The Columns

My W&L: Joe Yankelowitz ’15

— by on September 5th, 2016

Joe Yankelowitz '15

“W&L has allowed me to satisfy my need to wander.”

One day during fall term of my sophomore year, I sat down at a table in the Center for International Education with Kip Brooks and Prof. Boetsch. I came to discuss studying abroad in Italy the following year.

“You should consider this program,” Prof. Boetsch began. “It’s called ‘The Umbra Institute.’ It’s in Perugia.”

“I’ll give it a look. Is there a link to apply on the study abroad website?”

“No,” replied Ms. Brooks. “It’s not an officially recognized program.”

“It’s not?” asked Prof. Boetsch.

“Not currently.”

“Should it be?”

“Do you think so?”

“I think it should be.”

“Okay.”

“Hold on!” I interjected. “Did I just watch the process for officially vetting a program?”

“This is the least bureaucratic department on campus,” Prof. Boetsch responded with a smile.

I attended Umbra the following winter term, after studying abroad at Oxford University in the fall. I consider my year abroad one of the defining aspects of my time at W&L. Oxford introduced me to an entirely new educational style, the tutorial system. Each week, my tutors would give me a reading list and ask me to produce an essay for our next meeting. The system requires the student to take charge of his or her own learning process, with the tutors merely as guides. I found myself applying the writing and critical thinking skills I acquired in my English classes in Payne Hall. I relished the opportunity to use what my professors had taught me at W&L in an Oxford educational system predicated upon personal responsibility and self-validation.

In Italy, I got the opportunity to immerse myself in a new language and culture. I made a practice of talking to shopkeepers whenever I had time, and I learned about the problems facing the people of Perugia and what they thought about the city’s future. Using the Italian I learned in language classes at W&L, I turned the city into my classroom. I interned at a local Fair Trade store named Bottega Monimbò. For this internship, I helped organize a film viewing and discussion of a documentary about the Rosarno riots of 2010, in which migrant workers in the Reggio Calabria region of Italy, protesting against the deplorable work conditions forced upon them, faced violent reprisals from locals. In completing this project, I enjoyed parlaying my community engagement in the store into an opportunity to foster dialogue on an issue of social justice in another part of Italy.

I returned from abroad and recognized that my cultural education neither began nor ended in Europe. Coming from the Bronx, rural Lexington marked a significant departure from normalcy for me. When I first arrived, I felt uncomfortable in my new environment and experienced difficulty finding my place in the W&L community. However, I grew to recognize the value in attending a school outside my geographic and social comfort zone. Engaging with the W&L community allowed me to expand my education outside the classroom. I have learned about different American cultures and ways of thinking.

Most importantly, W&L has allowed me to satisfy my need to wander. Whether heading for a week to Mystic, Connecticut for my first-year spring term class “Whales, Whaling, and Moby Dick,” crossing the Atlantic to study in Oxford and Perugia, or even just experiencing small-town American life, W&L has endowed me with the opportunities to step outside my comfort zone and enjoy diverse cultural experiences. The university has inspired me to take the next step in my life, and I have applied for a Fulbright to teach English in Malaysia and a Luce Fellowship to work professionally in Asia. I am thankful to W&L for giving me confidence and skills to seek out new experiences and learn about the world and myself.