The View from Afar: A Student Travel Profile

by Essence White, Contributing Writer

It’s 12:30 am on a cool, late Thursday night and a tired student has just finished a science lab. She’s exhausted but satisfied with her work and knows it will all pay off when she graduates. To most people who see her, she is a regular hard working student on campus. What they don’t know, however, is that she is filled with almost a lifetime of adventure.

Shannon Watkins is a senior biology major at McKendree University, where students are encouraged to “Make Your Mark”. Watkins has not only left her mark here at McKendree but around the world.

Watkins began to develop a love for traveling during her childhood.

She was born in Ladue, Mo. and was raised in South County, Mo. until she was 5 years old. Then her family finally settled in Bethalto, Ill.   “ I believe we moved at the very least nine times.  My sister I had a game where the next time we moved, the other sister got to pick their room first,” said Watkins. Moving around so often helped her realize there is an even bigger world out there than the small town she has lived in.

“I like to learn about new cultures, ideas, and gain different aspects and viewpoints different than my own,” says Watkins as she describes how passionate she is about traveling the world.

To her, the real adventure is meeting new people and seeing all the sights for herself.  She believes it is the most rewarding part of her adventures, and that everyone should travel to experience it themselves. Despite her positive outlook, Watkins admits things do not always go perfectly.

“One time I went speed dating in Spain. It was just to meet friends but I ended up meeting a guy from Alton, Ill. and I’m from Bethalto. We were just like ‘Hey, how’s it going?’” says while laughing.

“New experiences can bring people together and know that there are other worlds other than their own. Everyone has a different outlook on life and it [traveling] gives more understanding and harmony,” Watkins says.


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Berlin, Germany (East Side Berlin Wall Gallery) Photo via Shannon Watkins.

As a Biology major, Watkins has to complete many science labs. These labs require traveling far into St. Louis to complete long hours of research in the outdoors. Watkins doesn’t mind because traveling has had the biggest influence on her becoming a science major. “It [Traveling] has made me more unbiased and connected to my love for science. And it made me appreciate the work and thirst for knowledge that goes into being a science major.”

Since being a science major requires so many hours of on and off-campus labs and research, it can be challenging to find time to travel. Last year, Watkins got the opportunity to combine her education and love for traveling with study abroad.   Watkins felt Italy was the most appealing place for her study abroad. “I want to study medicine so I wanted to go back to the roots of where most medicine was founded, which is in Italy.” Watkins has ancestry in Europe and that also influenced her decision to go to Italy.

Out of all her travels so far, Watkins still has trouble deciding which destination is her favorite. “It’s hard to describe which is my favorite because I love so many places!” Instead of a specific place, Watkins describes her favorite travel as the Western Loop. The Western Loop is a commonly used travel route connecting Barcelona, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Berlin. She particularly enjoyed the Amsterdam stop.

“While I was biking in the Netherlands our bike tour leader told us to never leave our bikes without chains if we stayed because they might throw them into a canal. It seems to be some odd tradition and this was especially on a certain day in which they will toss over, into the canal, any bike that isn’t chained down. So the canal is just FULL of bikes!”

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Amsterdam, Netherlands. Photo via Shannon Watkins

Paris was her least favorite place to visit, however.  “The only good things about Paris is the food and sightseeing,” Watkins exclaimed.

With passion, she went on to describe how Paris is very filthy, has homeless people everywhere, and that the people were really rude.  She also said that while she was almost robbed twice, one of her travel wasn’t so lucky and was robbed.

Slight anger and frustration began to fill Watkins’ voice as she recalled a bad experience on her Paris trip. “The Paris trains can be very strict and their tickets are very small. One day when I was traveling we [our travel group] were rushing to get back to our hotel because we were going to get left behind if not. We accidentally got off the train in the wrong place.” Initially, they believed this would not be a problem because as long as you do not leave a station the ticket is still valid. “But as we raced to get back on our train, we were ticket checked and my ticket was lost because I threw it in my purse. The lady [woman on the train checking tickets] didn’t give me time to find it. She was super rude and grabbed my purse when I told her I was going to check my wallet for the small ticket and gave me a ridiculous fine. It was a terrible experience and I could say probably one of the worst during my trip considering I had a book of unused tickets that she refused to take and yelled the entire time in the middle of the busy train station.”

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Versailles, France (Versailles Palace). Photo via Shannon Watkins.

Although she had some difficult experiences, meeting people will always be Watkins’ most favorite part of traveling. “The most rewarding part of getting to see the world is the people I’ve met along the way and getting to experience the adventure of how they live day by day.”