Part of online learning’s appeal is that it is flexible and convenient. Need to work full time and pursue a degree? No problem. Live too far from a campus that offers your degree? Easy, sign up for an online option. But for some reason, many online students don’t realize that the very qualities that drew them to pursue their degree outside a classroom make it entirely possible to do so from anywhere in the world.
Deanna Sweeney ’17 MBA missed the chance to study abroad while she was earning her undergraduate degree from Johnson & Wales University in Providence. But as a 4+1 student working towards her master’s degree through the JWU College of Online Education, she jumped at the chance. Here, she shares her experience, plus the amazing takeaway—better than any souvenir—that changed her outlook on life.
How did you hear about the study abroad opportunity?
I went my whole undergrad experience without studying abroad. All of a sudden, something switched in my mind. I was yearning to go abroad before my time as a student was up and discovered that there are study abroad options for graduate students. Granted, not as many options as undergrads have, but they do exist!
Being an online student, can you describe the process of applying and preparing for the trip?
The application process was super straightforward and easy. All required forms and questions are found on JWU’s study abroad portal. I was also in touch with the Study Abroad Department at JWU Providence—a department filled with wonderful and extremely helpful study abroad advisors (Hi, Sarah!). After being accepted into the program, I was given the contact information of the trip’s leader (Superwoman herself, Loren Intolubbe-Chmil), packing lists, and other useful cultural/logistic information. Not once did I feel overwhelmed.
Please describe the program and your understanding of it before you left.
As I understood, we were going to Nepal to live and volunteer at The Kevin Rohan Memorial Eco Foundation. The Foundation is a place that gives back to the community. I knew they ran an on-site school, vegetable garden, café, entrepreneurial center, and health clinic. I knew that we would have the chance to immerse ourselves in Nepali culture through engaging with others at The Foundation.
How did the experience meet/exceed those expectations?
This experience by far exceeded my expectations. Our education and cultural immersion extended beyond the walls of The Foundation. Every day we went on outings to meet entrepreneurs, eat local food, check out festivals, hike through rural villages, and more. Every day was drastically different, unpredictable, exciting, and stimulating in its own unique way.
Can you share some highlights of the trip? Lessons learned?
On this trip, I learned to be grateful. Gratefulness. A concept which, in theory, is so basic. A word and idea we teach to little children. “Say please and thank you.” “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” But are we truly grateful? Especially in our Westernized, first-world culture. Sure, we say thank you. But is anything ever enough? We’re still online shopping. We’re still staying on top of the newest trends. We buy clothes that are trendy but disposable after a few washes. I had my last smartphone for a year before upgrading. People in Nepal don’t have those luxuries. Much of the country lives in poverty. Joy is not obtained through commercialism and is not necessarily a matter of instant gratification like it is for us as we rack up “likes” on social media. Instead, joy is obtained through relationships with friends and family, through having a sense of faith and purpose, through connecting with and being kind to others.
Of course, no one is able to choose the life they are born into. Just by being American we are seen by others as being in a position of privilege. Wealth. Education. People in transforming countries, like Nepal, idolize the Westernized culture that we take for granted and see flaws in. I’m not trying to claim that our society/culture is perfect … that is, by no means, true. I’m just trying to say that for me, this experience brought a new depth and meaning to the idea of fortune and gratefulness. I’m grateful for the circumstances I live in and I’m grateful for the people I have in my life.
Would you recommend the program to other online students?
Without a doubt! An online education is convenient but can feel lonely. Especially if you’re social by nature like I am. Going on this trip allotted me the opportunity to connect with peers. Class time consisted of readings and interpersonal discussions. For me, the point of an education is to push your boundaries for the sake of growth. Without an interpersonal element in your education, it’s hard to grow and shift your perspectives. I firmly believe that you’ll learn more from listening to others and to the language of life than you will from staring at a computer screen for a few hours every week.
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What advice would you give to someone who is interested in studying abroad?
If you have even an inkling of interest in studying abroad, take that inkling and run with it! Take advantage of the fact that you’re a student. Your tuition will cover travel expenses and your University will cover travel logistics. You’ll always be able to travel, but once you’re out of school, never again will your travels take on the dynamics of a study abroad trip. Education partnered with adventure. Peers who become family. A foreign country you can call home, even if just temporarily. It’s special. It’s indescribable. It’s worth it.
Did the experience have any impact on you, academically, professionally, or otherwise?
On a personal level, I loved the country so much that I changed my flight in order to stay longer! But that wasn’t the biggest impact Nepal had on me. It somewhat surprises me to say this, but the biggest impact was an academic one. I enjoyed my experience so much that I was left feeling inspired and ended up applying for an international internship. And guess what? I got accepted! I’ll be spending this fall in rural Panama where I’ll be working at a massive R&D project aimed at designing and developing an off the grid, self-sustainable yet modern town.