The Transylvania senior has a double major in international affairs and religion, and already in her three years on campus she has visited three different countries to connect with the rest of the world. She’s participated in an Alternative Winter Break service-learning trip to the Dominican Republic, a May term travel course to Israel and Palestine, and, most recently, a term through the Council on International Educational Exchange in Dakar, Senegal.
“Experiences like going to Senegal are incredibly important to not only learn the things in the classroom, but to see them in action and actually meet people of a different culture and a different religion instead of just studying it,” she says. “The international affairs major does a great job of giving you the tools of perspective and cultural awareness.”
Her time in Senegal during fall term 2013, particularly, was enormously influential, as she took courses through CIEE that focused on international affairs in Africa. She stayed with a host family and even took a class in the Wolof language, which is spoken by the largest ethnic group in Senegal. She went on excursions to places like Saint-Louis and the Sahara Desert, where she planted trees with a project working to slow the progression of the desert into the neighboring farmland.
“It was an amazing program,” she says of her time with CIEE. “I took home a lot of new connections and even the importance of connection. I still keep in touch with my host family and some friends from the neighborhood, as well as the other American students in my program. All those connections are really inspiring, especially seeing what the other students in my program have done with their experiences there.”
Embedding herself in the culture of Senegal was an important time of growth for Elizabeth, who made every effort to not “be a tourist” and really learn the languages and customs and even how to cook the food. It’s an experience she’s using today back in Lexington as an August term scholar, team-teaching the First-Year Seminar course with biology professor Kathleen Jagger.
The theme of this year’s August term is “Identity and Belonging in a Changing World,” and the course Elizabeth teaches revolves around not just being a traveling tourist, but rather a global citizen. And the first month on a college campus is a perfect time to explore that topic.
“The first-year students are all kind of foreigners here in the beginning,” Elizabeth says. “No matter where they come from, college is a new environment. I think it’s helped them to take a look at their own identities and the ways they want to grow. I think it’s also helped them gain a perspective on international students and students who come from very different backgrounds.”
To prepare for the class, she and Jagger met over the summer to build a syllabus around the August term theme and two required readings. They pitched ideas for articles, discussion topics, and activities, and pared down their selections to accommodate the four-week course.
“Being able to work with Dr. Jagger, who has done this for many years, has been an amazing experience,” Elizabeth says. “It’s intimidating at first because she’s a very strong woman and incredibly intelligent. I already respected her a lot. She’s taught me a lot of confidence. She gave me a sense of shared responsibility for the class and held me accountable for the parts of the syllabus I wanted to put in.”
Although she admits it was a little scary at first, Elizabeth says she’s loved teaching, particularly facilitating the class discussions. It’s just another example of her using her time in college to surround herself with new experiences in order to better understand the world around her.
“Transylvania is such a supportive community,” she says. “The professors here are some of the most inspiring and helpful people, who are interested in what you’re doing, where you’re going, and what you’re learning. You get the opportunity to be a leader in so many different areas and to get involved and make a lot of connections.”
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