Studying Abroad in Cuenca, Ecuador

by Mikyla Denny

Mikyla, El Cajas National Park

Studying abroad has always been a dream of mine, and finally this semester it came true. I am currently studying abroad in Cuenca, Ecuador. Cuenca is located in the Andes Mountains. It stays around 60-70 degrees daily. I live with a widow and three university students who are native Ecuadorians. Every four weeks I have a different set of classes, and currently I am in a grammar and a conversation class with another student whom I knew previously from Minnesota State University, Mankato. In total there are three of us from MNSU. There is plenty of time in my day to explore, do my homework, and relax in the afternoons. Though there are not that many students at the school that I go to, I have made new friends with students from different countries.

Mikyla, El Chorro Giron  Mikyla, Isabella Island of the Galapagos, Volcano Chico

Almost every weekend we go on a trip that is organized through the school. So far we have trekked through El Cajas National Park (which is located in the Andes), visited an ancient Incan ruin called Ingapirca, and climbed up to El Chorro de Girón which is a waterfall. They were all extremely beautiful. Of course I took many pictures, but photos do not do the landscapes justice. The school also has weekly activities for us, such as movie nights on Tuesdays, dance classes on Wednesdays, and once and awhile cooking classes or vocabulary game nights on Thursdays. We also go to a different museum every Wednesday after class.

Mikyla, Ingapirca (Incan Ruin)

During the weekend of Carnival I had the opportunity to go to the Galapagos with a friend. It was an incredible experience. On the first island we stayed at, Isabela, we hiked a volcano and went snorkeling. Several times while snorkeling I was in arms length of a sea turtle. I couldn’t believe it! The beaches there were gorgeous. On the second island we stayed at, Santa Cruz, we went to a national park where we saw many land tortoises. We also visited the Charles Darwin station where we saw different species of tortoises and some land iguanas. We also swam at beautiful beaches. On both islands we saw amazing wildlife, such as flamingos, penguins, finches, water birds, blue-footed boobies, seals, sea lions, tortoises, sea turtles, and iguanas (land and marine). It was an unbelievable experience.

Mikyla, Santa Cruz Island of the Galapagos  Mikyla Isabela Island of the Galapagos

I am extremely interested in languages and the marginalization of languages and cultures. Soon I will be starting my own anthropological research on the perceptions that the non-indigenous community have about the indigenous language and culture. From this research I hope to identify where these perceptions and biases come from. Besides my advisor, I have been collaborating with one of the Anthropology professors from the University of Cuenca.

While I am enjoying my time in Cuenca and have had some amazing experiences, it was hard for me at the beginning. I had never traveled alone for so long before. During my first week I got really homesick. I kept thinking that three months was a long time. I found that talking to my family at night helped. Also, now that I am busier with school, it is easier to pass the time. However, I still haven’t quite gotten accustomed to eating rice every day even though I loved eating it back home. Despite these few obstacles, I am enjoying my time in Cuenca immeasurably. Time is going fast, and I know I will be sad when it is time to leave and say goodbye to my host family.


Studying Abroad in Chia, Columbia

by Alexis Cummings

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Studying abroad in Chia, Colombia has been a blessing of a lifetime. Prior to Colombia, I studied three semesters of Spanish at Minnesota State University, Mankato. I am currently enrolled in a Spanish course that consists of three hours per day five days a week at Universidad de la Sabana, where I study grammar and communication. I also take Latin dance lessons and go on weekly cultural outings. This way, I am able to learn more about important cultural dances and touristic sites around the capital of Colombia, Bogotá. This opportunity has been a great experience so far because I have made friends from all over the world and each day I work to improve my Spanish.

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While abroad I have many activities planned. Because dance is such an important part of this culture, I am trying to learn traditional dances like salsa and bachata. I also plan to travel to other cities within Colombia. I would like to travel to Medellin, Santa Marta, and Cartagena because these are some of the most important cities within the country. Because I live close to the capital of Colombia, Bogotá, I also plan to visit important monuments and museums within the city. I am looking forward to sharing this beautiful country, my current home, with my friends and family who are coming to visit in April.

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Along with studying abroad come things that are sometimes challenging. I currently live with a family who has three sons and one daughter. Although it is an easy challenge, coming from a family with only two children, the house has a lot more energy than I am used to. I also have to be more concerned about my safety because I am living in the suburb of the capital city that has a population of eight million people. With this amount of people in one city also come traffic problems. Although the distance from my house to the capital is not far, it is important for me and my family to plan our timing to and from the city because of busy public transportation, unsuitable roads, and something called “Pico Placa.” Pico Placa is a law within the capital city that only allows certain cars to drive at certain hours of the day. This is supposed to help control the traffic around what we would consider rush hour by rotating odd and even number license plates each day so only half the cars can drive from 3 – 7 pm in the city. For the people of Bogotá, this law is am important part of their lives.

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After having been here for one month and two weeks, I have had many wonderful cultural experiences with the people of Colombia. I look forward to learning more about this beautiful language and country I get to call home. After having always dreamed of studying abroad, I am so happy to have this opportunity. I know that this will not be my last time in this country because Colombia will always have a piece of my heart.

Regards from Colombia,

Alexis Cummings

The Gilman International Scholarship

by Sarah Aldrich, ’18 (Spanish Education; Jordan Min.)
For anyone with a desire to travel abroad, here is a great way to get started!


For many students, studying abroad is a dream not easily realized.  Through a Gilman International Scholarship, 19,000 undergraduate students have traveled to over 140 different countries from more than 1,100 United States institutions.  Awards are given both for study abroad and internship programs.  Elizabeth Lohrenz, a Gilman Alumni Ambassador from the Kearney International Center on campus, spoke to students about this study abroad award and the importance of travelling outside of the United States.

Lohrenz, who spent her time as an undergraduate at Minnesota State University, Mankato, talked about her personal experience studying abroad through this award.  She traveled to Russia with a four week program, where she studied Russian in multiple cities and helped build an exchange program between Minnesota State University, Mankato and the university she studied at in Russia.  This experience led her to another opportunity abroad, when she interned in Frankfurt, Germany a year later.  In her talk, she emphasized how traveling can help build connections across the world.

Students interested in the Gilman Scholarship should first consider if they are eligible.  Students must be a US citizen at the time of being awarded, an undergraduate receiving a Federal Pell Grant, and be planning to take academic credits while overseas.  Students who are ethnically diverse, first generation college students, attending community or minority-serving colleges, from underrepresented fields of study, or have high financial needs will be considered for the award.  Before applying, however, considering where to study is very important.  Underrepresented countries and regions, such as those outside of Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand are more likely to be awarded.

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About one-third of applicants are rewarded scholarships up to 5,000 dollars.  For students who choose to study a critical need language, scholarships reach close to 8,000 dollars.  Because of the generous nature of these awards, they are very competitive.  Speaking with advisors—like Elizabeth Lohrenz or Ginny Walters—is a great way to get started.  For Summer and Fall 2016 travels, students should submit their applications by the first of March, 2016.

Traveling abroad while in college is an opportunity which everyone should consider, since possibilities stretch beyond just studying: there are ways to intern, student teach, research, volunteer and do field work.  Going abroad provides cross cultural experiences and perspectives that staying at one university cannot provide!  Doing so looks great on job applications.  To find opportunities abroad and build connections around the world, visit  To hear about other scholarships and fellowships, stay connected with the Undergraduate Research and Fellowships office.


Meet Our Newest Member

Leslie Kane is our new Graduate Assistant in the Honors Program. Please read her introduction below.


For those of you I haven’t met yet, my name is Leslie Kane and I am the new Graduate Assistant in the Honors Program. I am beyond excited to be teaching HONR 401 in the fall and hope to see some of you in my class!

A little bit about me: I am from Lemont, IL, a south-west suburb of Chicago. I completed my undergraduate degree at Augustana College, a small, liberal arts college in Illinois where I studied Psychology and Theatre Arts. While there I studied abroad in Rome, had multiple internships and was involved in many activities, including symphonic band (Go flutes!), campus ministry, theatre, and martini swingers, the social ballroom dance group on campus. Currently I am taking classes in the Counseling and Student Personnel department and am pursuing my masters in mental health counseling. Once I graduate, I hope to pursue licensure and work in a college or university counseling center. When I’m not at my desk in the honors office, I can be found studying in coffee shops, attending play performances, and swing dancing. I am a true geek at heart and love chess and anything Harry Potter related. My birthday just happens to be on Valentine’s Day, which is only one of the greatest holidays in the world. If you disagree, I’m positive I’ll change your mind by the time the loveliest day of the year comes around.

Truly, though, I am so excited to be working with such talented and bright students. Coming from a liberal arts college, I really admire the work that it takes to become a well-rounded individual. Learning how to become a global citizen, doing research and gaining leadership experience will set you apart from the rest. The honors program is setting individuals up for success after college and I am so glad to be a part of the process. Thank you for welcoming me to your honors family. I look forward to getting to know all of you, and I can’t wait to see what the next semester has in store.

See you Later – Reflection: the Fourth Honors Competency

A heartfelt farewell from Ashley Kanak, our Graduate Assistant, as she moves to Georgia.  


As I look forward with excitement about beginning a new chapter of my life, I realize that I would not be heading in the direction I am without every person and every experience I had in Minnesota and the Honors Program. No matter how short or long of an interaction I had with students, faculty, and staff each person was part of my journey. I have collected many new stories, experienced adventures, and watched as characters developed and blossomed.

I took a unique path on my journey to Minnesota which all began in New Hampshire. Here I worked at Camp Robindel, a seven week long camp for girls which changed my life. I was able to meet new people from all over the world, many of which I still talk to thanks to technology and Skype. I developed my leadership and facilitation skills working with children and further developed my passion for teaching. After camp I returned to Georgia wondering where my life was going to take me next. I believe it was in October that Jolly, the camp assistant director, called me and asked if I wanted to go to graduate school and work in a place that would foster my leadership development. Of course I said yes even knowing this place was in Minnesota and I started to believe I would freeze solid upon arrival. After interviewing for the Graduate Assistant position for the Honors Program and receiving an acceptance letter from the Educational Leadership Program at the university, I began the mental preparations for a drastic climate change. I arrived in Minnesota in January on a day with -45 wind-chill, which on the bright side, I do not believe it has been that cold since then!

When classes began so did my work in the Honors Program. There was so much to learn about competencies, course requirements, and language development – oh my! Fortunately there are some highly motivated faculty and staff working in the office who care greatly about the future of the program and the individuals who will have an impact. Dr. Chris Corley is an inspirational educator and mentor who wants everyone to succeed and receive the best educational experience possible. Watching him teach the Developing Your Mentor Philosophy course impacted me to the point that I draw some of my educational philosophy from his methods. Ginny Walters is an innovative mentor, leader, and advisor to myself and the students she interacts with. She uses creative educational methods that are focused on student needs and finds inspiration in their success. Sadie Anderson is a multitasking professional wonder woman. Her drive to develop her own leadership skills through involvement in community organizations is something I admire. Dr. Anne Dahlman is a wonderful educator who looks to foster innovative practices in order to create positive educational experiences for students. The students I have interacted with make me want to be a better learner. Everyone is so highly motivated, passionate about their fields, and constantly looking for new ways to experience life. All of these people helped me to develop my passion for peer mentorship and allowed me to put into practice many ideas and concepts over the past two years.

I know that I will see all of you again. The faculty and staff are publishing in journals, presenting at conferences, and I believe will make the headlines one day about new educational practices. I know that all of the students will have an impact on the world in their own ways. It might be publishing in journals, developing new research models, leading corporations, or saving lives but each will positively impact the world on a global scale. I encourage the students to be lifelong learners, to experience as much as possible, and to always remember the importance of reflection.

The Honors Program at MNSU changed my life for the better and I will always value this experience as the one that shaped me into the leader I am today.

Summer at Robindel

by Jaci Ullrich, ’18 (Biology; Clear Lake, IA)


As someone who hasn’t had much of a chance to travel and explore new places, it was quite a big step for me to hop a plane for the first time and travel to New Hampshire to work as a counselor at an all-girls camp for 9 weeks this last summer. I was immersed in a new environment and surrounded by people from all over the world all the while training for a job that I have never done before. It was definitely overwhelming, but I was so busy having fun and learning new things that the adjustment was rather easy.

Within the first two weeks at Camp Robindel I was trained as a ropes and archery staff member, instructed on how to manage and interact with the campers, and assigned a group of girls that I would be living with for the next seven weeks. During this time, I was spending every minute of every day surrounded by the other staff members. Even though it was exhausting, the sense of community that we formed and the way we worked together with the campers were some of the best learning experiences that I have ever had.

While working at Robindel there were two main groups of staff members that I interacted with daily: the co-counselors that I shared a cabin with and the members of the ropes and archery staff that I was a part of. While working with these people I practiced valuable skills such as patience, adaptability, trust, and selflessness. As I learned to work well with my co-counselors, I found that using these traits brought out the best results in our ability to work as a team. Although these skills were crucial for me to really work well with the other staff at Robindel, it was also important to use these traits when working with the campers.

As a camp counselor, it was my job to act as a mentor toward the campers. Especially as part of the ropes staff, it was important for me to be positive and encouraging in order to help the girls push themselves and try new things outside of their comfort zone. It was amazing to see the growth in the campers throughout the course of the summer and to know that I was a part of that progress.

By the time summer came to a close I had developed valuable skills that I can apply to myself now and in the future, and I had built unforgettable relationships that will last a lifetime. I believe that this experience has helped me to become a more well-rounded student, friend, and mentor. Often times being a counselor was stressful and exhausting, but in the end I have realized that it was probably the best learning experience that I have ever had.

NCHC Chicago 2015

November 12-15, six of us traveled to Chicago for the 2015 National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) Conference. We had a wonderful experience learning and would like to share with you our favorite aspects of the conference.

NCHCAshley Kanak, Lexi Turgeon, Dr. Anne Dahlman, Rachael Igo, Tyler Keller, Katelynn Malecha

Ashley Kanak

Student lead presentations and roundtables at NCHC are a way to measure and assess what students want from their honors education. There are many great ideas from university honors programs and colleges from courses to peer mentorship which elicits lively conversations about what works best at their institution. Making connections, learning about best practices, and discovering new techniques for honors education is what the conference is about. What I find to be the most evident is that many programs discuss the value of leadership development, research presentations, and opportunities for community and cultural engagement. This brings a sense of great pride knowing that these values are deeply-rooted into our honors program at MNSU. I believe that in sending students to learn about new ideas our honors program understands that there is always room for growth when it comes to honors education.

Lexi Turgeon

Attending the National Collegiate Honors Conference was a wonderful learning experience! I was able to attend a number of sessions put on by different Honors Programs from around the country. One of the main things I took away from these sessions is that our Honors Program is pretty great! As Honors Student Council President I plan to communicate with the students about some of the ideas we brought back from the conference, and continue to shape the program!

Dr. Anne Dahlman

The trip to NCHC was a very enriching experience.  Hearing about the programs and experiences from many other Honors Programs across the nation reaffirmed that our Honors Program is an excellent one and that we do many things well.  At the same time, we came home with our heads full of ideas for improving our program.  You will see these improvements put into practice starting already this spring.

Rachael Igo

My favorite part about the NCHC conference was building community with others.  The six of us who traveled to Chicago from Mankato got to know each other really well during our trip. It was really fun to learn about Honors Programs and explore Chicago together, and we enjoyed discussing our ideas with one another. It was also a great experience to meet other members of the honors community from places all over the nation.

Tyler Keller

My favorite part about attending NCHC was participating on a panel with other students across the nation talking about our Honors Program. Through this panel I had the chance to brag about how awesome our program is and offer advice to upcoming Honors Programs. It made me realize how successful our program is but also showed me ways our program can be improved. I hope to be able to use some of the ideas we learned to implement in the future.

Katelynn Malecha

Attending NCHC was one of the best opportunities I’ve had in my whole college experience and education. One of the most impactful sessions included the “Honors Living/Learning Communities.” Being the First-Year Honors Learning Community Coordinator I found this session extremely beneficial to hear what other universities are doing within their Honors Programs, Honors Colleges, and Learning Communities. This session was a roundtable in which the audience is encouraged to share or ask questions to the presenters. I found this useful in the way I could ask other directors opinions on the program here or their programs. NCHC was a wonderful experience and I hope to present at it next year.