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Exploring Perspectives & Adjusting to a New Culture Through Travel

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Ireland was one of the top locations where Austen Carpenter wanted to study abroad. Looking for more than just a travel experience, she found the UVM Study Abroad Precollege Program in Dublin. Drawn to her Irish roots, Carpenter decided to take part in a two-week summer study abroad program in Ireland to help her understand more than just the tourist’s knowledge of the history and culture. Having just graduated from high school, studying abroad with UVM faculty and a group of students offered a guided way for her to explore her heritage, earn college credit, understand cultural differences, and develop her global perspective in a new setting.

Austen Carpenter is a sophomore at UVM.
Austen Carpenter is a sophomore at UVM

“I’ve always been interested in the history of the British Isles. On a personal level, Ireland has always fascinated me because my family emigrated from there, so the History of Ireland class really caught my attention,” says Carpenter, now a UVM sophomore majoring in political science and history.

The class mixed the best of traditional lectures and field visits to historical sites, building the students’ cultural context through experience.

Before departing for the Emerald Isle, Carpenter prepared for her classwork by reading two memoirs and a book of poetry from Ireland, to help her get a feel for the historical context.

Adjusting to a New Culture

While adjusting to a new culture can be a challenge, Carpenter felt pretty confident. “I did not have much culture shock,” she says, adding that the most challenging part of being in a new place was adjusting to accents. “One thing that really did surprise me was how time felt different while we were abroad. It was just a two-week program but we did so much, and it really felt like it was at least a month long. Every day there was a new place to explore and something new to learn.”

The program offered a very rich experience, preparing her for the fast pace of course work at UVM before she started her first year.

“It made me feel more comfortable that I’d already had a classroom experience when I got to UVM campus. I knew a professor already, I was a few credits ahead of my friends, and I knew that I could be successful in college classes.”

Travel abroad can change a person’s outlook. Through exploring a new culture with the guidance of faculty, staff, and local experts, students like Carpenter are encouraged to develop their global perspective.

Describing her new understanding, she says, “The world is full of small little places each with their own way of doing things and perspectives that make them all memorable,” she says. Experiencing the culture in Ireland helped her appreciate that she could explore other places and find interesting new experiences on her own.

Gaining a New Perspective

Another thing Carpenter discovered was that some of her best memories of the trip were not visits to the monuments or important tourist sites. Rather, her fondest memories are of the time that she shared a seat on the bus with a little old man who told Carpenter his life story, connecting with students on the trip, and popping into a little shop to look at tweed jackets and hats. Unexpectedly, even the mundane made an impact because she was seeing it with new eyes.

Having a positive attitude is an important element of travel. As a traveler, you are not always in charge of what happens next with your schedule or if you’ll actually enjoy the cuisine.

“The experience is what you make of it,” she says. “Travel can be one of the best experiences of your life or you can hate every minute. As long as you go into it with the mindset of making the most of your time abroad — even if you are scared or nervous — you can push past that and discover parts of yourself that you never realize otherwise.”

After the course wrapped up, she stayed on in Ireland to do some traveling on her own, and even ventured to the United Kingdom, where she toured Scotland with a friend. Having had such a positive experience, she plans to study abroad again and is hoping to go to Newcastle University for a semester next year.

For students who are considering a travel course, Carpenter urges, “Give yourself the chance to grow. You’ll be surprised at where it will take you and what you can achieve.”