Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

Local News

June 5, 2012

Former CHS students studying overseas

CENTERVILLE — According to Jen Hogan, the Assistant Director of International Programs and Services, Study Abroad, at Drake University, the most popular country to study abroad at Drake is Spain due to its location and for language learning. However, one of the most popular areas among former students of Centerville is Asia.

“In March 2012,” gushes Hilary Morris, “I traveled to China for 12 days. I chose to go to China because it is such a large and powerful country, and is also very different than any other place I’d visited. This trip was partially funded through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and was arranged through the ISU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Natural Resources and Ecology Management.”

While in China, Morris and the other students visited a few schools and universities, along with farms and rural villages. They also had the chance to visit tourist hotspots like the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and Shanghai.

“China was a culture shock, as I did not know the language and the culture and food were vastly different than I was used to. It took a couple of days to adjust to the sights, sounds, and smells of China, but it was so much fun to immerse myself in such a different culture.”

“The CALS Study Abroad Office is very helpful in choosing a program, and I worked with them to determine countries that I was interested in visiting. Difei Shen works in the CALS Study Abroad Office, and she is originally from China. As I asked questions about the trip, she informed me that she was traveling with the group, and told me about all the places they would be visiting. Talking with her and getting a personal insight about the country made me feel much more comfortable with the travel course.”

For Morris, the process to study abroad was fairly simple. She began the process by filling out an application. With the course to China, there was an extra step of a personal interview since there were a limited number of spots. After the students were selected, the process continued with a class so they could become acquainted with the country’s customs and culture. Now that they have returned to the United States, Morris and the other participants will collaborate and compile a report to submit to the USDA in return for the grant they received.

In the future, Hilary hopes to participate in a study abroad course to Panama over Christmas break this year. She is also looking at a trip to Spain in the spring, both of which are ISU trips. “Traveling,” expresses Morris, “is something that I really enjoy, so I am sure it will become a lifelong hobby!”

Jen Hogan of Drake University helps students in identifying their reasons and expectations when it comes to an international experience. One of the most important things she tells her students is to make sure the destinations and program align with their personal, academic, and professional goals. For John Irwin, this was not a problem.

“Studying abroad is something that I have always wanted to do. I decided to go to Taiwan largely in part because I had a Chinese roommate during the summer of 2010. Another reason is that I have always wanted to experience a culture that is completely different from small town Iowa.”

Irwin, the son of Tom and Kristen Irwin, graduated from Centerville High School in 2009 before heading to Iowa State University. He plans on graduating with a degree in computer engineering in the spring of 2013.

“The university I am studying at is called Tatung University, which is located in the middle of Taipei City. I chose Tatung University because they have a partnership with Iowa State that allows me to take engineering courses, and offers a sort of guarantee that I can transfer the credits back,” explains Irwin. “Since Iowa State has a pretty mature relationship with Tatung University, I didn’t encounter any significant problems during the application process.”

Irwin, 21, arrived in Taiwan on June 1, 2011, and will be returning to the United States on July 3, 2012. He has been learning Chinese at Iowa State, and therefore his main focus was to study somewhere that speaks Chinese. That, as well as the partnership with Iowa State and the ability to do an internship in Taiwan the summer of 2011, were his deciding factors.

While there, John has had the chance to travel as well as study. “I’ve travelled quite a bit since I have been here. That includes a round-island trip of Taiwan, one of Taiwan’s smaller islands Jinmen, Hong Kong, and three of China’s southern provinces. I think my two favorite cities that I have been to have been Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, and Xiamen, a city on the east coast of China. I like both of these cities mainly because they are clean, quiet, and beautiful. I really hope I can continue to travel after graduating.”

Because Jen Hogan is responsible for managing the education abroad opportunities for her students at Drake, she fully understands what’s important for the students and always shares advice with them. “Be smart, be safe and have fun. I think [it helps the students] because it’s realistic and to the point―the ownership of the experience falls on them,” she states.

Mike Senter had little trouble adapting to his chosen country of Singapore. The son of Rhonda and Vic Senter, Mike graduated from Centerville High School in 2009.

“I’ve always wanted to see Asia because I thought the culture would be completely different. English is my only language so my choices in Asia were limited. My top two choices were Taiwan and Singapore. I chose Singapore because it is a very modern, clean city that speaks English. It is also in close proximity to several other countries that I wanted to visit so traveling is cheaper. My uncle lived in Asia for several years, including Singapore for three years, and he always talked about how amazing Singapore is, especially in its culture. I wanted to meet all sorts of people while studying abroad. Singapore was ideal for this because it is essentially the melting pot of Asia. People from all around the world come to Singapore.”

Senter, 21, is currently a student at Iowa State University, where he plans to graduate in 2013 with a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering. He participated in an exchange program through the university in order to study internationally for a semester at National University of Singapore (NUS).

“Singapore has a very diverse culture,” explains Senter. “It was a British colony until after WWII, so it is easy to see western influences. It is a very commercialized country and thrives on retail. In this way it is similar to US cities. However, the culture is extremely conservative and strict on rules. Singapore is called a “fine city” because you can get an outrageous fine for even minor offenses. You basically can’t afford to do anything wrong. As a result of this strictness, however, crime rates are extremely low and I was surprised when I found trash in the streets. The people are extremely nice and always helpful. The country overall is far ahead of the US in policies, technology, et cetera.”

While there, Senter did not need to learn another language to get along. Most everyone in Singapore is bilingual, while 90 percent of the people were fluent in English. The two most common languages after English are Mandarin and Malay, the language of Malaysia.

“I took three classes when I was there,” Senter said. “One was on computer operating systems, one on computer networks, and a Korean language course. I plan on going to Korea at some point so I figured I could get some basic background in the language. The computer classes were much easier compared to courses at ISU. Half of my grade came from my final so there was very little homework or influence from labs. Because of this, my semester was very easy until finals week so I was able to travel around and explore Singapore more easily. Most professors grade on a strict bell curve (10 percent get A’s, 15 percent get B’s, etc.) so there was heavy competition. Full-time/non-exchange students spent almost all their time studying and didn’t have much time for social activities.”

While overseas, Mike had the opportunity to travel quite a bit. He made a few trips to Malaysia, a developing country with a completely different culture. Over his recess week, Senter travelled to Thailand, where he spent three days in Phuket and three days in Chiang Mai. Phuket is an island that survives on tourism and is where Senter learned to surf. Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand and located on the mainland, is surrounded by mountainous jungle terrain. He and his group visited as many Buddhist and Hindu temples as they could, and they also did a tour where they got to ride elephants, white water raft, and hike to a waterfall. Because of this and the relaxed feel to the place, Senter considers Chiang Mai his favorite place he visited.

“I also spent a few days in Bali, Indonesia. Bali is an extremely touristy island resort,” explains Senter. “We spent plenty of time down at the beach. It was off season for surfing so the waves were too small to surf. I hiked to the top of a volcano and got to check out the sunrise from the peak. It was definitely a great place to visit. My last few days before coming home were spent in Hong Kong. My uncle spent a few years living there and was up visiting so he gave me a tour around the city. We met up with some of his old friends and got to see the non-touristy side of Hong Kong. The main population here is much less friendly than Singapore. Everyone seems to be always in a rush and just minds their own business.”

Since it was an exchange program, tuition was paid to ISU, while food and housing were paid to NUS.

“The trip became expensive because of all the traveling. Housing and food in Singapore was very cheap. Traveling expenses were pretty cheap by themselves but it just kind of adds up,” says Senter. “Singapore was probably the most expensive place. Meals cost about $4. Stuff like clothes, electronics and such were about the same if not a little more. Outside of Singapore everything was always cheap. Food was even cheaper. I could buy shirts for $3-$4 that would normally cost around $10-$15 in the United States. You could always bargain for prices. I think the most expensive part was just getting to Singapore and back.”

 “I think most, if not all, students have the opportunity to go abroad,” states Hogan. “I think they need to be realistic in terms of what they can afford. I also think, where there’s a will there is a way without taking on tons more of student debt. There are increasingly more scholarships available for study abroad―it takes time and adequate preparation.”

Alex Osborne, 23, has a love for Chinese culture and first immersed himself by learning the language in college.

Osborne, the son of Jeff and Jennifer Burns, graduated from Centerville High School in 2007 and went to the University of Iowa, where he graduated this past December with a degree in Finance and a minor in Chinese.

“I studied abroad in China in the fall of 2010 and spent an entire year, including working during the summer,” Osborne explains. “I went to East China Normal University to study Mandarin Chinese intensively. I also took a Chinese history class and an international business course. The classes I had required much more time studying. I had Chinese five to six hours a day and a two hour tutor session in the evenings three times a week. I would say the classes I took in China were more difficult than 95 percent of my US classes. The teachers just expected much more work outside of the classroom. This said, it was also a much smaller size, between two and six for me, so an individual was pushed, but at their ability.”

Just like most people who have lived in a different country, Osborne’s view of the world changed dramatically. “In America, especially here in the Midwest, we are usually only exposed to an ‘Americentric’ point of view on topics ranging from pop culture to economic policies. Spending time abroad allowed me to see other view points, recognize things I believe our country may be doing wrong, and above all the things I love about where I’m from.”

While living abroad in Shanghai, even the smallest things were difficult for Osborne. He was exposed to poverty and disrupted plans, which made the problems he’d encountered in the States seem trivial most of the time. Simultaneously, he found professional opportunities in his experiences, such as being an excellent talking point in interviews, but the ability to network with very driven people from all over the world.

While overseas, Osborne also had the chance to travel extensively. “I spent considerable time traveling within China itself,” says Osborne, “as well as several other nations, including Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, Japan and Laos. The biggest trip I took was a six week adventure out to the Tibetan borderlands where a friend and I climbed two of the four holy Buddhist peaks.

“After the climbs we had planned to head south into Vietnam for some rock climbing, but the border was closed for Tet. We got a tip from some guys we were playing pool with at our hostel that the Laotian border was open. That tip led to a two week trip motorcycling one of the most pristinely beautiful countries I have ever seen. There are few things as satisfying after a day in the saddle than swimming in the Mekong while elephants are bathing around you,” Osborne reminisces. “I will certainly be back overseas. Once bitten by the travel bug it’s difficult to stay in one place for too long.”

“Traveling to other countries is such an eye-opening experience,” asserts Hilary Morris. “It has really shown me that there is so much more in this world than you can imagine. However, no matter where you go, people are still people, no matter what nationality. In both countries I met so many amazing people, especially those involved in agriculture. It has shown me that despite our differences, we still have many similarities. I feel this has helped me, in our increasingly diversified world, to understand that I need to be more accepting of other lifestyles and so thankful of the great place where I was raised.”  

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