Ben Field ’18 is a Film Studies and Political Science graduate of Chapman University.
Growing up as the son of a travel agent, I was rarely spared from the unsolicited lectures my mother would dive into when preaching the gospel of international discovery. Her years in the travel industry and European upbringing engendered a sense of globalism that I could never grasp as a child. She’d been raised in a working-class household in southern London and discovered the joys of traveling only after she impulsively moved to the United States in her late 20s to pursue new career opportunities. This constant desire to explore the world would be a governing principle for the rest of her life, manifesting in her professional and parental decisions.
By the time that I had arrived at Chapman, my own inclination to study abroad had been internalized to the point that I began researching the international institutions that Chapman had partnered with. I gawked at the myriad options and opportunities that the Center for Global Education offered. Here was my chance to actualize a long-held dream of experiencing a new culture for an extended period of time, all while earning credits towards my degree.
In my 3rd year at Chapman I was fortunate enough to take Dr. Nam Lee’s Korean Cinema class which saw a group of undergraduate students attend the acclaimed Busan International Film Festival in Busan, South Korea. One of the most prolific film festivals in Asia, BIFF offers a unique selection of classic and contemporary Asian movies that are seldom seen by American audiences. The two-week cinexperience was a dream, with the only requirement being that all students watch a minimum of 3-4 films per day. I inundated myself with the films of Bong Joon-ho and Kim Ki-young in the morning and explored the historic fish markets of Busan in the evening.
I’d go on to participate in Professor Roy Finch’s film Travel Course that took a group of Chapman students to India to learn about Indian culture and filmmaking. In the span of 3 weeks, students were expected to produce a short film using Indian production techniques, actors, crew members, etc. It was a crash course in culture shock but an incredibly formative experience that shed light on Bollywood’s distinctive cinematic history. The tight-knit group of Chapman participants were guided around Mumbai by a cohort of local film students who were assisting us in the production process. I remember feeling as if every sense was being tested at every hour of the day; the vibrancy of the saris worn by women demanded my sight while the pungency of Indian cooking left my nose (and stomach) ravenous for curry.
As the end of my time at Chapman loomed, I worried about making a definitive career decision that would set me on an irrevocable trajectory. Many of my friends had chosen to attend graduate school or had lined up reliable jobs in the film industry. I, however, was less clear as to what my next chapter would entail. I was unenthusiastic about pursuing a film-related career and didn’t have the financial means to jump into graduate school. All I knew was that I liked feeling challenged and wanted to make a positive difference in the world. Inspired by my study-abroad experiences and my political science classes, I ultimately decided to apply to the Peace Corps.
I was accepted in the summer of 2018 and left for Senegal in September of that same year. I ultimately spent 18 months volunteering in a remote city called Sedhiou. My title was Urban Agriculture Extension Agent which translates to Agriculture Volunteer in normal speak. I lived with an incredibly hospitable host-family and learned the local language of Mandinka. I partnered with local agriculturalists and farmers to assist with community projects related to cashew production and transformation. My time in Senegal came to an abrupt halt in March of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic but I am incredibly thankful for the time that I spent there.
It’s not a stretch to say that my time studying abroad at Chapman was a contributing factor in my decision to join the Peace Corps and my overall proclivity to pursue a career in international relations. I’d encourage anyone who has the time and financial resources to study abroad to do it. It can be a life-changing choice and may ultimately lead you down a path you might never have anticipated.
Current study abroad opportunities can be found on the Global Gateway. Interested in the Peace Corps? Connect with Thomas Badilla, Peace Corps Diversity Recruiter and returned volunteer based in Irvine.