Study abroad is rarely a tepid experience, and for some students, being on the ground in a foreign country has meant witnessing history in real time through political unrest, natural disasters, and even revolutions. During Beloit’s 2011 International Symposium in November, three students shared their recent experiences in Greece, New Zealand, and Egypt.
In a troubled global economy, Greece continues to make news for its high youth unemployment, debt crisis, and austerity measures. Madeline Kramer’12 headed to Athens for a semester abroad, and found that, amid the chaos, strikes were always on time. “Civil unrest was very organized,” she told attendees at the symposium. While in the country, she observed that the recession was evident, but not as dramatic as the American media has made it out to be. She also found reason to dispel the myths of an idyllic, classical, touristic Greece composed of ancient monuments, explaining that the historic sites have become commodities that modern Greece cannot afford to maintain.
Geology student Megan Mason’12 decided to spend time overseas with Frontiers Abroad, an organization dedicated to providing interdisciplinary science- and service-based education (including a five-week field term) in New Zealand. By the time she arrived in January of 2011, Christchurch had already experienced one severe earthquake earlier that fall. Working in the field with her fellow geology students, everyone talked about how much they wanted to feel a tremor. They wound up getting more than they bargained for when, on the second day of post-field-term classes in Christchurch, Mason’s second-story classroom started shaking. Aftershocks included startling visuals: the ground rolling in front of her, giant cracks in the earth, and extreme damage to local landmarks. According to news reports, about 180 people died. After the quakes, she and her fellow students focused their projects on the earthquake and presented their findings to the Geological Society of America.
Devon Armstrong’12 landed in Cairo on Jan. 21, 2011, excited about spending a semester studying Arabic and Egyptology at American University. Just a few days later, violence and protests broke out in what is now known as one of the key revolutions of the Arab Spring movement. During a tour of an older part of the city, Armstrong witnessed a funeral march. The mourners were carrying a bloody body, and Armstrong heard that the man was killed by police. He and other students went into lockdown on their campus shortly thereafter, and evacuated after a few days of being glued to their television sets, hoping for more news about the unfolding riots (mobile services and Internet were temporarily disconnected by the government). Armstrong wound up spending the rest of his semester studying anthropology in Turkey, his plans for a semester in an Arab country rerouted by nothing short of revolution.