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As a global studies and linguistics double major, senior Karina Alonso has grown accustomed to learning about the world through her classes, her textbooks and her professors at Arizona State University. However, before graduation this May, Alonso flew to Thailand to spend a semester getting a more hands-on education where she could see the things she has learned in Tempe play out in real life.
Like all global studies majors, Alonso’s degree requires that she goes on one study abroad experience. Though studying abroad may appear daunting at first, it exposes students to new ways of life and helps them grow as individuals. This proved to be the case for Alonso.
“I chose Thailand to challenge myself within a culture I knew nothing about,” she said. “This was also the first time I had ever lived on my own since I’ve always commuted from my parents' home since freshman year, so experiencing this level of freedom firsthand was something I’ve never done before.”
More than anything, Alonso experienced this freedom in the way her classes were set up. Rather than confining students to the classroom, Alonso’s teachers incorporated numerous field trips. When learning about Buddhism, one of Thailand’s primary religions, Alonso visited temples. She even went on a meditation retreat led by local monks.
“Having the ability to apply what we’re learning in class to real life was truly an extraordinary experience,” Alonso said.
Alonso’s field-based education wasn’t limited to urban areas. One memorable experience was a three-day hiking trip that took her through the vast jungles and rolling hills of Thailand. In addition to seeing bamboo and elephants, she had the opportunity to visit with hill tribes, whose remote location allowed them to develop a culture and way of life completely independent from the rest of Thailand. In spite of their isolated location, Alonso was able to find cultural common ground with these individuals.
“In a way, I felt more at home with the hill tribes because a lot of their beliefs and lifestyles are similar to my grandparents’ way of life,” shared Alonso. “My family is from a village in southwestern Mexico, so it was really interesting to see just how similar it was to a community on the other side of the world.”
Even if it wasn’t planned into a field trip, Alonso and her classmates were out and about participating in the community. For Alonso, who has been training for a TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate, this meant teaching English to university students in Thailand. Knowing how difficult it can be to learn English, she found all sorts of ways to make the class entertaining for her students, using role-playing exercises and even short skits to learn simple phrases. Apparently, Alonso wasn’t the only one to enjoy the class time.
“After class they told me that this was not only the most fun they had ever had in their English class, but that they felt like they actually learned a lot that day,” Alonso said. “As a teacher, that’s one of the best compliments I could ever receive, and I’m now even more reassured that this is what I want to do.”
Though Alonso’s experiences helped her grow academically and strengthened her desire to teach, above all else, she said her semester changed the way she lives her life. Regardless of the class she was attending or the field trip she was going on, Alonso constantly heard the phrase, “mai-bpen-rai,” which roughly translates to “it’s no problem.” To Alonso, this was emblematic of the way in which locals take life as it is and understand that whatever happens is meant to be.
“I used to be that person that would outline every single detail of their life. I knew what I would be doing a day from now just as well as a year from now. Thanks to this experience, I learned to break free from that and truly let life just happen.”
To learn more about the 250-plus study-abroad programs in more than 65 countries offered at ASU, see the Study Abroad Office website. And attend various events to learn more about programs and scholarships.