By Melissa Spellman
New Journal and Guide
Norfolk State University’s Office of Global Learning and International Programs recently signed a partnership agreement with London Metropolitan University in England and the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, now offering study abroad programs in forty countries.
Director of Global Learning, Dr. Torian Lee says 80 Spartans have traveled abroad in the last two academic semesters. His office aspires to triple that number and with the influx of 1500 freshman this fall it is achievable. Student ambassadors share what it’s like to study aboard and help prepare students for their own study abroad experiences.
Dr. Lee is a 3-time Fulbright Scholarship recipient, with awards to Germany (2005), United Kingdom (2013), and India (2015). He understands the impact and transformation studying abroad offers students. As for the Spartans of Norfolk State, the time is now and the study abroad opportunities are growing.
My study abroad journey began with applying to the NSU Faculty-Led London Study Abroad Program in Creative Writing and Literature. I was accepted into the program alongside 14 other student applicants. This experience was meant to expose students to different cultures, urge students to think about the world from a global perspective, and build personal and professional international connections. It was the dedication of Dr. Lee that laid the groundwork that could potentially change the lives of 15 literary students. Through Dr. Lee’s grant writing efforts, strategic planning, and partnership with London Met the study abroad program was launched.
London Met’s liaison Ella Deadman and Dr. Lee were tasked with ensuring that students were knowledgeable of the cultural sensitivities and responsibilities of becoming study abroad Student Ambassadors. Students were required to attend several meetings to prepare them for the cultural adjustment to London.
In preparation for the journey, students were encouraged to conduct research about England such as the country’s cultural norms, currency, current events, social issues, and latest in British politics. And, on Friday, May 5, 2023 15 Spartans left Norfolk, VA landing 9 hours later on Saturday, May 6, 2023 in London, England.
Dr. Jennifer Malia, a member of the NSU English Department Faculty, led the London trip. Each of the study abroad students completed a Spring course with Dr. Malia in Young Adult Literature or Romantic Writers. As a means of capturing the students’ candid thoughts for each excursion, Dr. Malia prompted students to document their experience through journals, poetry, and photography. Time was designated each day during the trip for this purpose, which proved to be invaluable, according to student participants.
London’s energy was electric as the citizens and visitors flocked to the streets in celebration of King Charles III’s Coronation! Jet lagged and in dire need of sleep several students ventured out to Hyde Park and Covent Garden to watch the Coronation on the massive screen from the street. Others went to a local pub near the hotel and watched the Coronation on TV.
The first days consisted of exploring the London Markets, touring the Natural History Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, and Science Museum. London Met provided a student orientation, a tour of the university, and a welcome lunch. Students visited London Met’s Aldgate Campus where they met professor, author, and activist Sunni Singh. She discussed the history of printing, writing for the masses, and what it means to disrupt. Professor Singh’s overall message to students was that people will resist physically, culturally, and socially and to use writing as a form of activism.
One of the most fascinating experiences was the Black history walking tour with author and educator Tony Warner. This outing proved to be the biggest highlight of the students’ study abroad experience. Students learned about the racism and police violence experienced by British Black citizens. Like Black American History, British Black history is a history that is also hidden and whitewashed. Students were shocked to learn about the “sus laws” where a citizen could be detained and jailed on the suspicion that they might commit a crime. Mr. Warner guided students around important Black historical landmarks and explained their significance in fighting for equality both in the UK and America.
Students also enjoyed a night at the theater to see a live performance of Wicked. The trip concluded with an Uber-Boat ride and a hop on hop off bus tour where students saw Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, The Tower of London, Big Ben, The Royal Observatory, and many other attractions.
In the last days students gathered at London Met to share their writings written during their trip. Each student shared either a journal entry, poem, or personal statement. This moment was emotional and brought the students closer together. One of the most moving shares was by Claudia Williams. Overwhelmed by the group’s powerful words and with tears in her eyes Williams recalled how she felt when she received the news that she was accepted into the London study abroad program, “I feel blessed to be chosen as one of the fifteen. I couldn’t have hoped for a better group of people to share this experience with.”
Whether it was navigating the Tube or the long walks to each destination. London kept the students on their toes. There were so many cultures in one city, in one block, in one marketplace. You could find Greek, Malaysian, Indian, or Thai cuisine just a food stand apart.
I asked NSU junior Alicia Ross what advice she would give the next group of study abroad students? She said, “Always stay prepared because you never know what will happen and have fun.”
Students learned about additional opportunities to study abroad at London Met. A life in London is now a real possibility for many of the students. This exposure showed us that the world is so much bigger than we imagined and that we too can become citizens of the world.
Mother’s Day Sunday, May 14, 2023, at 6 a.m. was the end of the line. Students took the 15-minute walk to the tube and the 45-minute ride to Heathrow Airport. After an 8-hour flight, a 5-hour layover in Philadelphia, and 1 hour flight to Norfolk at 7:36 p.m. we arrived home.
These 15 NSU Study Abroad Ambassadors leave these words for future study abroad students, “Take advantage of every opportunity to broaden your world view. Don’t block the door and mind the gap.”