Santa Clara University

Ian Dougherty '12

International Ambassador

 

Why do you want to serve as an International Ambassador at Santa Clara University?
 
There is something fundamentally changing and inspiring about studying and living in a vastly different country and culture, and it is something that should be shared. Through my experience in Argentina, I was able to feel that phenomenon. My perspective on life -its diversity, its possibility, its vitality, and its complexity- has been so radically enhanced and changed from living in Latin America in ways that I still am not able to grasp. Most likely, these are changes that will affect me for the rest of my life, and it might take that long to fully know its true impact. This is to say that the magnitude of the experience was far greater than I can really, and will really be able, to grasp. Such an important part of life is now something that has given me the insight, and hindsight, to help others who plan to make the same journey. And in fact, one of the most significant parts of the experience was in fact sharing it with others, for that discourse, which is continuing and will for a long time, enriched my trip and has helped me learn more from it. This discourse starts early, and is essential. It is the reflection of reactions to what one sees, and the social discussion of these shared experiences and shared alterings of perspective. I have inextricably changed from being abroad, and I have also certainly matured. This change and maturation, which amounts to a redefinition of worldview as well as a redefinition of the self, is what studying abroad is all about, and it is what I still am exploring, and what I want to help others explore and prepare for. Thus, I want to be an International Ambassador because I believe that my experience, and the geniune shifts in my world that it has produced, have given me great tools to help others prepare for their own study abroad trip. I have been able to reflect on my experience extensively, and I have seen how deeply it is affecting me as well as where I succeeded and where I could have prepared better. I believe that these insights will be extremely beneficial to prospective study abroad students, and the continuing dialogue will be essential to their having an optimal, life-changing experience like I did.
 
What were the deciding factors in choosing your study abroad program-location?
 
I chose to go to Argentina with IES for numerous reasons. I have always been interested in Latin America, as they are the neighbors to the United States and have shared much of their history with us. If there is a region of the world to which the United States is most tied, in economic, environmental, and social terms, it is the region closest. Furthermore, our countries are currently strongly related in economic activity as well as social, with a strong amount of current immigration to the United States originating from Latin America. I traveled to Tijuana in high school to build a house for a poor family, an experience which first exposed me to Latin American life, and to the region's complicated issues of inequality and poverty. Then, a summer ago, I wewnt to El Salvador with the Ignatian center for a two-week immersion. That experience has also significantly affected who I am today, and further sparked my interest in Latin America, its culture, and the social and political issues that it faces. I decided to look into Argentina because it was a far more southern Latin American country with a slightly different culture, and slightly more European influences. This would allow me to further explore its relations with the developed countries in entirety and to see another, actually quite different part of Latin America. Furthermore, this allowed me to significantly improve my spanish, as being immersed in a Spanish-speaking country provides the best way to improve on one's Spanish. Yet, at the same time, although it was almost more of an unforeseen effect, I was able to see and experience the different dialects of Spanish between Latin American countries, and to see from where these differences came.    Finally, one of the deciding factors to apply to IES was the homestay that the program included, for I wanted that further cultural immersion, and it was indeed a major part of my trip.
 
Describe a defining moment in your abroad experiences and how that experience(s) has affected you personally, intellectually, vocational, spiritually, or academically.
 
One of the many defining moments in my study abroad experience occured when I volunteered at a small perish in one of the many villas in Buenos Aires. The villas are areas of the city in which the government constructs mass, communal living spaces in which the poorer inhabitants of the city to live. Often, these houses are not properly maintained, or are built upon with whatever materials are available. Many people and families live in close quarters, often without running water, sewage, lighting, or floors. I went with a few other students and some members of the organization, and we helped children, around the age of eleven, play and learn in the small classroom in the back of the equally small church. All of the people there were quite friendly and nice, and greeted us warmly. The children were equally nice, but a little shy as they probably were encountering some of the few Americans they had ever seen.    I helped a little girl by the name of Josefina with a crossword puzzle, which she was to color and find spanish words like "playa" and "piscina." While I noted the usefullness and fun aspect of the puzzle, it also occurred to me that she might never see some of the objects of which she was learning their names and semblance through cartoon sketches. But we worked together, and more played, and tried to understand each other though Spanish. She was very nice and energetic, and had a big apetite for the bread that one worker had brought as a gift for the kids. Working and playing with her gave us a connection, though only brief, that helped me put fully into perspective, and in fact into question, my own world and veiw of life. Here was a little girl whose life I barely knew, who lived a vastly different life from me, in a culture that I seemed initially so different and foreign to me. She spoke a different language, though it appeared that she could not write. Her life and world was that place that I only visited briefly, whose nature was so different and against the nature of my own home, that I got the sense that I simply could not grasp the reality of her world and what it would be like to be her. Yet we were sharing in the coloring and filling out of a crossword puzzle. We were interacting and relating through art and play.    What all this helped produce in me was the realization of how small and limited my own perspective and world had been up to that point. I had no way, no idea of even really knowing, other forms of human existence and experience. When I came to this revelation, I also began to question whether mine was necessarily one preferable at all, otherthan by my own preference which was undoubtedly formed by my own growing up in that experience and my own limited knowledge of other possibilities. Thus, I saw the true possibilities of life, while at the same time my own limitations for seeing all of them. Yet moreover, I felt the power of connection: that it is our interactions with others, and especially those of different perspectives, that help us to grow and develop. That connection, as I felt with the little girl in the parish, is what defines us, and helps us define and redefine our worlds. Buddhism was partly right when it said that we are made by our relationships. And lastly, from this experience, I formed an even deeper bond with the people of Latin America, of their very roots and heritage and culture, and with the poor. Thus, I have come to define my destiny, conscience, and fulfillment, as being undeniably tied to thiers. That moment, and the greater experience of living in Latin America, has redefined my vocation, my own self-awareness, and my awareness of the magnificently great diversity of human experience.
 
What advises, recommendations would you give to prospective study abroad students? In retrospect, how would you prepare differently to maximize the study abroad experience?
 

I would advise students to consider every possible location, and every possible experience. They should decide immediately what it is they want to get out of such an experience, and then seriously consider each option and what it will provide. They should keep an open mind throughout the entire process. Studying abroad is a time to explore and grow, and this is only truly successful by being as open and accepting to the proccess and experience as one can. They should push their comfort zones, challenge themselves and their known world. If they do, studying abroad will be a defining moment in their time at Santa Clara and in their formation as adults. On top of this advise, I would give other advise about more practical aspects of the trip, such as what to bring, how to expect to get around the city, and how to make the appropriate arrangements with their parents in regards to finances and travel plans. There are many things, as I found out, that are better done or organized ahead of time. I would also advise students to talk about the experience, and how they are going to keep in contact with such people, with their family, friends and significant others. Although I managed to be fairly successful in all these areas, I saw countless others struggle from conflicts or difficulties with any of these technical questions, and this struggle brought down their experience. At the same time that I give all this advice, as it is advice that I believe in, I am aware and understanding of the differences between perspective study abroad students, and how they will have different expectations, boundaries, and restrictions in terms of their experience. So, while my advice is generally good, I understand that it may not be perfect for everyone, and that thus personal advice and interactions is needed to better help each prospective traveler. Those individual relations are what I will try to establish.