by Mackenzie Jager
Demelza Ramirez was Taylor University’s first participant in the new study abroad program at York St. John University (YSJ) in York, England. The program will fit with many majors, and Demelza believes a semester in England is the perfect place for students who want to study abroad but are a little hesitant to do so. The country and culture of England are similar enough to America that you don’t feel completely overwhelmed, Demelza explained, and the experience acts as a good transition into learning and experiencing other cultures.
Students take three classes at YSJ. Two count toward the writing seminars required in the PWR program, and the third can count as a general education credit or simply be a subject you are interested in.
“It was surprising to me how uneasy I was about switching between American and British academic classrooms,” Demelza said. The way students interact with professors, how classes are taught, and the informality of most classrooms were difficult for her to accept. Adjusting to the style of discussion and critique may have been the most difficult, however. She explained that “as a pro writer we do things on content, grammar, we do everything [with the mindset] of you are going to publish this, but in the creative writing sense at York St. John, it was how are you critiquing this to make it more philosophical, to make it more literary. . . .”
Outside the classroom, Demelza enjoyed making friends, traveling, writing and drinking tea in a famous cafe called Betty’s Tea Shop, and worshipping in York Minister Cathedral. To other students who hope to study in York, Demelza suggests planning your time – weekends and spring break especially – to allow for extensive travel. Demelza recommended the cities of Whitby, Scarborough, and Edinburgh to other students hoping to study at YSJ, and expressed one of her only regrets from the semester was “not getting off the mainland.” She encourages other Taylor students to explore more widely and take a trip to France or Germany at least once.
Although Demelza loved the traveling she was able to do, her favorite memories and life lessons taken from her experience at YSJ revolve around friends. She became close with students from Germany, Norway, Sweden, Scandinavia, representing a broad range of religions, cultures, and ways of thinking. Interacting with Christians from other cultures, nonbelievers, Muslims, and atheists from countries around the world, she was challenged to explore her own beliefs and the way she perceived and respected other faiths and cultures.
“It’s easy to sit in a classroom [and be taught about Islam], but then to meet a Muslim and be friends with people who practice the religion” is entirely different, according to Demelza. She said it was “humbling to have to be quiet and listen to other people” and try to come to understand the how’s and why’s behind their beliefs and thought processes. Even the Christians from countries America normally considers “Western” have different ways of “seeing God and the Bible,” Demelza explained.
Further, everyone has “a perception of what an American is: Christian, rude, entitled – king of the world. It was good to learn about other people’s opinions of America and why they may think those things. I’d like to think I might have debunked some of those stereotypes. I try hard not to come off as snobbish or judgmental. I know there were probably a couple times I failed, but even if [my friends and I] didn’t always have deep theological discussions I hope they at last saw my faith through how I acted.”