As a public health major, Abigail Yemisrach knew the general concepts and theories behind health care systems, but navigating the health care system in France as a study abroad student gave her a new perspective and deeper understanding of the topic.
“I had a lot of experiences immersing myself in a culture, in a completely different environment, for one, but also doing it in a different language,” she said. “It made me experience firsthand some of the concepts and terminologies that I’m studying in my public health courses.”
Yemisrach, a Mercer University senior who added a French major after studying abroad in summer 2022, said the experience especially helped her understand the complexities and challenges immigrants face in figuring out health care systems abroad.
“Study abroad really changed the trajectory of my life,” said Yemisrach, who, before studying abroad, planned to pursue a Master of Public Health and apply her skills at home. “I just feel a calling to foreign work or service work down the line after going to France this past summer.”
Many Mercer students who participate in study abroad say the experience enhances their knowledge of course material and gives them greater understanding of people from other cultures.
Some came to the University specifically for its study abroad offerings, while others discovered opportunities they didn’t know existed. In some cases, students said their study abroad experiences changed the course of their college education.
Savannah Granito, a senior majoring in art history, and Nyiah Kelley, a junior double-majoring in biology and women’s and gender studies, said they were deeply impacted by their study abroad experiences. Both were recipients of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, which enabled them to study abroad.
Granito said she experienced immense personal growth during her study abroad trip to London, where she worked as an intern in the marketing department of the Museum of Architecture. During the eight-week program, she worked on three exhibitions: Gingerbread City in Toronto, Nature’s Architects trail in London and an international treehouse design competition.
“Putting yourself into a culture and experience where you can’t just drive home, or you can’t just call your parents immediately because you’re an eight-plus-hour flight away and you’re a five-hour time difference, forces you in the best way to become just a little bit more of an adult and feel a little bit more ready for the real world,” Granito said.
Kelley said her study abroad experience in Morocco impacted her educational career by making her more aware of different opinions, cultures and ideas.
“I was able to see how very similar people in that area are to us. We have many differences but so many similarities, and oftentimes we portray other societies as inferior to ours,” Kelley said.
Ally Brooks, a senior English major, said one of the reasons she chose Mercer was because of its study abroad opportunities. In spring 2022, she studied film at the University of Sussex in Brighton, England.
As part of her classes, she made her own short film, which included filming, sound recording and editing. Outside of her coursework, Brooks traveled Europe, including trips to Italy, Malta and Wales.
Before studying abroad, she planned on moving to New York or another big U.S. city. Now she plans to move to the United Kingdom.
Ben Stewart, a junior majoring in neuroscience, also chose Mercer for its study abroad opportunities, particularly Mercer On Mission.
In summer 2022, Stewart went on a Mercer On Mission trip to Guyana, where he worked with a team to help make artisanal and small-scale gold mining safer. There, he learned how to work collaboratively and solve problems in an unpredictable environment.
“It’s so much different than anything in the lab,” he said. “If you made a mistake, it was a lot bigger deal because you could get somebody hurt. You could offend somebody and mess up the whole project.
“There’s a lot more at stake, and there’s a lot more responsibility when you’re in Guyana versus in the lab in Macon.”
Stewart said the experience made him realize the importance of service. As a pre-med student, he’s considering going into internal medicine or primary care because of the capacity to help in those fields. And while he always wanted to serve locally, he now has a greater desire to serve abroad as well.