachers,” said Marsala, who is studying to become a French teacher.

“I didn’t want to study in a big urban area like Paris, so I like the vibe of a smaller city. I got to travel to a different city every weekend,” said Marsala. She visited the cities of Lyon, Nice, Annecy, Marseille, Paris and Geneva over the course of her program.

Alternatively, Tess Darroch, a senior international relations major, chose to study outside of Europe.

“I chose South Africa because I wanted to go to a place I did not have a lot of prior knowledge or conceptions about,” said Darroch, who studied at the School for International Training in Cape Town.

“When I go to new places, I like to try to start with as much of a blank slate as possible, while still accounting for and recognizing my societal biases. I think that going in with this mindset makes it more possible to in turn learn about the perceptions ingrained within you from your own background and you end up learning just as much about where you’re from as where you are studying.”

Darroch’s program was unique in that she was able to complete an internship during her study, which is part of the reason she chose it.

“Interning was amazing and the things I did with my organization taught me a lot,” she said.

Darroch said she stayed busy outside of her classes and internship.

“I went to a lot of political poetry discussions attended and organized by people of my generation addressing the problems that South Africans face today. For fun, I also did a lot of hiking which was incredible and allowed me to cultivate a new hobby that I hope to continue in the future,” said Darroch.

One of Marsala’s favorite activities while on the trip to France was going to a FIFA Women’s World Cup game.

“The World Cup game was pretty cool. We went to Nice to watch it. They tied, went into overtime, and even had to do penalty kicks,” said Marsala. “It was wild.”

Marsala stayed with a host family in Aix-en-Provence.

“It’s pretty weird living in a stranger’s house for six weeks,” she said. “[My roommate] and I had dinner with her and her friend every night.”

Darroch also lived in a homestay environment and said it was the best part of her program.

“So many things are happening in South African politics and in Cape Town in particular and this program really placed me right in the middle of all of it. That’s because this program stresses homestay as a key component which I think is absolutely vital and necessary in study abroad,” said Darroch.

“After being there for two months and observing how I was living in comparison to tourists, I firmly believe that it would have been impossible to truly begin to grasp South African culture and politics because the country is still so segregated.”

Alternatively, Datner stayed in a dorm at Dublin City University while she was studying there.

“We had single dorm rooms on campus which was nice because you could have alone time if you needed it, but you were also in the same building as everyone on the trip,” she said.

Datner said that the biggest difference between studying in Ireland versus at UMW was the professors’ Irish accents.

“Other than that, it was a similar size and method to classes at UMW, which I liked a lot. Plus one of my professors was Gary Richards, so to anyone who is studying abroad without Gary Richards, your trip is automatically less cool than mine,” said Datner.

“I loved my professors at IAU,” said Marsala. “I took an advanced grammar course and a gastronomy course. It was nice to learn about culture and language for once instead of literature like we always do at UMW.”

Darroch’s studies while in South Africa focused on social justice and activism.

“Academic wise, I believe that the lessons I learned in South Africa have been some of the most important in my life,” said Darroch. “Unlike politics courses at UMW, the speakers and texts we read really approached political science while considering the ethical implications and also deconstructing privilege and how white supremacy in many ways still influences political thought and governance systems.”

Marsala said she enjoyed her trip so much that she is considering studying in France again.

“As soon as I left, I wanted to go back. I’m considering going back to get my masters in French after I finish my education fifth year,” she said.

Datner, who now works in UMW’s Center for International Education, stressed the benefits that studying abroad can provide to students.
“Going abroad gave me a new perspective of the culture that I am in at home. There are subtle differences that are fun to notice and then there are huge changes in mentality and beliefs when you go from Dublin to Virginia. Knowing both sides gives me a better understanding of both places,” said Datner.

Darroch also feels that it is important for students to study abroad in order to broaden their perspectives. “I think that study abroad offers unprecedented opportunities to learn, not only about other places and cultures, but also about yourself and your role in a global and interconnected world,” she said.

However, Darroch also acknowledged that studying abroad isn’t always affordable or feasible for everyone and that she is privileged to have had this opportunity.

“I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to study abroad with a program and in a place that has taught me so much, even though sadly the opportunity isn’t reciprocal for people in my position from South Africa,” she said.