Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

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In Their Words

Anne Gillies '09 and Christian Refakis '10 describe their study abroad experiences.

  • gillies2

 (Anne, far right, with Irish buddies.)

I wanted to study abroad even before I started college. The Trans-Atlantic Science Student Exchange Program (TASSEP) was perfect for me—affordable, year long, and I could take courses to fill requirements for my Chemistry major.  I had always been fascinated by Ireland and its history and chose Trinity College in Dublin.  Within a week of my arrival I had joined two clubs (“societies” as Europeans like to call them) and met people who would become some of my best friends in the world.  I took a rigorous load of chemistry and biochemistry lectures and was challenged by the Irish model which left all academic responsibility on my shoulders—there were no periodic tests or problem sets, and no form of evaluation until a set of enormous exams at the end of nine months. It was up to me to keep track of the swaths of material, to attend lectures constantly, and to ask for help if needed. This format actually gave me immense freedom.  Apart from writing lab reports, I had no work outside of lectures and was able to have a rich and active social life.  Over the course of the year I became—far more than I had ever been—an independent person, entirely responsible for my own well-being and my own academic success.
     I have countless precious memories—watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade, learning karate from black belts, enjoyng a pint of Guinness at a beautiful pub, standing atop sheer cliffs at Arainn Mhor (a quaint little island with rolling green hills).  I experienced Ireland from every angle—people, culture, geography, cuisine, academic philosophy—and it was the best year of my life!

  • refakis

(Christian at the White Cliffs of Dover.)

My decision to study abroad was not arrived at easily.  I was concerned the level of education would not equal that of F&M. My concerns were assuaged and I was encouraged to undertake the incredible journey that lay ahead.  At the University of Sheffield in London I was able to take chemistry courses that transferred directly to F&M, plus a semester in England gave me the chance to achieve a childhood dream—experience the English culture and visit historic sites throughout England and Continental Europe.  As a youngster I heard stories romanticizing the ‘English way’ from my grandfather who served in the Royal Navy during World War II.  I grew up a student of WWII history. 
     At Sheffield I took chemistry, economics, and philosophy courses, all of which were enlightening and rewarding. The quality of teaching enhanced the classroom experience, but it was life outside the classroom that made the experience so memorable.  I interacted with and befriended not only English students but also Continental Europeans. European students were trying to perfect their English and they liked being around me because I could teach them English, even though it was their less-preferred  American dialect.  Being an election year, American politics was the focus of newspaper and television stories. It was a life-changing experience to sit at the dinner table with Europeans or non-Europeans and discuss social, political, economic, and cultural issues. I emerged from those discussions with a much more global world view. 
      I spent time with family in Paris where I spoke some of the French I learned growing up. I also embarked on a European tour and visited the Imperial War Museum in London, saw the famous ‘white cliffs’ of Dover associated with the Battle of Britain, and traveled the French coast to Omaha Beach. Studying abroad was an invaluable part of my academic career that I will carry with me well into my future.