Sarrah Bates takes in the scenery in Bali, Indonesia.
Photo courtesy of: Sarrah Bates
Apr 5, 2011
From staff reports
International experience is ever important in the education and career development of U.S. students in an increasingly global society, but it can also require a considerable financial investment. Through programs such as the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, students are getting opportunities to offset the costs of their experiences abroad – especially when it comes to destinations that are off the beaten path.
Such is the story of senior Sarrah Bates, who had her first brush with Southeast Asian culture just prior to embarking on her Ohio University career.
It was during this time that she became acquainted with a family from Indonesia. Stories of their lives in Southeast Asia opened her eyes to a new world of culture and traditions and eventually led Bates to a major in Global Studies.
Today Bates is fueling her newfound passion through a fully-funded trip to Surabaya, Indonesia, thanks to funding from the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. Here, she will be blogging about her experiences at www.indotraveler.net and shooting a documentary film on Indonesian culture.
“My main goals in doing this are to promote study abroad, my life as a student in Indonesia, funding opportunities and facts about Indonesia,” Bates said. “I find that there are many people in the U.S. who do not know much about this country.”
The Gilman Scholarship Program encourages students to travel to non-traditional study abroad destinations, such as Indonesia, and supports a diverse range of students from public and private institutions who have traditionally been under-represented in study abroad.
Besides Bates, Ohio University students Kevin Vernon and Madeleine Elaban are also studying abroad as Gilman International Scholarship recipients. Vernon is studying in Cuenca, Ecuador, while Elaban is studying in Salzburg, Austria.
According to Bates, the Gilman application process took planning, goal setting, diligence and ample time. But the experience has been well worth the effort.
“It helps you grow as a person, challenges the way you think about the world and will benefit you the rest of your life,” she said. “Not everyone lives their life like we do in the United States. It makes you really think about the culture you grew up in and think about your own cultural experience.”
Before she departed, Bates completed her second year of Indonesian, a course on Islam and several other globally-focused courses in order to prepare herself for the experience. But she argues that nothing fosters true understanding as well as first-hand experiences.
"Many aspects of this culture are very new and different compared to the U.S.," Bates said. “There are simple cultural norms, such as turning over your silverware to indicate one is finished with their meal. However, there are more serious norms such as not using one’s left hand because it is very offensive."
Bates is participating in Petra Christian University's Spectrum Program – an intense Indonesian language program. She has been studying at the university since February and plans to return to the U.S. in June.
It is her hope that her documentary film and blog will help to bridge the gap between the U.S. and Indonesian cultures. According to Laura Schaeffer, director of outreach and coordinator of undergraduate studies at the Center for International Studies, Bates is well on her way.
“She has a strong commitment to learning about Indonesian language and culture, is a serious student and dynamic individual,” said Schaeffer, who serves as Bates’ academic adviser.
Initially, planning for a study abroad trip to this non-traditional location was difficult, said Bates. But the services offered by the University’s Office of Education Abroad helped Bates navigate through the process.
“There are a lot of OHIO-sponsored and direct credit programs,” she said. “If you plan ahead and set your expectations, the Education Abroad Office should be very helpful.”
For more information on education abroad opportunities, visit the Office of Education Abroad at their new location in the Walter Educational Center, 15 Park Place (next to Baker Center). Walk-in advising hours are Monday through Friday from 1-4 p.m.