Study Abroad: Learning Through Experiences

By Mason Larimore

"Travel is still the most intense mode of learning." - Kevin Kelly

I could not agree more with this quote. Traveling submerges you into another culture and gives you the opportunity to learn more about yourself all while experiencing a new country. At 20 years old and having just wrapped up my sophomore year (junior year academically), I have traveled thousands of miles, been to 3 continents, and been to both hemispheres. All of this traveling started just 2 short years ago as I was entering college as a freshman at Murray State. I have traveled to Belize (July 2014), Ireland (May 2015) and Australia (January 2016) through the study abroad programs that are offered through Murray State.

I traveled to Belize as an incoming freshman through the Abroad 101 program that Murray offers to incoming freshman and transfer students. Our professor, 2 of the new student program coordinators, and 17 of us students headed to Belize for days to explore some of the country and get class credit for Public Speaking. We stayed basically in the outskirts of the jungle along the river at the Howler Monkey Resort next to a Howler Monkey sanctuary. This place was awesome - but not what you expect when you hear "resort!" During the day we visited Mayan ruins, went cave tubing, visited the sanctuary, went to the Belize zoo and even got to zip line through the jungle! At night we would have class for an hour or so and present our speeches. We would have to use any free time we had during the day to write our speeches for the next night so we were constantly busy.

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In Belize, I ate a lot of good food (chicken, rice, and beans were pretty much a staple of what they fed us) and tried some food that I wouldn't have otherwise. I had my first experience with a scorpion that decided to take up residence in our bathroom - we quickly decided to evict it and hope that it would never come back. I also tried termites, fresh off of a tree; surprisingly they taste sort of like carrots! Belize was great place for my travel adventures to start and was an experience I will never forget!

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After I had been bit by the travel bug, I was itching to get more stamps in my passport! The Hutson School of Agriculture plans 1-2 study abroad programs for each school year and the next one coming up was the Agriculture in Ireland program which would be 10 days long and would cover 75% of the country, all while getting class credit! In Ireland we got to go kayaking on Lake Killarney, visit the Cliffs of Moher, visit sheep and cattle operations, and we even got to go to Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone. This program was more agriculture-focused and I think I enjoyed it more because of that aspect. Any study abroad experience that focuses on the subject you are passionate about and you are studying with peers in the same field makes it that much more enjoyable and it allows you to get to know the people you go to school with.  One of the best parts of Ireland was the Kilkenny farm house stays. We were broken up into groups and we spent the night with locals at their homes. That was one of the best experiences I have ever had. We got the opportunity to learn more about the country and agriculture from people who have grown up with it and are currently living it. My group stayed at Mrs. Eileen and her husband's 18th century dairy farm. When you walked inside, you immediately felt like you were at your grandma's house. By the time we had been back in the States for a week, I had submitted my application for the Agriculture in Australia program - I was ready to experience more agriculture abroad!

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Cliffs of Moher

8 long months later, I was boarding a plane with 18 hours of flying ahead of me. I was ready to be out of the country again, especially since it was summer - and hot - in Australia while it was winter here in Kentucky! If you have never been on a 16-hour flight before, let me give you a little run down of how it goes. You will be cramped in a seat (the middle seat if you were unlucky like myself), they will feed you 4-5 times on the plane, you will be provided with a blanket and a comfy pillow, you have access to most of the new movies and some TV shows and getting up to go walk up and down the aisle is a necessity to keep your legs from hurting too much and from going stir crazy!

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We landed at about 6 a.m. and were immediately on the go! That's the thing with studying abroad, because you are there for a short amount of time, they will fill every minute with experiences and visits so you get the fullest experience that you can! In Australia we got to visit cattle operations, a cattle auction, had the opportunity to go surfing, tried kangaroo - It was delicious! We also visited a sugarcane mill along with many other technical visits. One challenge to traveling to the other side of the world was that it was hard to keep track of what day it was with the time difference!

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During all of my experiences abroad, it was a chance to disconnect from my phone and social media. Unlike a lot of my classmates, I have never gotten an international plan for when I am out of the country. I take my phone with me but only have access to people back home when Wi-Fi was available. It really gave me a chance to focus on what is happening in the moment.  Travel is something that I hope everyone gets the chance to experience because it changes your life. The fact that I won't be leaving the country again to study abroad until next May to go to Argentina, if I get accepted, is driving me crazy! If I had any advice to those thinking about studying abroad it would be this: grab your passport and go!

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