Studies abroad enrich ASU film major's experience

By

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.

Michelle “Mickee" Engl knew she needed outside-the-classroom, nontraditional learning settings to succeed in college. So the online student took advantage of ASU Study Abroad programs to round out her experience and find like-minded souls.

Equipped with what she's learned, Engl, a resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, California, is on track to complete her BA in Film and Media Studies at Arizona State University this fall. She’s proud of what she's accomplished and hungry for more.

Engl’s academic goal is to really understand how media impacts culture. Her interest in global cinema and its important place on the world stage was piqued in two international, faculty-directed programs offered by the Department of English. Engl traveled to New Zealand in summer 2015 to explore “Film, Culture, and Lord of the Rings.” In summer 2018, she explored Iceland, Ireland, and Croatia with “Game of Thrones: Global Film and Culture.”

Engl shared that her best memories from each trip arose from encountering the unexpected. In New Zealand’s “Lord of the Rings”-themed trip, that involved being sent hiking in the wrong direction by a bus driver who was either mistaken, mischievous or malicious .

“The driver parked the bus,” Engl recalled, “and told us to follow a specific trail for about 10 minutes and we would come to a half-frozen waterfall. Well, a group of about six of us set out across a patchy landscape of snow and dead brown grass. Thirty minutes in and we knew we had been misled. Yet the landscape was so pretty and the day was so nice we forged on. An hour-and-a-half into the hike, we came to that waterfall and it was gorgeous.

“The trail was a ring road so our hike back was through different scenery, partly through a woodland. My point here is that we were on an adventure through landscapes that looked like they came right out of the movies we such fans of. When we got back to the bus we were not mad at the bus driver one bit. We all had too much fun.”

On the 2018 “Game of Thrones” trip, Engl’s group visited a Northern Ireland beach where scenes from the HBO series had been filmed. A tour company dressed all the student and faculty participants as soldiers from the fictional House Greyjoy.

“They took us down onto the sand and told us to all yell, at the top of our lungs, the Greyjoy saying," laughed Engl. “We all looked at each other in uncertainty and embarrassment. Yet when the time came, we all raised our shields, swords and banners high and screamed, ‘What is dead may never die!’” Other people were in that area and, whether they knew ‘Game of Thrones’ or not, were all looking at us like we were crazy. Some even took pictures of us. In that moment we could not have cared less.”

After these "mountaintop" experiences, Engl realized: “I am not done studying in my field.” She’s planning to go on to graduate school.

We sat down with Engl to find out more.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? 

Answer: I realized I truly wanted to study in the field of film and media studies after I had already chosen the major. I took a class on the history of television in America and how it affected our culture. It occurred to me during this class that the idea of how any sort of media can change culture was something I could devote my life to studying.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: After participating in two study abroad trips on two very different topics I learned that strangers can be made into a family in a few short weeks because of a common interest — and shared coach buses. I would never have thought people could pull together so quickly and so thoroughly.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because I knew traditional schooling was not for me. I do not learn well in a structured classroom environment. Therefore, I knew I needed to complete college in a nontraditional way. After doing research I found that ASU online was the best fit for how I wanted to learn, and what I wanted to learn.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Jeremy Carr taught me that whatever you want to know is worth pursuing, even if it is not easy or common. He taught many topic classes that delved deep into areas of study in my field. In these classes I always found myself picking the hardest paper topics, or going about them from an odd angle. Professor Carr never discouraged me from this. Instead his comments on my papers showed me that a solid attempt at harder questions was always worth trying.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: My best piece of advice for those still in school would be to never give up on school. It took me five and a half years to finish three years’ worth of credits at ASU. I stopped and started again many times. Other aspects of my life got in my way, but I never gave up on the dream of getting my college degree. Now that I have finally finished I can truly say it was all worthwhile for this feeling of accomplishment that I now have.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I am currently applying to graduate programs.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: With $40 million I would solve the problem of global climate change. Solving all of societies’ social problems is also necessary, but you cannot do that if the Earth is uninhabitable. Therefore, I would start with healing the planet.