Schmidt Scholar Experience

When I started my Spring 2019 semester, I had no idea what it would have in store for me. I took a lot of my experience from my Journeys trip and what I observed when I was a first-year. Although I found that tactic helpful, I also felt a bit cornered by it, because being a Schmidt Scholar is truly a unique experience. Over the course of the trip, I learned a lot about myself and how I lead, which is one of the most beneficial parts of the experience, which actually hadn’t been my intention going into the trip.

            During the trip, I observed a lot of leadership—both from leader and co-leader, students, and people we met along the way. Even though we met with a lot of experts while on the trip, people who know what life was like during the Troubles because they were there, showed me that being a leader is truly sharing information, wanting others to have the knowledge you do because they want you to be the best you can be. That was something I hadn’t seen a lot of here at home; the playing field of knowledge was leveled. We weren’t treated like we didn’t know anything, and we were always treated with respect while our guides or panels were explaining their experiences. We knew quite a bit of information before the trip, but there truly was nothing like the sharing of knowledge between us and those we met. This also showed leadership from the students because they spoke up and asked questions, they often wrote poetry on the bus and read it aloud, and they worked to better their knowledge so they could be the best versions of themselves and not let themselves down, which was truly great to see.

            On one of the first days of the trip, we had some free time, so some of the students wanted me to take them to a local college bookstore and go to the Ulster Museum. We got to both locations fine, but took a little too much time in the museum’s gift shop and had to hurry back. I thought there was a quicker route to the hotel, where we were getting on the bus to go to a scheduled event. . . but I was wrong. It actually was taking us a lot longer to get back, and it had started pouring the rain. I felt terrible—I was sad I got us lost, that I made us late, and feared that the students would resent me for not only getting them lost but also drenched. One of the students with us had a physical disability, which made me feel even worse. But I kept going and the students leant me a phone to call our co-leader, who assured me that it was fine we were late and to just be safe. When we got near our hotel, one of the students hugged me and told me that they weren’t mad. It would be a great story to tell. I was so impressed that a student could feel that I was anxious about how they were going to perceive me after that journey through the rain, that she extended comfort and assurance. That was a fantastic leadership skill to witness.

            Our Journeys leaders demonstrated leadership skills that really kept the group going during the week. I think one of the best things they did was encourage us to go out during our spare time, but not force us. Our leaders truly cared about our well-being and offered support when students needed it. Oftentimes, I think students think that the only leadership skills are those that promote authority, but, in this case, it was definitely shown that the genuine care for one another and the safety and comfort (to some extent—Journeys is all about getting out of your comfort zone) is a vital element to leadership. To be a leader, it’s important to have compassion and empathy, which was really what our whole trip was about, because we spent our time on the ground of Northern Ireland studying the reconciliation process of the government and the people. The care our leaders took to make sure everyone was doing well during the trip was extremely helpful, and it allowed me the opportunity to also check-in on students. This is what ultimately helped me develop relationships with the students—some of whom I now consider good friends.

            Another key leadership skill that I believe to be vital is listening. To understand someone or their situation, it’s imperative for the other party to listen to the people talking, the people telling you about their lives or their struggles or successes. Most of our group did wonderful with this, but a couple students didn’t. Some students would even go so far as to shout over tour guides. This was a moment that helped me understand that part of being a leader is letting go, because some things (like the behavior of others) can’t be helped. You can talk to people all you want and get them to understand, but sometimes people don’t want to listen, and you really need to pick your own battles. But I think for the students that did listen to the tour guides and people we encountered were glad they did because it’s inspired their post-trip research projects. As a Schmidt Scholar, I found that listening to the students and leaders was one of the most vital parts of my role. For example, while going through the Bloody Sunday Museum, I often asked students if they were doing okay and if they needed anything. This proved to be an effective form of leadership, because the students felt comfortable coming to my room at night to hang out and decompress form the day, which although was overwhelming at times, was really nice because it helped us form a bond that withstood more than just our time abroad. It also allowed me to get to know the students better than I had in our one-on-one meetings prior to the trip when everything was a little stiff.

Mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK that identifies leaders in the Troubles.
Mural in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK that identifies leaders and activists in the Troubles.
Photo by Samira Shahbandy

            Our liberal arts education really benefited us on this trip. From my perspective, it was nice because it allowed us all to intertwine more easily. It’s easy for students to talk, but I think our liberal arts education allowed us to talk with one another about literature, sciences, etc. Our critical thinking skills that we’ve received as a result of our liberal arts education helped us to better interact with the people we encountered on our Journeys trip. In the times I’ve gone abroad to Northern Ireland, the people are so impressed with how much knowledge we know and how deeply we can engage with the conversations they’re having abroad whether they were on the Troubles, Brexit, the U.S. political climate, abuse—it made our conversations and reflections much easier and more thorough than if we were all just simply STEM majors who only studied STEM, for example. Our liberal arts education gave us a larger, more in-depth world view than if we were simply knowledgeable in one area of academia.

            The Journeys course and global immersion experience helped me, personally, with my studies that I’ve previously been exposed to at Agnes Scott. Since I took my Journeys course in 2017, I have continued to study the Troubles in Northern Ireland, including taking multiple classes about Ireland and a directed reading course where I could further my studies. From all I’d learned over the past few years, this class really helped me gain more perspective. I enjoyed listening to the students’ ideas and conclusions about what we were studying. Much of the reading for the course I’d done before in either my courses or on my own. The new perspectives given to me by the students were great in helping further my studies. It was also extremely helpful to be on the ground in Northern Ireland to do even more research. Right before the trip, I’d been so inspired by our Journeys course, that I decided that I wanted to do my senior seminar on the topic of the Troubles and reconciliation, which is a fairly big step in my academic career. Being abroad really helped me solidify sources and gain access to so much more material than I had prior to this semester. In addition to that, I now know students who know some of the information, and we can bounce ideas off of one another. This course previously and now has helped me in political violence classes and political science courses, which I found to be extremely helpful. In a semester, including our time abroad, we learn so much that we can apply anything form the trip to something in another class. Women’s studies? You can study women’s rights before, during, and after the conflict. American literature? You can study the emigration of Irish people to the United States, like our very own Agnes Irvine Scott did. There is so much from this course than can be applied to other courses at Agnes Scott and can better help students understand the material in other classes, such as trade or economic or political issues.

“2018-06-02_GiantsCauseway” by Ungry Young Man is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

            My experience as a Schmidt Scholar was an unforgettable experience. I had some clashes with a couple students, but for the most part, I enjoyed working with the students and made great friends. I learned that leadership is more than just one person and one set skill. It takes a lot of work and a lot more patience than anything else. It’s made me have so much more respect for my faculty and staff at Agnes Scott and elsewhere, because they go through so much in order to keep the class going. It’s truly so incredible. I’ve had the opportunity to not only see myself grow, but see my students develop into critical thinkers. I went into this experience with the mindset that I had a certain job to do, but I learned that taking a step back and enjoying the experience and befriending students gets you a long way in leadership at this school and in life. In previous reflections, I’d thought that if I could go back and have this experience again, I wouldn’t do it. However, after writing this reflection, I think I still would try and do this experience, because it’s unlike any other that Agnes Scott has to offer. It really allows you to develop important leadership skills and become a better student, which I’m going to be forever grateful for.

Context Statement

This page is about my experience as a Schmidt Scholar that helped me develop a love for teaching. Positions and experiences aren’t always what you’l think they’ll be, and this time as a Schmidt Scholar truly showed me that. The images in the photo aren’t my own, but adding them to the piece helped me to learn how to use copyright rules and how to properly cite images.