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The Dartmouth
June 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

And They’re Off: Spotlight on Students’ International Travel during Off-Terms

One writer talks to students about enacting social impact and finding personal growth while away from school.

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Each year dozens of Dartmouth students find themselves abroad on off-terms pursuing passions that reach far beyond the Dartmouth bubble. Some students use their D-Plan for unique abroad experiences — from backpacking around Europe to living and working with Tibetan monks in Northern India.

Cognitive science major Lina Klinkenberg ’25 knew that she didn’t want to stay in the U.S. during her off term. Her reasoning? 

“I kind of see it as a time that's great to travel and I don't feel too much pressure to jump into career related things,” Klinkenberg answered.

This winter, Klinkenberg has traveled to Dharamshala, India and is working for Lha Charitable Trust, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture and providing educational programs to local residents. Klinkenberg’s role in the program is to teach English to young children in the area.

Prior to her off term, Klinkenberg took two classes on Buddhism, REL 41.04, “Buddhist Meditation Theory” and REL 41.05, “Tibetan Buddhism” with Professor Greg Seton. She said these classes inspired her to travel to Northern India.  

“I feel like everything I've learned about Buddhist philosophy seems to hold very true in my life,” she said. 

On the other hand, Lexi Chelle ’25 sought to work with various American NGOs before she even started considering an off-term internship abroad. When she realized Geneva, Switzerland was a “hotspot for NGOs,” she focused her internship search on the small Swiss city.

Chelle wanted to do work that had a considerable social impact. This led her to connect with Graduate Women International (GWI), an NGO centered around helping women and girls pursue education.

A sociology major, Chelle has taken classes centered on child welfare and development, like SOCY 31, “Youth and Society.” As an adopted child, her personal connection to the area of study drove her to pursue an experience at the nexus of child welfare, women, and education. 

“That’s something that’s always been in the back of my head, that I want to do something where I’m able to help children who might have not had the best upbringings, or situations that might have negatively influenced their development,” Chelle explained.

She secured funding for her internship through the Dickey Center, which allowed her to live and work in Geneva. She would otherwise not have been able to subsidize her living costs. Her work included drafting weekly newsletters for GWI and maintaining their social media presence.

However, not all learning while on an off term abroad happens within students’ planned experience. Living by herself in a foreign country also fostered personal growth for Chelle.

“I got really good at spending time by myself and just being fine … with me being the only company that I have,” Chelle said.

This sentiment was echoed by Gwendolyn Roland ’25. After finishing the Italian Department language study abroad in Rome, Roland decided that she wanted to stay in Europe for her off-term in the spring to travel through a program called Workaway, a program which allows members to receive homestays and food in exchange for a pre-agreed amount of time per day of farm-work and odd jobs. 

She described this as “canon event of a girl from a sheltered Louisiana family striking out on her own to backpack Europe by her lonesome.”

Roland found value in enjoying peaceful moments that she feels are rare while on campus, “like sitting on the banks of a river eating strawberries with absolutely nothing to do besides maybe finding another good used book to read.”

She relished “having th[e] opportunity to form [her] own days and be in a country where nobody knew me,” reflecting that it “gave [her] a lot of confidence in [her] own abilities to make good change in the world.”

Klinkenberg also struck out on a mission to enact positive change for both herself and others thousands of miles from home. She noted what prompted her to take her interest in Buddhism from the classroom to action, “I thought it'd be really cool to be here and experience the people and the culture firsthand rather than just reading about it back home … I didn't really know what I wanted to do here, but I just knew that I wanted to come and be in this place.”

Now, Klinkenberg begins each day by taking a mindful walk around the Namgyal Monastery, also known as the Dalai Lama’s temple, before going inside to meditate. She then spends about an hour on an English lesson to her class of children before she and a Tibetan monk named Sangey in the afternoon exchange their knowledge of Tibetan and English. 

“I would say my biggest takeaway from spending time with Sangey is just that monks are super normal people just like everyone else,” she explained, adding, “I feel like we're definitely more alike than we are different.”

Through funding from the Dickey Center and support from professors, students like Chelle, Roland, and Klinkenberg are not only following their academic interests, but embarking on journeys of personal growth.