Sure, Jacob Williams ’14 loved seeing the sites such as volcanoes and enjoying activities like waterfall-repelling while on his semester abroad in Costa Rica last fall. But ask him what he took away from those three months, and he’ll point to his medical school applications.
“My study abroad program is what ties it all together,” said the mathematics major from Solon, Ohio.
About half of all Kenyon juniors study abroad, said Kim Smith, program coordinator in the Center for Global Engagement, which is hosting a number of events including a dinner, a poster session and an African dance class as part of Global Engagement Week that begins October 14.
“One of the reasons we’re here is to help students understand that different cultures are exciting and can be an important part of the liberal arts education,” said Smith.
For Williams, his program started with three weeks of intensive immersion in Spanish for five or six hours a day plus living with Costa Rican families.
“We fit 75 hours [of study] into three weeks,” he said.
After that, the research began. The group of 19 students—Williams was the only one from Kenyon—studied nutrition in children in two indigenous communities. Food availability was the same for each group, the students learned, but in one of the groups, the distribution of food varied greatly because the subjects had to travel with the coffee-growing business for jobs.
The students also worked in clinics for the indigenous population, collecting healthcare data, and took plant walks with local guides to see plants used for medicinal purposes.
Taking a semester abroad proved particularly challenging for Williams, as it tends to be for most science majors, because many of the required classes are year-long. But while the classes he took in Costa Rica may not count toward his major, they do count toward graduation. And Williams has no doubt that the experience shaped what he’ll do in the future. Instead of getting just a degree in medicine, he’s applying to combine it with a doctoral degree in epidemiology with the hope of working in public health.
“I didn’t have that goal before I went abroad,” he said. “It exposed to me to a lot of things I couldn’t have seen.”
That is exactly the kind of response Smith is hoping for from students. “This program hit the nail on the head for him,” she said. “It confirmed his future plans.”