As we get older, we don’t have as many opportunities, but the learning you get from going abroad is very different than learning in a classroom.
As she walked the streets of Lisbon, Portugal, this summer, there were moments when Jennifer Mederios, G’24, felt a sense of disbelief: It was hard to accept she was so many miles from home.
“As we get older, we don’t have as many opportunities, but the learning you get from going abroad is very different than learning in a classroom,” said Jennifer, who is working toward her master’s degree in social work.
Jennifer, and 17 other Bridgewater State University graduate students from across all disciplines, made the journey to Portugal as part of a graduate-level course called Leadership and Wellness. It is the first-ever graduate-only study abroad program BSU has offered.
The trip was partially funded by the David B. Jenkins Graduate Research Initiative Endowed Fund.
Jennifer also received a social justice award to help partially fund her expenses from The Home for Little Wanderers, where she works as a program director.
During their time in Portugal, students visited organizations to learn more about the country’s social services and mental health offerings, and how they compare to those in the United States.
They also soaked in the local culture, cuisine, museums, and even spontaneously snuck in a Harry Styles concert.
“There was such a sense of belonging with our group,” Jennifer said. “I think there is a different maturity for graduate students, the energy isn’t so much about being in another country, but about learning together. It was just a great experience.”
The program is the brainchild of Dr. Lisa Boehm, dean of graduate studies, and Assistant Director of Graduate Studies Dr. Ally McVickar.
“We’ve been brainstorming unique ways to build community with graduate students who have very busy schedules and spend limited time on campus,” McVickar said. “Last fall we reached out to Study Abroad and found out that an all-graduate student course hadn’t been done before, we had to try.”
In creating the program, Boehm said, they wanted the students to develop connections around the world, global knowledge, and an intercultural skillset.
“All three are crucially important in today’s world,” she said. “Often students from less affluent backgrounds cannot compete with this type of global fluency on the job market when they go up against graduates who may have had the resources to support ample international travel opportunities.”
What they also found in creating the course is BSU graduate students are hungry for study abroad opportunities. After sending out a student survey to gauge the interest level, more than 100 responses arrived within the first 48 hours.
Inspired, Boehm and McVickar worked with staffers from the Minnock Institute, Study Abroad, the Educational Leadership Department and others to pull it all together.
Once the program became available for applications the response was overwhelmingly positive, so much so, a waitlist had to be created.
“We weren’t sure how many students were going to sign up, but I think it shows there is a desire for graduate study abroad opportunities,” said graduate studies Associate Director Katie-Ann Mason, who accompanied the group on the trip as a chaperone. “It was a hugely successful, engaging trip. Not just from an academic standpoint, but culturally as well. Some students have even shared it was life-changing, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Jennifer would agree, the trip was indeed impactful.
“This experience has truly inspired me to not be afraid to try new things,” she said. “I hope BSU is able to offer more opportunities like this in the future.”
According to Boehm, the goal is to create similar programs that cover a variety of topics and appeal to a wide range of students.
“We plan to offer this opportunity, or one like it, every other year. We hope that students can plan for adding this experience to their curriculum,” she said.
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