Travel Experience Enriches Education, Sense of Self
Lauren Spinney '09, right, and friend Mito from the
Dominican Republic “I think traveling is the most mind-opening education one can receive,” says Lauren Spinney ’09 (social thought and political economy), who received an Ansin Study Abroad Fellowship to attend the Institute for Central American Development Studies in Costa Rica and Nicaragua this fall. “I’m a huge advocate for traditional academics, but learning from experience is one of the most rewarding types of education. In fact, I don’t think students are encouraged to do it enough. Without the Ansin, I wouldn’t be able to go.”
Spinney, who hails from Sturbridge, Mass., has long been interested in human rights issues and international politics. “In high school I was in the Amnesty International group and was very influenced by my English teacher who in the 1960s was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal. And I knew I wanted to travel.”
After high school Spinney went to Italy for a month to do some exploring. Last summer she signed up for a community service trip with International Student Volunteers and Habitat for Humanity to the Dominican Republic. Her stay involved living with families, which allowed for self-immersion into the culture. “It was great,” Spinney says, who notes that the experience, without the presence of other Americans or the English language, fit the bill just right.
This fall Spinney will live with a family in Costa Rica for the first four weeks. “I will take three seminars, including history, culture and modern life in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, ecological and environmental issues in the Central American Region, and the effects of globalization in Central American economies. Plus, I’ll take twenty hours of Spanish language classes per week. The next eight weeks I’ll spend with a Nicaraguan family while I carry a full work and academic schedule at a supervised internship site of my choice. The last two weeks of the program involve writing a research paper and doing presentations for other students in the program.”
Spinney is confident that the program’s emphasis on language will push her towards fluency in Spanish. “Furthermore, the curriculum is especially pertinent to my UMass Amherst studies because it integrates theoretical concepts and real-world experience.”
Spinney’s dreams include traveling all over the world. She hopes next summer she’ll be studying permaculture (permanent agriculture and permanent culture) at Ecoversidade in Brazil through the Living Routes program.
Spinney sees law school in her future too. “I’d like to study international law, but I also want to travel with World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) through which people work on organic farms throughout the world in exchange for food and shelter,” Spinney notes.
Meantime, Spinney is savoring her UMass Amherst experience. “I chose my STPEC major because I wanted to take every class that was on the required course list. STPEC is interdisciplinary, so it allows me to take courses in all the areas that interest me: women’s studies, political science, economics, sociology, African-American studies, Latin American studies, Spanish, legal studies, and more. I don’t have to limit myself and can keep my options open, rather than focusing on a single subject matter.”
While some of Spinney’s classes have been real standouts, she declares, “I have never had a class at UMass Amherst in which I could not connect with my professor. There may be a lot of students here, but not many of them go to your professors’ office hours. I've taken advantage of these one-on-one opportunities and found they're always happy to see me. And there are so many resources here—so many that they can be overwhelming! The Writing Center, Career Services, free tutors in the library all are invaluable tools that enhance the academic experience.”
Beyond her academics, Spinney worked last year as a peer mentor in an all-freshman dorm. This summer she is directing a recreation program in her hometown, catching up on some of her reading, sewing and cooking a lot with her grandmother, building a bookcase for her room with her carpenter uncle, tending her garden, and practicing her Spanish before embarking on her semester abroad experience. “I can’t wait to discover what’s in store for me there. But I do know that I’m going to learn a lot, thanks in part to the Ansin scholarship!”
September 10, 2007