UK Senior Believes Education Abroad Heals World's Divisions

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Natalie St.Clair
Natalie St.Clair

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 9, 2018) While on a University of Kentucky Education Abroad and Exchanges (UK EA) program, UK student, Natalie St.Clair, immersed herself in her new community in Mexico, and giving back any way that she could.

St.Clair, a senior from Louisville, Kentucky, is a foreign language and international economics major and political science minor who studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico.

St.Clair’s two-month program in Oaxaca during summer 2016 was not enough. "I decided to return to Oaxaca to strengthen my relationships with friends and the community, and become more deeply involved," St.Clair said. She studied abroad again in fall 2017 on a UK EA partner program: Study Abroad and Spanish Immersion in Mexico – Intensive Language with Sol Education Abroad.

"The program and academic staff were a great support system, introducing us to organizations to get involved in and notifying us about events happening around the city," St.Clair said.

After St.Clair's 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. class schedule, she deepened her roots in the community wherever possible. Oaxaca City was spared severe damage from the earthquakes in September 2017, so she assisted with gathering supplies to send to the affected areas.

"It was truly incredible to watch the community come together in solidarity with victims and support them accordingly," St.Clair said.

In addition to relief efforts, St.Clair dedicated time to two local organizations: Consorcio, a legal firm that advocates for women's rights, and INSO (Institute of Nature and Society of Oaxaca), an environmental organization that supports land renovation and sustainable water projects within and surrounding Oaxaca.

"It's incredible to learn about social movements and cultural norms in class and through activities with the Sol directors, but getting your hands dirty in a land renovation project or working side by side with human rights defenders on current social justice issues provides profound perspective and allows you to build a unique and personal relationship with the community," St.Clair said.

St.Clair's first program in Oaxaca was in summer 2016 on a UK faculty-directed program where she assisted Oliver Froehling, adjunct professor of geography, on a research project while also taking geography classes through the Social and Environmental Justice program at SURCO (Servicios Universitarios y Redes de Conocimientos), a local nongovernmental organization. It was after her involvement with various social and environmental justice groups at UK, such as Greenthumb and Amnesty International, that truly inspired St.Clair to see how activists in other communities confront their issues.

“Natalie was one of the students who took full advantage of the independent research project, procuring a grant from UK to carry out research among coffee farmers in the northern mountains of Oaxaca,” Froehling said. “We were very happy to see her come back a year later, like other people have done, and continue with her education and work on different internships here in the state.”

St.Clair is certain that wherever the future takes her, the skills and experiences she's gained abroad, both in and out of the classroom, are inestimable.

"Especially in such a time of division and polarization in the world, surrounding yourself with new voices and fresh perspectives can be a form of healing and growth on both a personal and societal level," St.Clair said.

UK Education Abroad has more than 460 programs available in more than 70 countries. In addition to study abroad opportunities, students can participate in internship, service, research and teaching programs abroad. Students interested in learning more about education abroad opportunities can visit http://international.uky.edu/ea or visit the Advising Center at 315 Bradley Hall. For more info on how to #SeeBlueAbroad, stay up to date with UK EA events, deadlines and more on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue