kristyl robinson spotlight photo

Travel Study: Higher Latitudes of Learning

By Sarah Rosenblum

When students study abroad, the world becomes their classroom. For junior Kristyl Robinson, a pre-med student double majoring in biology and international studies at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, Japan was a learning environment unlike any other.

“It was surreal,” Robinson said. I learned so much when I went there.” Participating in a language-intensive Travel Study program, she spent the summer 2010 semester in Tokyo–and picked up far more than a few Japanese vocabulary words.

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Kristyl Robinson (RIGHT) made new friends in Tokyo, Japan.

“If you had a question in the supermarket or when riding the bus, you were forced to communicate in Japanese,” Robinson explained. “The same day I learned something, I would end up using it once I left class. It was very exciting. You were never out of school.”

A speaker of English, Spanish, and Portuguese who is currently taking Chinese with LiPing Li, M.Ed., instructor in the college, Robinson’s study abroad experience helped her add Japanese to her language list.

“Learning a language isn’t just about learning a language. It’s also about learning another country’s culture and mannerisms,” Robinson said, speaking fondly of her city explorations, such as shopping among the Cosplay fanatics of Harajuku and popping into futuristic five-story discotheques playing a different type of music on each floor. She reported traveling to Mount Fuji, the highest mountain in Japan; visiting Samurai castles; and seeing a geisha. She learned that slurping soup loudly is a compliment to the chef, people wear surgical masks when they have a cold to prevent infecting others, and bringing small gifts was something she should do when visiting the house of one of her new Japanese friends. “There are some things you just can’t experience in the classroom,” Robinson said.

“There are so many ways that students, regardless of their major or discipline, can benefit from study abroad,” says David Kilroy, Ph.D., associate professor, who serves as chair of the college’s international studies major. As a requirement for this major, students complete a pre-approved international Travel Study experience. According to Kilroy, studying abroad “is an experience that not only allows students to encounter firsthand people, places, and cultures that they have studied in the classroom, but it also compels them to examine more fully their own culture and identity. The vast majority of students who have studied abroad characterize their experience as life changing.”

For Robinson, in addition to gaining an increased sense of independence and confidence, this meant deciding what she wants to do with her life. “Going there and coming back, I realized that I want to do something internationally,” she explained. “It opened a lot of doors for me, a lot of options. There are so many things I can do with my career.”

Robinson is now considering teaching abroad for a year, or, based on encouragement she received from various professors, possibly interning at the United Nations or an embassy to get a feel for diplomacy. But for her main goal, she said, “I would like to be a doctor with a global organization. When I went to Japan it was confirmed that this is what I need to do with my life.”

An International Affairs convention at NSU helped Robinson learn about the possibility of working for organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF. Speaking to professors at this convention also helped her learn about a program at NSU that will allow her to simultaneously obtain her medical degree and her master’s degree in international studies, which will help in the pursuit of her goal.

In the meantime, Robinson encourages her peers to consider studying abroad so that they can learn about the world they live in, posing the question: “If you don’t know what’s going on around you, how can you make the world a better place?”

Students at the college have a variety of Travel Study options, including faculty-led courses, programs offered by other institutions through which students receive credits at NSU, and independent research or programs that are designed by the student and supervised by college faculty members.

For Robinson, studying abroad added a new dimension to both her academic and real-life education. The time she spent in Japan amounted to much more than credits on a transcript.

Reflecting on her adventure, Robinson said, “You see so many things and meet so many people that impact your life. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.”

Sarah Rosenblum is a student in the college’s Master of Arts in Writing degree program.