Baker student finds semester of studying abroad provides perspective

Tosh Mihesuah, a Baker University junior and Baldwin High School graduate, returned recently for four months of study in New Zealand, an experience he said the allowed him to learn much about himself. Baker's policy of allowing students to applying all their financial aid for one semester toward studying abroad encourages the practice. Enlarge photo

December 16, 2014

Tosh Mihesuah didn’t take a challenging academic load during his recent semester in New Zealand but still found his four months studying abroad an educational experience.

“I learned so much about myself,” he said. “It’s a great learning experience about who you want to be. I learned more from living there than from my classes.”

The Baker junior returned to Kansas late last month after four months of study at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. The city is on the west coast of South Island, the southernmost of the country’s two largest islands.

The insight he gained from the experience was a greater appreciation of what is available to him in Baldwin City and Baker, Mihesuah said. He was also enriched from the friendships he developed with people of New Zealand and the fellow American and European students with whom he lived, he said.

He got the idea of spending a semester in New Zealand from another former Baldwin High School student, Sam Beecher, who studied in the country during his Baker undergraduate days, Mihesuah said.

“I didn’t even think about New Zealand until he went there,” he said. “He had a whole new perspective when he returned. I always wanted to study abroad. Most Baker students go to Harlaxton (College) in England, but I wanted to do something more outdoorsy.”

He got that, in part because he was unable to enroll in upper level classes when Otago wouldn’t accept the prerequisites he completed at Baker. He took an introduction to sociology, a scientific history class “that was interesting” and a course on the native Maori people of New Zealand.

“It was kind of nice since I didn’t take hard classes, I was able to explore and meet new people,” he said. “Everything was so close, and it’s real easy to rent a car or get in a car pool.”

His travel often involved the American and European students with whom he lived in a chilly Victorian house during the New Zealand winter. Many of those fellow exchange students were more attuned the outdoor possibilities of New Zealand than he and came ready to take advantage of the ocean and nearby mountains with paracords and pick axes hanging from their backpacks, Mihesuah said.

Together he and his new friends went on trips of discovery, sometimes camping in the huts equipped with firewood and stoves available in New Zealand’s national parks. A highlight was a trip he and friends made to largely uninhabited Stewart Island, of which 80 percent is a national park, Mihesuah said.

Helping him secure his student visa and prepare the needed paperwork for his New Zealand semester was Martha Harris. It’s a task Baker’s acting dean of the college of arts and science has shouldered for the past 12 years but will be handing off with the start of the second semester.

The priority Baker gives to studying abroad is reflected in the school’s policy, Harris said.

“At Baker, we do allow our students to use all their financial aid for one semester for studying abroad,” she said. “That reflects the value this institution puts on the experience, but also the value those students bring back to the university from their experiences abroad.”

Australia and New Zealand are behind only Great Britain as the most popular study abroad destinations, Harris said. Great Britain is first because of Baker’s 25-year association with Harlaxton College, or the British Campus of the University of Evansville.

“Next semester, the number of Baker students who have attended Harlaxton will go over 500,” Harris said. “The largest number we have had in one semester is 23. I would say our average the last five years is 15 per year.”

Housed in a 100-room Victorian manor in Grantham, England, Harlaxton is not a degree-granting college, but a study abroad opportunity for about 165 students per semester. Although enrollment is limited to American students, the faculty is British, Harris said.

Students have about 30 classes to choose from but are required to take a six-hour survey course on British history, culture and society, Harris said. To give students a further immersion in English culture, they are paired with local families through a Meet-a-Family program.

“They become very close friends with those families,” she said. “Three times, we’ve had English families come for weddings of their Baker kids.”

Baker provides its own two-week orientation for students before they leave for Harlaxton, Harris said. And because it is a branch of Evansville, an accredited American university, there is no questions their course credits will count toward their Baker degrees.

It takes a bit more work to assure that will be the case for students who like Tosh are headed to other schools abroad, Harris said. In those cases, preparation is needed to ensure the students stay on course toward their degrees.

His months abroad came at the right time because he was in something of a funk before leaving for New Zealand, questioning whether he should continue majoring in biology, Mihesuah said. He didn’t find all the answers abroad, but he did return with a renewed interest in his major.

“I’ll be talking with my advisor,” he said. “I’m kind of leaning to hydrology or physical therapy. Regardless of what I choose, I have work to do, which is fine.”

Another benefit of the experience was a new network of friends that stretches from California to Europe, Mihesuah said. He is already considering what kind of study abroad opportunities could be available for him as a graduate student, which would allow him to reconnect with his new friends in Europe.

As for younger students, Mihesuah encouraged all undergraduates to look into overseas studies.

“I think everybody should to it,” he said. “I think it should be required.”

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