Don’t Flunk Calc & How Study Abroad Impacted My Career Choice


Each time I go abroad I attempt to mentally prepare myself for the shift in worldview, the broadening perspective and the inevitable culture shock. One of the things I did not anticipate on a recent trip was a complete shift in my personal trajectory and goals.

For me, this transformation came during a 2014 spring break faculty led study abroad in Northern Ireland. The education abroad experienced centered around an Anthropology course on human rights, law, justice, and culture in post-conflict societies. My classmates and I had candid conversations with former political prisoners, hunger strikers, activists, nonprofit groups, loved ones of victims, and considered the lasting effects the past has on communities today. As I immersed myself in the intense course topics and larger conversations about human kind, I had a lingering thought in the back of my mind- my math homework.

The Murals of Derry
The Murals of Derry: One of many murals in Derry painted by the Bogside Muralists that solidifed the significance of seeking cross-cultural understanding in my life. This mural intends to promote positive symbolic art in a collaborative effort to display hope for a peaceful future. The colors represent all shades of political, religious, and national opinions. The dove is a globally recognized peace symbol that also flows into an oak leaf in one continuous, unifying line. The oak leaf is indicative of the presence of oak trees in Derry which are symbolically neutral. The squares are meant to show equality in sides and strength. The design itself was developed from Protestant school children, though the mural is in a Catholic neighborhood, speaking to hopes and goals of a cooperative future being taught to youth.

As an Anthropology and Statistics double major, I was splitting my time between the highly quantitative and the highly qualitative. Don’t get me wrong – I appreciate math and see it everywhere. It can even be comforting to find clear solutions to explicit questions from friendly numbers. But during this study abroad experience in Northern Ireland, it suddenly become clear to me where my true passion fell. I learned to let go of the anxiety of homework piling, and experience the struggle of humanity right before my eyes. Over an Ulster Fry breakfast on our last morning in Belfast, I decided to drop my Statistics major entirely and embrace the opportunity in front of me. Upon returning to the US, I spent my senior year taking more Anthropology courses than I previously had time for. This also freed up time to pursue opportunities in the International Education field and event planning, something that has been more fulfilling than I ever imagined.

My message is not to convince everyone to purposely fail their calculus exams, skip out on complicated homework assignments, or to not appreciate those in other fields, but to recognize the personal awakening possible when you get outside your comfort zone. Study abroad experiences provide the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new place, with new people, and new priorities. Embrace what you find and continue to seek more. For me, I left my route to becoming a statistician behind, confident that exploring a career in international education would lead to even more moments of personal growth and opportunity.


About the Author:  Ellie Koewler will complete her B.A. in Anthropology this May from Ohio University. During her time at Ohio University, she went on three education abroad experiences –  to Mexico, Northern Ireland, and Costa Rica. In addition, she worked for International Student and Faculty Services for the past 3 years, focusing on international programming and events. Ellie hopes to begin her career in international education upon graduation.