October 18, 2013
GO trip changes student's lifeThe GO Program offers Susquehanna students an opportunity that not many other universities offer: a mandatory study abroad experience. There are programs where students can study for an entire semester or for as little as two weeks.
Each person experiences the program differently, and for some students, it may even change career paths or goals for the future.
Sage Hess is one student who got more than she bargained for after studying in the Gambia for a semester.
Alyssa Oxner, a first-year student and communications major, was a member of Hess's orientation group, a part of Susquehanna's welcoming tradition to those students coming to campus for the first time.
"I think because Sage has such a warm and outgoing personality, she had a good experience," Oxner said.
Sitting in Denny's at midnight, Hess, a junior anthropology major, wore an oversized blue sweater and black yoga pants. Her curly, dirty-brown hair was pulled up into a sideways bun, with little wisps of hair escaping and framing her face.
With legs curled up in front of her, Hess had kicked off her moccasins and took a bite of her brownie and chocolate ice cream.
Hess was born in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 1993. When she was three, she moved to Simsbury, Conn.
"It was a town of preppy assholes," Hess said. "I didn't fit in."
Hess said her life was hard at times, especially when her parents divorced when she was eight.
Yet she said that overall, both her parents were loving, and she never had a doubt about how lucky she was to have a family with such levels of compassion.
During high school, Hess said that for the first two years, she associated herself with the theater kids, which was the only place she felt she belonged. For the second half of high school, Hess said people knew her as the social butterfly, yet only when she was doing something artsy did she feel like she truly belonged.
"I was just kind of Sage, you know?" Hess said.
After her brother, eight years older than her, and her sister left for college, Hess said she was ready to go.
Susquehanna seemed like it could be home to her, and so after high school, she left her town and got ready to begin a new chapter of her life.
She said that she wasn't herself at first. However, after attending LeaderShape, a program that promotes leading with integrity and helps to create a future that its participants want, during the winter of her freshman year, Hess was changed.
She joined Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity. During her sophomore year, Hess pledged a sorority, Sigma Kappa. Yet Hess grew restless and wanted more. When told she could go abroad during the second semester of sophomore year to the Gambia, she jumped on the opportunity and filled out the application.
The GO Program was introduced with the new Central Curriculum during the 2009-10 academic school year. The program offers more than 100 approved programs, according to Study Away Advisor Christina Dinges.
Students are not limited by these offered programs, though. Students are able to create a Go Your Own Way, which can range from two weeks to a full semester.
Hess was accepted to study in West Africa. She was interested in joining the Peace Corps and knew this experience would be beneficial.
This wasn't the first time Hess would be visiting a third-world country. She had participated in service projects in Cambodia when she was 16, Thailand during her senior year of high school and Tanzania, where she did independent work and taught English to two-to six-year-olds for five weeks.
"It was great to be alone, working and relying on myself," Hess said.
When the time came, Hess said she was excited to go to the Gambia and embrace the experience. The Gambia allowed Hess to explore a new country as well as to explore herself.
She said she had a lot of "a-ha" moments in the Gambia.
"During the first one, I realized I was living my dream and was proud of myself for achieving this dream," Hess said. "I was living in an impoverished town."
She realized this while riding a ferry back from her name ceremony, where she obtained the name Mariama Jammeh. Hess said many people complained about the ferry ride being too bumpy, but she loved it.
"It was beautiful," Hess said.
She was sitting on the boat, listening to Simon and Garfunkel, and realized she had to stop focusing on the big picture. She confronted many conflicts within herself, realizing that to live a fulfilling life, she had to love everything and was willing to do so.
Before her travel back to the U.S., Hess had concerns about returning to an American lifestyle.
In order to continue the way of life she had been introduced to, Hess wrote a pact to herself in her journal, which included guidelines to living the type of life that made her happy.
Maeve Kirby, senior religious studies and international studies major, has known Hess for two years. Hess shared many of her experiences with her, and Kirby has noticed the difference.
"Traveling between the developed and developing world is not an easy transition," Kirby said. "Through these experiences, she was able to cultivate a level of self-reliance she hadn't yet achieved."
So far, the hardest adjustment for Hess has been how many people take "the little things for granted" and how infrequently people think about the important issues.
"It makes me sad to see people get frustrated or bogged down by things that don't really matter," Hess said. "And their only outlets are things that are unhealthy."
When it comes to advocating for studying abroad, especially for a semester-long program, Hess is more than happy to share her insight.
"College is supposed to be about learning about yourself," she said. "I don't think a lot of that happens on campus."
Hess tries to share her experience with friends and other students on campus.
Kirby said, "We need cross-cultural experiences so that we can exchange our ethnocentric tendencies for ideologies that believe difference to be a value added."
Oxner agreed, saying, "I think it's great to gain another view of the world around us."
Recently, Hess has applied to the study abroad program in Nepal, which she hopes to join in the spring of 2014.
"I had spiritual growth in the Gambia, and I want this trip to be more about academics," Hess said.
For Hess, this personal transformation was a good change. She said that while the experience was not always easy, it was the most worthwhile thing she has ever done.
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