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The Scarlet & Black

Fourth-year students discuss their experiences abroad

An image from Daniella Butler ’20’s time abroad in New Zealand. Butler chose to travel to New Zealand because of the opportunities it offered in marine ecology. Photo contributed.
Photo contributed.


Students return from studying abroad with a broad range of experiences that continue to impact their Grinnell career even after their time abroad has come to an end. This semester, The S&B spoke to two fourth-year students about what studying outside the U.S. taught them.

For Daniella Butler ’20, studying abroad in Dunedin, New Zealand at the University of Otago gave her a chance to study biology in an environment teeming with ecological diversity.

“I decided I wanted to go to New Zealand because of the biology classes they offered,” she said.

Butler explained her decision to go to New Zealand specifically, saying, “In Grinnell a lot of the classes that are here, especially ones that have to do with ecology, only deal with plant and prairie studies because we don’t have access to other environments. I decided to go to New Zealand because they are surrounded by water and they also have amazing geology there.”

Butler described the experience of being away from Grinnell as a chance to break out of the day-to-day Grinnell environment.

“There was this moment where I was out on this river in a jet boat. It was me and some of my program people in the boat, and we were just racing down this canyon. The walls of the canyon seemed so close you could touch. I was just feeling the sun and the wind with my face and I was like, ‘This is the most amazing New Zealand experience ever.’ It was this feeling, like, I’m actually away from Grinnell – I’m on the other side of the world. That was just transformative,” said Butler.

After a brief dramedy involving a Lime Scooter ride, the loss of Butler’s passport, and the passport’s eventual return by New Zealand locals, Butler urges anyone who is planning on studying abroad to keep track of their passport.

Last year, Langston Thomas ’20 spent both semesters of his third year in Ecuador, participating in two different programs: MSID Ecuador and IES Abroad Quito. Thomas went to Ecuador in the pursuit of studying Latin American history and politics, and to fulfill his goal of becoming fluent in Spanish through immersion.

Thomas said that in Ecuador, he connected with his blackness in a way he couldn’t access in the United States.

“The most impactful experience studying abroad was seeing the differences in being an American abroad versus being a black American abroad, especially in a country that has a history of slavery that I wasn’t privy to before. That was a very rude awakening, to see racism outside of the US that still mirrors the US. It was more impactful because while I was experiencing that personally, that kind of duality of personality, I also got to see all the members of my cohort, who were predominantly white, function in that one side of American privilege and white privilege.”

Thomas’s experience abroad impacted his future plans. “I applied to the Peace Corps. After going abroad and seeing a lot of the issues that I saw, around race, poverty, etc., I was like, ‘Okay, I want to take a break from this academic world of talking about issues and researching issues and I want to get my hands dirty and work on actually building something sustainable,’” said Hughes.

Reflecting on his study abroad experience, Thomas said, “I would do everything the exact same way, despite the ups and downs, and there are a lot of ups and downs. One thing that is really important that I’d like to stress and I’m going to stress every time that I talk about studying abroad, Grinnell needs to prepare – not even students of color – black students for going abroad because it’s a very different experience.”

He continued, “Grinnell definitely needs to do a better job of vetting these programs based on our standards of what racial acceptance looks like. They also need to do more preparatory work, not only in letting black students know what the reality is, but also preparing non-black Grinnellians so they can be good allies abroad.”

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