The Columns

Around the World: Scott Sugden ’15 Around the World, School for International Training: Biodiversity & Natural Resource Management , Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

— by on September 5th, 2016

“My four months in Madagascar were by far the most personally challenging of any I’ve spent during my studies at Washington and Lee.”

My four months in Madagascar were by far the most personally challenging of any I’ve spent during my studies at Washington and Lee. They made me question my concept of what the “third world” really is, evaluate the relationship between poverty and happiness, and adjust to a culture far different from my own. I was able to improve my French, learn some of Madagascar’s African dialect, and see some of the greatest natural wonders in the world.

Some 80% of the species living on Madagascar exist nowhere else, and in my travels I saw many of them. I had lemurs jump on my shoulders; I was the first white person in over a decade to climb to the top of a mountain where I did my independent study; I spent a week living in a community of subsistence farmers; I learned about the challenges of protecting a unique fragile environment in a country where feeding yourself can be a challenge. There’s no way I could have had those experiences without going abroad, and I wouldn’t trade that time for the world.

For anyone interested in studying abroad, I’d say do it, and worry about things like double majoring or majoring/minoring later. After my time in Madagascar, I realize that I’d far rather spend a semester abroad and graduate with one major than spend all four years on campus and graduate with two. Ten years from now, the abroad experience is going to mean far more to me than multiple majors. I’d also say think about studying in a less “traditional” study abroad country, like Madagascar or other places in African and Asia. You’ll be able to get around western Europe by yourself if you ever feel like going there. I would never have made it to Madagascar if I wasn’t supported by an outside program that showed me how to get around the country.