Madeline Pierson ‘16, Polly Carter ‘16, and Burton Owen ‘16, despite being members of the same class at Derryfield, all studied and traveled on three different continents in the last year. Pierson, who attends Colby College, headed down under to attend the University of Melbourne in Australia while Carter, who has stuck around in the Granite State at Dartmouth, studied architecture and design in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Owen, a rising senior at Davidson College, also traveled south of the equator to take classes and teach local elementary school students in Kumasi, Ghana before heading to the University of Cape Town in South Africa.
Although the length of their stays in their separate locales varied - Burton spent almost half of 2018 in Ghana and South Africa while Polly lived in the Østerbro district of Copenhagen for the 2018 fall semester - all three alums share some similar experiences.
One main thread through all of their travels that certainly harkens back to growing up in New Hampshire is fully experiencing and appreciating the outdoors. Madeline says, “One of my favorite excursions was to Tasmania, where four of my friends and I took a road trip and went on an amazing hike. Another favorite trip was to New Zealand, where two friends and I trekked, camped, and went on the world’s biggest swing.” Polly also notes, “My favorite trips included: hiking Trolltunga in Odda, Norway with my roommate Mollie and road tripping with my friend Elsie through Sweden.” Burton shares similar sentiments: “For spring break in South Africa (since seasons are switched) I traveled to Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia on a week long safari into the African bush. We camped, traveled to wildlife reserves, explored sand dunes, and visited famous Victoria Falls, where we white water rafted.”
A second common thread noted by both Polly and Madeline was adjusting to and appreciating the different pace of life. “The leisure with which Australians live their lives” caught Madeline by surprise. Coming from an environment of non-stop activities and school work, both at Derryfield and Colby, Madeline noticed how “they value unstructured quality time with one another, bonding through more individual activities than big, structured plans. I had a hard time adjusting to such an open schedule, but after a few months began to appreciate the moments of unstructured time with friends or by myself.”
Polly echoed similar thoughts. Attending Dartmouth and playing Division I lacrosse in itself consumes a huge chunk of time and energy. So when “I arrived in Copenhagen, I suddenly had no sports, a lighter course load, and complete control over my days. The culture I was coming from perpetuated the idea that only after you have crushed yourself from Sunday through Friday - getting through exhausting practices, staying up all night studying, operating off of 4 hours of sleep - do you deserve to have fun and go out. It took a few weeks of guilt for spending a few hours exploring an area of the city rather than working out or studying before I started to understand that the way we think about work and pleasure in the U.S. is wrong. You are meant to enjoy your life, you don’t need to justify it or earn it.”
While studying and spending an extended period of time abroad can be a transformative experience, living in another country can often present some challenges. Pierson mentions feeling homesick, but not when you might think. She says, “I found that many of my challenges stemmed from homesickness later in the semester when the new excitement started to wear off and I began to realize what I missed about home. However, this drop in excitement made me really consider what I appreciate about home.” Carter felt she struggled at times with some socio-economic differences between Denmark and the U.S., saying, “Copenhagen is currently the most expensive city to live in. Danish people are used to this and as a result they are a society that consumes far less. Coming from the U.S. - a society known for its mass consumption - this was definitely an adjustment but a really good experience.”
When it comes to other differences between Danish and American culture, Polly continues, noting a “huge emphasis on personal responsibility and being accountable for yourself. For example, there are very few guardrails or fences standing between the busy streets and canals that run through the city. In the U.S. I think most people would see this as an insurance liability…but people there expect each other to be accountable for their own actions and I think it helps create a culture where people blame one another less and take ownership more. It also represents the side of Danish culture in which people’s ownership over their own bodies is never questioned, it is expected.”
One connection Burton experienced came through music. “I’ve played the drums for my entire life and some of my favorite times were jamming with other people on the djembe. The look of astonishment they gave me when I would play their native instrument with them was priceless for me. Music is the universal language and trancendends borders and cultures - there is nothing quite like it.”
As far as wanting to see a specific custom or product brought here to the States, Madeline feels strongly about Australian Rules Football and Lamingtons. She began playing “Aussie Rules Footy” while in Melbourne and had the chance to both play in a tournament and attend a professional game. For those wondering, Madeline describes Australian Rules Football as “combining aspects of American football, soccer, and rugby into one fun but violent game….I can confidently say it is my favorite sport to both play and watch.” But what are Lamingtons? Another hybrid sport? Wrong - they’re a dessert. And although it might seem like many Americans automatically picture a jar of Vegemite when someone mentions Australian delicacies, Lamingtons, according to Madeline, “are absolutely delicious, and my sweet tooth would certainly love to see them in the U.S.” Comprised of “little vanilla cakes dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut flakes,” it’s a wonder they don’t already fill the shelves at your local Market Basket. Burton would also like to see certain foods from his travels gain a foothold here in the U.S. Kebabs and other street foods were at the top of his list along with FanYogo - frozen yogurt packets that come in different fruit flavors and are popular in Ghana and other West African countries.
When reflecting upon their time abroad, all three have the same advice and encouragement for any Derryfield alum or student considering studying or traveling to another continent: go for it!
Burton sums it up nicely: “Go for as long as you can and go to places you’ve never been. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is where and when the most personal growth occurs.”
Polly, discussing specifically the opportunity to study abroad as a part of your college experience, says, “I think it’s really important to try and remember all the things you go into college wanting to experience. Going abroad was something that I knew was important to me.” Madeline adds, “take the leap and go abroad. The experiences you have and the appreciation you gain for your home college are two things that I never would have had without spending time away.”