By Alec Deyong, Contributing Writer
Pictures: Emma Mooneyham
For most McKendree students the college experience is within the borders of our relatively small campus in the heart of Lebanon, Illinois. However, this is not the case for all. Some choose to strike out and study abroad. One such traveler is Emma Mooneyham.
Emma is a senior here at McKendree University majoring in biopsychlogy. She hails originally from Texas so she is no stranger to travel, but last semester she ventured much further south than her home state.
Emma studied abroad and spent almost four months in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where she attended Universidad de Belgrano. Her experiences while studying abroad and how she was afforded the opportunity were the big takeaways from this last week’s Brown Bag.
Emma has always had the desire to study abroad, but it was the means that she lacked. This was remedied when she was awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. This program helps students with limited financial resources to study abroad.
While excited for the journey ahead of her, Emma’s semester abroad didn’t exactly start off well. In the first day alone Emma was dropped off at the wrong building, her bus was hit by a car, and she was given a lecture on the likelihood of being pickpocketed or mugged in the city.
After some tears, some back and forths with angry residents, and making friends with a security guard named Roberto, Emma eventually found her way to where she would be staying for the semester. She stayed in a homestay with her housemother Lilly.
In her Brown Bag, Emma painted Buenos Aires and the surrounding area as a polarized place. Between the beautiful scenery, bookstores, and friendly people was civil unrest, homesickness, and poverty.
She saw college in Buenos Aires as a focal point for political activism and said that a protest starting at a university was not at all uncommon. On Thanksgiving, she witnessed a line of riot police standing between a protesting crowd and federal buildings. There was even a day when transportation workers went on strike, leaving many in the city with no way to travel.
Homesickness was another recurring struggle for Emma. She was in a place that she was entirely unfamiliar with, where she did not speak the language, and only had service in certain cafes. She went on trips and excursions to distract hersefl. She said that making a routine and keeping herself busy eased the homesickness.
Emma participated in tango classes, social groups, and dogs that frequented a park on her route to school. The scenery almost certainly helped as well. When visiting the Iguazu Waterfalls and Ibera Wetlands, she tangled with snakes and piranhas in the water, and storms and sheep at her campsite.
Emma learned a great deal from her semester abroad. Lessons in adaptability, travel skills, and communication skills all resulted from her time in Argentina. She said that her language skills greatly improved and that she learned to blend in, as looking like a tourist could make you a target.
As a financially independent, first-generation student, studying abroad may seem like an unobtainable wish. Emma did not let this sway her though. Obtaining the Gilman was not an easy process, but she was assisted by McKendree faculty dedicated to helping students access these opportunities.
Part of the requirement to obtain the scholarship Emma applied for was to write two papers. and commented that it was a lot of stress, crying, and being “broken down” by Dr. Patterson, who helped her with the application process. It was all worth it to her, however, and she will certainly remember her experience far beyond her college years.