ISP: Reflections on learning how to ask the right questions

Andrea Sosa – Sophomore

I used to think of myself as an international scholar because I enjoyed reading the international section of the newspaper. I am, after all, an international student from Mexico, studying international relations. Doesn’t that status automatically make me an international scholar? Through ISP, the International Scholars Program at Goucher, I came to realize that the answer was “no” and that my notion was both shallow and insubstantial. After taking ISP, I realized that I am still a far ways from becoming an international scholar, but I have however received the tools and the vision to pursue further studies that may eventually grant me that title.
Being an international scholar does not mean that you know everything that there is to know about the world, or that you can name all of the capitals to all of the countries, or even that you know all of their cultures and speak all of their languages. It means looking at the world in non-traditional ways and asking different questions. Yes, you must be knowledgeable of the world, but it takes so much more than that. It takes discovering different relationships both in history and in the present, understanding why certain social, historical, and political structures are in place, creating a lens for yourself through which you can understand and critique the status quo, and ultimately, it takes wanting to explore.
I have taken these tools and applied them both in my studies as an International Relations major and in my decision-making of where in the world I want to study abroad. In my International Relations classes, these tools have allowed me to dig deeper and ask more questions. I now view the world through my own paradigm that has allowed me to explore new patterns, relationships, and structures. I look forward to further exploring through study abroad and finding the answers as I travel and learn.
Receiving an international education has allowed me to develop a sense of curiosity. I have become more curious of my academics, of the world around me, and of the history underlying everything we do. This is one of the most crucial advantages of an international education as it allows and motivates you to search for the answers to your questions. It motivates you to travel with a purpose and ultimately to question what exists around you. Curiosity, I think, is one of the most essential qualities in taking steps towards becoming an international scholar. While I do not think that I am at the point of calling myself an international scholar, I do think that I have been provided with the necessary tools to one day achieve that, and I think that is the purpose of ISP. Being in this program is eye opening and has in many ways shaped my undergraduate career thus far. I am ready to travel the world and come to my own conclusions because I now know what to look for and what questions to ask. While I may not be an international scholar yet, I am definitely on my way.

Read a senior’s perspective below

Andrew Huff

Freshmen year, my ISP experience began with the maxim that the local is in the global and the global is in the local. Just as H&M opened its first store in Santiago,

Andrew Huff (right) with his host family in Chile (Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Huff)

Andrew Huff (right) with his host family in Chile (Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Huff)

Chile to awe-inspiring hype during my semester abroad, the spiced apricot jam from my town of Cherry Hill, NJ could, with the right trader, go global as well. ISP teaches another way of looking at these relations though: international issues have domestic incarnations. Poverty, racism, eco-feminism, and colonialist attitudes permeate Baltimore City as much as they do outside the US. Ironically, ISP has taught me that being an international scholar does not actually require me to be abroad at all. Or rather, that “being abroad” could simply mean being five minutes down York Road.
And, just as the local and global are intertwined, I’ve learned that I am caught up in that current as well. ISP has taught me that we are products of a particular cultural tradition (i.e. Western Enlightenment rationalism, American capitalism, etc.), and yet we remain individuals who can choose to become cognizant of these larger systems. We can, and do, step out of them – particularly when we study abroad.
The abroad experience touched upon many of the themes from my sophomore ISP session. We learned that service begins with questions, not answers. To do the reverse is to re-inscribe colonialism in the world and to ignore the very mentality that aggravates world problems: the stinging claim that “I am not you, but I still know what’s best for you.”
ISP taught me that dominant institutions like colonialism manifest through individual thoughts and encounters, and in the ways we talk about the world. It all comes down to the scale of the personal. Whether I choose to attend H&M’s inaugural sale in Santiago has consequences beyond me depending on what I buy (is it from the one-of-a-kind “Chile” collection?), how I pay (debit or Chile’s own currency?), and where I go next (McDonald’s or the street stand outside?). The common denominator is that I can choose to be aware of the implications my decisions have.
I believe that one of the biggest themes from ISP remains that language matters: whether Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier rewriting the chemistry lexicon in the 18th Century, millennials calling Africa a “country,” or doctors talking about individuals’ bodies as medical objects, the languages we speak and the vocabulary we use convey value judgments. My study abroad in a Spanish language program made me expressly aware of these subtleties. In particular, one afternoon while facing the wrong direction on the metro, I fell onto a grumpy male passenger. Then I stumbled upon which of the five ways to “apologize” in Chilean Spanish – permiso, perdon, discupla, disculpe, or lo siento.
Looking back, apologies seem to be at the root of the colonialist, dominant institutions studied in ISP: particularly the half-hearted apology or the apology without social change. ISP teaches us that as individuals, we can personally address these larger systems by seeking authentic cultural exchange based in understanding, vulnerability, and acknowledging where we’ve messed up.
ISP also reminded me that regardless of any difficulties I encountered – whether in Santiago or in Baltimore City – I would only witness them as a guest from abroad. I would be able to return home. In that way, enduring the shock and the struggle was part of the experience of truly trying to integrate into a new world. Part of being a guest means acknowledging our lack of knowledge, and choosing to seek answers from our hosts before we offer our own.



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