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Saturday, February 4, 2023

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SDSU student Brittany Jones will study at the University of Ghana in the city of Legon during the fall semester. SDSU student Brittany Jones will study at the University of Ghana in the city of Legon during the fall semester.

On the Road Less Traveled

Many SDSU students choose to study abroad in non-traditional locations.
By Michael Klitzing

Brittany Jones is used to the puzzled expressions by now. Ever since the San Diego State University interdisciplinary studies senior chose Ghana as her study abroad destination for the upcoming fall semester, she’s endured more than her share of questions.

"They ask me why I don’t go to one of the Western European countries,” Jones said. “I felt like Ghana and other countries in Africa are unrepresented, and I chose it because I wanted to be immersed in another culture.”

Studying at the University of Ghana in the city of Legon will require some adjustment. Jones will need to acclimate to potential communication challenges, since more than 80 languages are spoken at the University of Ghana. She will also encounter unfamiliar customs and be expected to adjust to life in a place with little available hot water.

But to Jones, that’s actually part of the appeal. Cultural immersion in Ghana also carries deep personal meaning.

As a black child growing up in Richmond, California, Jones was exposed to negative and stereotypical perceptions of Africa—perceptions that took a subtle toll on her self-esteem. After taking Africana Studies courses at SDSU, she was inspired to learn the truth about her own roots.

“I feel like I wasn’t able to fully love and appreciate myself because of how little I knew about my identity,” said Jones, who is hoping to travel to Nigeria and other nearby countries during her program. “I don’t want to be like that anymore. It’s time to be enlightened, and the study abroad program gives me a chance to do that."

Leaving the comfort zone

Inemesit Williams, assistant director of the SDSU Study Abroad office, loves to hear stories like Jones’. While countries in Western Europe remain the most sought-after destinations for most students (the United Kingdom, Spain and France top the list for many), SDSU seeks to educate study abroad hopefuls about the full spectrum of options—especially when it comes to non-traditional destinations.

“Non-traditional destinations push study abroad participants a little more out of their comfort zone and expose them to cultural norms that aren’t in any way similar to what they are used to in the United States," said Williams. “By even getting a glimpse of a culture completely different than their own, students look at things from a new perspective.”

The idea is that while studying abroad anywhere can be transformative, going to places like Asia, Latin America, the Middle East or northern or eastern Europe amplifies that impact.

Finding the right fit

When mechanical engineering junior Martin Padilla started considering his study abroad options, he favored going to Europe. But the more he learned about Singapore, the more it started to feel like the right fit.

"Singapore has one of the top engineering schools in Asia and is a hub for technology,” said Padilla, who will spend a full academic year at the prestigious Nanyang Technological University. “In addition, I’m a really big fan of ping pong and I plan to play on a team over there."

Padilla is also excited to use his time in Singapore to explore Southeast Asia, including the Philippines and Thailand.

The chance to travel to new destinations also influenced biology and pre-med sophomore Katelyn Throckmorton’s decision to spend four weeks this summer studying abroad in Jyvaskyla, Finland. She plans to visit Sweden and Denmark after her program concludes.

Throckmorton is also excited to experience the Finnish educational system, where emphasis is placed on getting students out of the classroom environment. She’ll be studying a variety of subjects, including Finnish language and culture, refugee resettlement, international perspectives on public health and music cognition.

“I think all of these subjects will broaden my horizons and teach me things I never expected to learn,” Throckmorton said. "It's also exciting to go to a country that not a lot of Americans have been to."