BY ASHLEY BAKER, FEATURES EDITOR
College is a time for adjustment and pushing students out of their comfort zones. With new and exciting experiences, students begin to grow and attempt to shape themselves into the individuals they want to be in the future. This future can be accomplished not only through studies, but also through involvement and extracurricular activities to build resumes.
Bellarmine offers so many opportunities to get involved and for students to travel. Bellarmine’s study abroad program gives students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to different countries and experience cultures, languages and people for an extended time. According to Bellarmine’s website, “Bellarmine offers a wide variety of study abroad options on six continents in over 50 countries around the globe, ranging from departmental programs to summer enclave programs and semester or academic year exchanges at over 150 partner universities and programs.” With all of these options, students not only have the chance to have an incredible time, but also to truly find oneself.
Senior Leslie Rowen took advantage of one of these opportunities last fall when she flew 3,000 miles to Quito, Ecuador. Ecuador became her new home for the semester, and she became immersed in a culture that spoke a different language. Rowen said the beginning of her study-abroad experience was both exciting and a bit anxiety-inducing.
“I was completely excited and completely terrified. Returning to Bellarmine was familiar to me; I could picture it,” said Rowen. “The classrooms, the Quad filling during breaks and the friendly faces in the dining hall. Louisville was my home, and now I was moving a good 3,000 miles away, where there waited a future that looked blank to me—I didn’t know where I’d be living, had only passed a few emails back and forth with my host parent and still wasn’t sure if I could even drink the water in Quito (I couldn’t).”
Being the only student from Bellarmine who had traveled abroad through the Bilateral Exchange with Universidad San Francisco de Quito, she had to create completely new social circles. She fell into place with her host family and soon became friends with other exchange students from around the United States. Throughout her stay, she experienced many enriching experiences, with her favorite being hiking Pichincha Volcano, which is the tallest mountain in the province. Rowen said she could see it from her window.
Being an English and Spanish double major, she had some introduction to the Spanish language. However, learning a language is very difficult and can be a process that takes years to complete.
“Being in an immersion situation allowed me to practice self-forgiveness on a daily basis. I made so many mistakes, like everyone else, like you would expect, and beating myself up for those mistakes would waste a lot of time I could spend studying or being content with my progress instead,” said Rowen.
Since then, Rowen’s language skills have improved immensely and have given her an enhanced confidence in her field. In addition to diving into Spanish head first, she learned what it meant to be an American citizen by leaving the country. Living in Ecuador challenged her to think critically about her homeland and forced her to face American stereotypes.
“Hearing how other people view my country and myself forced an introspection into those two things—did I generally agree with their view of the United States? I had to decide how I wanted people to perceive my country, knowing that I was one of only a few people who could likely make an impact on their perception,” said Rowen.
Ecuador truly became Rowen’s home, and she carries it with her every day not only in a necklace around her neck, but also in her everyday life.
“Removing oneself from the place called home for any amount of time will lead to self-reflection and introspection. The study abroad experience is fascinating because it is one of the few moments in life when you know you are embarking on a journey (spiritual and physical) which will leave you feeling different on the other side,” said Rowen. “You will learn that you are capable of great flexibility, are extremely adaptable, and that the word ‘home’ can mean many different things as well.”
Studying abroad has given her a new perspective, and this was apparent not only to Leslie, but to her peers as well. Her roommate, Jessica Ringlein claims, “I’ve noticed Leslie has a much more positive outlook on life since she’s returned from Ecuador. She speaks of her host family like they were her own and often mentions how much they taught her about respect and humility.” Rowen plans to study abroad again in India before her graduation in the spring.