The GO Difference
After her trip to Nicaragua, Kirby enrolled in a reflection course called “Self Exploration Through Travel Writing,” which is taught by Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing Glen Retief. Throughout the semester-long course, which included students from many other GO trips, Kirby had to consider and write about a significant memory that affected her life while abroad.
“I reflected on the small moments that transcended language and borders, the moments where we were simply people taking care of one another,” says Kirby. “We were also given weekly reading assignments [of stories by] famous travel writers, which helped us to remember moments of our own experiences that may have been overlooked as possible themes for stories.”
With Peace, Youth and Reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Kirby’s reflection class was limited to the students with whom she traveled. The intimacy of that atmosphere allowed for deeper introspection on their collective experience, since they witnessed everything together and brought different viewpoints to one event.
“The additional time spent with the students I traveled with was really enjoyable, because the bond we formed in Northern Ireland was able to flourish back on campus,” says Kirby. “We had experienced another world together, and being able to reflect on that with them only brought us closer.”
For senior Holly Belkot, an international studies and history major, the GO reflection course not only helped her explore the broader implications of her trip, but it also guided her future career decisions.
During her sophomore year, Belkot traveled with GO Gambia, a semester-long excursion that’s part of a consortium of schools with exchange programs through the University of the Gambia. For five months she studied at the university and lived with a local family and other American students in a neighborhood compound.
“We were able to operate as a family in a very different and distant locale,” says Belkot. “We went to school, to the market, on trips, and around the country having the [experience] of living and going to school with Gambians, and the comfort of going home to fellow Americans to relax and be ourselves.”
Belkot says the most personally significant culture shock was being an American woman living in a society that largely undervalues and, to some degree, suppresses women.
“Women are generally uneducated and married very young, and while I was not treated as a Gambian woman, many of the cultural expectations were still in place,” says Belkot. Vastly different treatment of women was “something I knew existed, but seeing it play out in front of me was very difficult to process,” she says. “It ultimately taught me about my values, my own culture and myself.”