Forty-four University of Mississippi students spent part of their Christmas break in Costa Rica, Belize and Tanzania studying abroad, according to Susan Scott, director of Study Abroad Programs.
“Winter break is a great time to study abroad because usually the weather here in late December — early January is awful,” Scott said. “Students usually become bored after being at home for the four-to-five-week Christmas break, and for those not really sure about studying abroad, it’s a small, safe step.”
And studying in a small, concentrated environment can be more successful than staying on campus, according to Scott.
“What you are learning about is not just in your classroom, but is a part of your everyday life,” she said. “Language acquisition is the most obvious field of study that shows this success abroad, but social work, international studies, biology, history — almost every field — can use the foreign culture as a laboratory to enhance learning.”
Sophomore international studies and public policy leadership major Andrew DeLeeuw was one of six undergraduate students who went on the trip to Tanzania, a country in east Africa, and he said the cultural experience was essential to his learning.
“The trip to Tanzania was an intimate encounter with another culture because we partnered with Tanzanian peers, building lifelong friendships through service and interaction,” DeLeeuw said. “My experience furthered my understanding of the impending threat of climate change and solidified my commitment to international development.”
The course in Tanzania was a study on positive development, according to Chris Drescher, a Ph.D. student studying clinical psychology at Ole Miss, who served as teaching assistant.
All six undergraduate students and Drescher worked with Laura Johnson, an Ole Miss psychology professor living in Tanzania and doing research under a Fulbright scholarship.
“The research focuses on ways people become engaged in their communities, the way that people succeed, the ways that people are able to thrive,” Drescher said. “This research is looking at the youth in Tanzania, aged 14 to 17, and it’s looking at positive development in what’s generally considered a pretty tough context of sub-Saharan Africa, especially with an eye toward youth action.”
For the participating undergraduate students, the trip was more about experiencing a different culture than anything else.
“The class is mostly experiential, just as far as getting out there,” Drescher said. “I think it is a lot of work just to be in a culture that is so different from what you’re used to, and I’m sure if you talk to some of the undergrads that were there, they will tell you how hard it was, regardless of any sort of academic load.”
Differences such as diet and language were somewhat of a struggle, but those hardships made the experience more unique. On their 10th day of African living, each student was given a Tanzanian “Mama” and was expected to spend a night with them.
Even without the ability to expertly communicate with those they were living with, each student found the experience unparalleled.
“Through building fuel efficient stoves, planting trees and helping the ‘Mamas,’ I learned the value of collective action,” DeLeeuw said.
Drescher, who studied abroad in Tanzania as an undergraduate at West Virginia University, said the trip couldn’t have been planned any better.
“It was an adventure,” he said. “For me, there were a lot of special things about going back there, but it was also special to see people interacting with these things and enjoying it and struggling with it. To see people being exposed to something for the first time is a unique experience.”
For those who missed the opportunity to study abroad during Wintersession, it’s not too late. According to Drescher, there are plans to repeat this Tanzania course in May to wrap up the research. Those interested should contact him at email@example.com. The Study Abroad Office encourages students to come by Martindale to find out about other study abroad options as well.