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Graduating fellows - the Influence of Undergraduate Travel-Study
student studying in tanzania, talking to a Masai man

David Millard – Costa Rica, England, Germany, South Africa

From an early age, I’ve been drawn to technology. As I grew up, I also developed a strong interest in social justice and community engagement through education. Born and raised in Athens, I have tried to use my time as a Foundation Fellow to maintain and build ties with local nonprofits as well as engage with communities abroad.

My professional goal is to complete a PhD in computer science and to research artificial intelligence, specifically for autonomous robotics. Throughout my college career, I was involved with the local nonprofit Free IT Athens, which provides low-cost computers running open source software to the Athens community. There I trained volunteers in computer repair and maintenance, worked to build up the network infrastructure of the organization, and helped to recreate some of the procedures used for supplying computers.

Foundation Fellows David Millard and Cameron Zahedi in Cape Town

During the summer of 2012, I worked with an autonomous robotics group at the University of Freiburg in Freiburg, Germany. There I developed a system for inexpensive multi-agent mapping using acoustic time delay of arrival sensing. This was my first extended stay abroad, and the rich immersion in German culture was the foundation for my understanding of other cultures.

On the Fellows spring break trip to South Africa, I met Dr. Patti Silbert from the Schools Improvement Initiative at the University of Cape Town. After corresponding with her, I traveled to Cape Town during the summer of 2013 to work with the Schools Improvement Initiative in Khayelitsha, the largest and fastest-growing township in South Africa. Together with Cameron Zahedi, another Foundation Fellow, I worked in three schools to build up available technological resources. To increase maintainability of these resources, we prepared informational posters and conducted training sessions so that teachers and administrators could maintain the labs without relying on the Department of Education.

With the Foundation Fellowship, I’ve been able to pursue my professional goals while building my enthusiasm for service. Studying abroad while being supported by such a caring and passionate group, I have combined and redefined my approaches to all sorts of problems – academic, social, local, global.

two fellows sitting in jain temple in india

Morgann Lyles – Bénin, England, Germany, Guatemala, India, Morocco, Spain 

Some undergraduates spend a summer volunteering in a crowded, supply-starved hospital in a developing country and walk away saying that their outlook on healthcare has been changed. Others take insightful language classes with a native speaker while living with a host family and leave saying that their perspective on foreign language education has been revolutionized. Still others are exposed to religious practices, places of worship, or breathtaking glimpses of natural beauty and come away saying that their appreciation for spiritual diversity has been expanded. Any one of these life-altering experiences would make an undergraduate career worthwhile, but incredibly, through the Foundation Fellowship, I have been fortunate enough to have all of these experiences – and many more – before my 22nd birthday.

The theme of my travels, both domestic and international, has been personal discovery. When I began at The University of Georgia, I had a double major in French and microbiology and planned to become a physician and public health worker in Francophone West Africa. I am finishing my career with degrees in French and African American Studies with plans to teach English in France for one year as a Fulbright Scholar before returning to the States to study foreign language education (applied linguistics and pedagogy) at the graduate level. What confirmed the decision for me was an independent trip to Abomey, Bénin, where I realized that I was much more interested in studying French and Francophone culture, as well as finding out more about my African heritage, than learning anything further about the diseases that I encountered in the hospital each day and how to treat them scientifically. I don’t know how else I would have had this epiphany without the Fellowship’s special gift to each student of crafting his or her own academic adventure.

As I move beyond the boundaries of Myers Hall, Moore College, and the University of Georgia, I will take with me the seeker’s spirit I have gained through four years as a Foundation Fellow. I will seek innovative ways to make the world my classroom. I will seek to keep an open mind about what I am supposed to ‘be’ when I grow up. Most of all, I will seek to slow down my energetic pace of life long enough to listen to the interesting voices around me – those of children speaking a mixture of Fon and French as we played Frisbee and American football in Bénin, that of my Guatemalan instructor Mario congratulating me on reading a paragraph in El Alquimista when I was only a beginner in Spanish a few weeks earlier, and those of the camel drivers in Morocco talking calmly to their animal comrades in a language I did not understand as we prepared to ride into the sunset in the chilly Sahara Desert.

two fellows sitting in jain temple in india

todd pierson – China, Costa Rica, England, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Nicaragua, Oman, South Korea, United Arab Emirates

While other factors played a role, I came to The University of Georgia specifically for the travel-study opportunities provided by the Foundation Fellowship. During my time here, I’ve tried to maximize the utility of these experiences to see the world and prepare myself for a career in conservation biology.

Beginning with a trip to the cloud forests of Guatemala’s highlands, I joined a series of expeditions to search for a group of relatively unknown salamanders in Central America. Over the course of three separate expeditions to Guatemala and neighboring Honduras, I worked with a group of researchers from the University of California Berkeley and the Universidad de San Carlos and with conservation officers from Guatemala’s FUNDAECO and Conservation International to survey remote regions for these rare and declining amphibians. Additionally, a Foundation Fellows spring break trip to Costa Rica and a biological survey of Nicaragua’s Rio San Juan expanded on my experiences in the neotropics and left me with a great understanding of the region’s biology.

In the summer of 2011, again working with UC Berkeley researchers, I worked for six weeks collecting geckos from the deserts of Oman and the UAE for future evolutionary studies. This exposure to the radically different landscape and culture of the area was invaluable. In 2012, this time funded by independent grants from the National Geographic Society and the Explorers Club, I worked for a month on the Tibetan Plateau to search for and evaluate the conservation status of critically endangered Chinese giant salamanders. These are experiences that would make the career of many professional herpetologists, and to have access to them as an undergraduate has been incredibly beneficial.

Even when traveling on non-herpetologically oriented trips abroad, I have attempted to make these travels relevant to my studies. While studying modernist literature at the University of Oxford in 2010, I made a short trip to see the peculiar salamanders of the genus Speleomantes on the Italian island of Sardegna. While delving into Buddhism during a 2012 Fellows spring trip to South Korea, I joined Korean herpetologists in searching for what is perhaps the most significant amphibian discovery of the last fifty years – a salamander of the genus Karsenia.

The breadth and depth of these experiences could be achieved nowhere else but under The University of Georgia’s Foundation Fellowship. Now, as I watch many of my friends elsewhere try to satisfy a wanderlust that has accumulated from four years in the library, I can reflect upon the fantastic experiences I have already had.

Sara De La Torre Berón – Brazil, Costa Rica, England, France, Italy, Morocco

As someone who is bicultural, I’ve always found languages fascinating. With the help of the Foundation Fellowship, I’ve been able to immerse myself culturally and linguistically in multiple places and multiple languages. Thanks to these experiences, my confidence in intercultural situations has increased immensely, and I’ve realized the importance of connecting with others in their native tongue.

I spent a semester abroad in southern Brazil, in a metropolis that is known as a prototype of the modern ‘green city.’ During this time, I took classes in Portuguese with Brazilian students and engaged not only with my classmates but also with professors and other international students. In addition to classes, I participated in research, took several trips around the country, and met students from all over the world with similar goals to mine – to soak up Brazilian culture and improve our Portuguese. Living there for an extended period of time, I became comfortable in the language and the culture.

With the help of the Fellowship, I also volunteered on a vineyard in France through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms program and conducted conservation research in the Western Pyrenees Mountains. Through these experiences, I learned about different methods of sustainable land management and gained insight into the academic world outside of the U.S. These experiences were great for linguistic reasons as well, since I interacted independently with people speaking only French.

Some of the most valuable experiences of my undergraduate career have been developing and nurturing these intercultural relationships. As I think about the next chapter of my life (returning to the Pyrenees to pursue a master’s program), my goal is to continue meeting new people, learning about different cultures, and connecting with others in their own language to positively influence the world around me.

Addison Wright – China, Continental Europe, Costa Rica, England, South Korea, Tanzania

The Foundation Fellowship has given me the chance to explore the world with a great deal of freedom. My first study abroad experience was at Oxford University, where I studied Tudor historiography under Dr. George Southcombe. In small groups we discussed and debated the political commentaries hidden within the works of Shakespeare and Milton, with Dr. Southcombe guiding more than dominating the flow of conversation.

I learned how to read and process literature and turn out papers on a tight schedule as well as how to make and defend an argument, where arriving at the right answer was much less important than demonstrating how and why I came to a conclusion. After Oxford, I traveled across continental Europe with seven companions by way of plane, train, and bus, staying only a few days in each city before moving to the next.

The summer after sophomore year I was a bit more adventurous. Derek Ponticelli (FF ’13) and I set a course for Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania. We worked at an orphanage in the suburbs of the sprawling city. In the mornings we went to an NGO school to teach English and computer skills to teens who had fallen out of the public school system and to older women looking for a second chance at an education. In the afternoons we returned to the orphanage, where we helped the kids with their homework and played soccer with them and other neighborhood children.

For the first time, I was immersed in a lifestyle other than that of the developed Western world. Tanzanians, once they overcame their surprise at seeing two mzungu so far from the tourist hotspots, were eager to help or to talk about their country, particularly its economic and social problems. After five weeks, which included an unbelievable six-day trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, I returned home, sad to leave the kids and adults I had grown attached to but ready to return to showers and food other than rice, beans, and cabbage.

Before my senior year I went to China, this time on my own. The first part of the trip was spent in Beijing, where I participated in an intensive four-week Mandarin course at the Beijing Language and Culture University. I stayed in Beijing’s University District with an older Chinese couple whose daughter was away at university. Through meals with them and their relatives who lived nearby I gained exposure to the culture, and though the language barrier sometimes posed issues, I became good friends with my ‘Beijing family.’ Meanwhile I steadily improved my Mandarin with daily classes at BLCU and toured the city’s famous sights.

I became immersed in Chinese culture when I left Beijing for Sichuan, where I worked on a farm through the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms China branch. There, away from Beijing’s large expat community and English-speaking classmates at BLCU, I was forced to practice my Chinese daily. The farm was playing host to more than half a dozen Chinese college students, friends, and relatives of the family that operated it. We spoke in a mixture of English and Chinese about our respective cultures, and I grew accustomed to a way of life far different from the fast-paced living in Beijing.

I learned about Chinese youth, with their mixed feelings on their own government, a thirst to learn about America and the West, and an abiding love of karaoke. My hosts were the most generous people I’ve ever met. They refused to let me touch my wallet for the entire stay, even purchasing my train ticket back to Beijing and sending me off with a bag full of gifts. My spoken Mandarin improved by leaps and bounds while I soaked up the relaxed pace of life, with work broken up by long meals, afternoon naps, and trips to the swimming hole. In the future I hope to bridge my study of Chinese and my study of biochemistry, particularly now as Chinese labs are becoming a larger part of the international research community.

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