Social Science Scholars Study Abroad

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Photos (T-B): Mountains of the Lake District; one of the many lakes of the Lake District; downtown London

Every summer, the freshman Scholars cohort is taken to the U.K. for a month’s worth of learning, exploring and growing. The trip serves three major purposes, the first being to give the students an opportunity to think more globally about the social science issues we discuss on campus: the UK is similar enough to the US for students to feel comfortable but different enough to highlight the importance of different historical, political and economic trajectories. Second, it provides students with an opportunity to gain the confidence and maturity that comes from living in a different country for a fairly extended time. Finally, it helps them to establish the tight friendships that will serve them well in their lives after graduating from MSU. 


The trip gives the students the opportunity to see more than just a single place within the U.K. Past cohorts have explored such places as London, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, and the beautiful, rural Lake District. The combination of the quaintness of the college towns, the excitement of the cities and the serenity of the mountains gives each student a diverse range of unforgettable experiences.

For many students, London epitomizes the dizzying blending of cultures that makes the U.K. seem both medieval and modern at the same time. “The streets are filled with performers and fresh food during the day, and at night they are flooded with fluorescent lights coming from theaters, pubs, and various fashion outlets,” observed Scholar Hannah Roll.

The sights the Scholars see on trip can even seem surreal to some students. “After living in America for 18 years, where it is rare to see things over 200 years old, I couldn’t comprehend seeing buildings over 1,000 years old,” said Scholar Shay Robinson. “While technically I knew how ancient sites in England were, nothing could match seeing the areas in person and, especially, witnessing the extraordinary details of medieval cathedrals.”



Photos (T-B): Stonehenge; interior of an ancient Cathedral 


The trip poses a rigorous intellectual challenge as well. Students are required to learn and exercise their knowledge of the material in innovative ways which reach beyond lectures, exams, and essays. Many of the locations visited have a rich historical and academic atmosphere, enhanced by the lessons the Scholars are exposed to daily, led by program director Dr. John Waller.  The Scholars also take numerous excursions to world-class museums and historical sites to learn more about their surroundings. 

“While the trip is fun, it is definitely not a ‘vacation,’” Scholar Liz Schondelmayer recalled. “You’re there to learn, and Dr. Waller is there to teach. Although the traditional classroom is nowhere in sight, there’s a lesson in every day.”


IMG_2969.JPGPhotos (T-B): Replica of the Golden Hinde, a 400+ year old English ship; statue of the "Veiled Vestial Virgin" in the historic Chatsworth mansion


On returning to the U.S., Scholars emphasize the impact the trip has had on their professional and personal development. Many report gaining confidence in their own capabilities and a better understanding of themselves as individuals. Many feel the trip has helped them cultivate their professional skills as well, as it poses important trials of adaptability and self-awareness.

In the words of Scholar Charlie Booher, “The Social Science Scholars Study Abroad was a fabulous opportunity for me to connect with my cohort. The connections that I have made with my peers in this program will help me throughout my professional career, but they are also critical to my time here at Michigan State. With a campus of over 55,000 students MSU can be intimidating, but this study abroad program, as well as the broader Social Science Scholars Program experience, has given me a community here on campus.”

“In the long term”, says Grant Burton, “it’ll make me more comfortable in general with adopting more ambitious goals... and it’s made me more open to going to more exotic places.” Allie Pale explains that “traveling to England is likely to benefit me in the long term because it helped me learn how to be adaptable to different situations.” She continues: “There were several times in the U.K. when we ended up doing something that was radically different than we expected. One time after class, most people took taxis back to the hostel where we were staying while the rest of us went on a hike to look for a Neolithic rock circle, created in about 2000 BCE. We did not expect to be hiking through a giant bog and fields of heather for hours, nor did we anticipate climbing over stone walls to get back on a road to our hostel. While the experience was anything but normal, it forced us to be adaptable to the situation and learn to enjoy ourselves along the way." Finally, a number of Scholars spoke of the importance of their personal relationships growing deeper during their weeks in the UK. “I got to know each scholar so much better after study abroad,” writes Qi Huang, because “everyone was supporting one another other and helping one other out.” 



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Photos (T-B): 2nd year Scholars pose for a photo in Oxford; 1st year Scholars Madge MacLean and Julie Vernon share a selfie in downtown London; 3rd year Scholars Najma Muhammad, Yena Berhane, Mary West and Julia Goins pose for a photo in the countryside

To learn more about this Study Abroad opportunity and/or the Scholars program in general, contact Jenn Arbogast jennarbo(at)