Academic Adventurers Strive to Make a Difference Abroad

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September 7, 2018

Kinley Ragan with monkTwo students at Barrett Honors College (BHC) recently returned to Tempe after pursuing their research interests with the Barrett Global Explorers Grant (BGEG) during Summer 2018.

The BGEG, supported by long-time BHC donor and Dean’s Club Member, Mr. Charles Bivenour, funds a self-designed, around the world research trip for motivated and change-making students. The selected undergrads travel to multiple countries to conduct research related to their senior thesis. BHC’s’s most recent recipients, Kinley Ragan, and Lauren Barnes, journeyed across a combined nine countries and six continents to gain further insight on issues of importance to the global community.

“Having this experience has put my goals and outlook in greater focus,” remarked Ragan, who traveled to Yellowstone National Park, Thailand, Australia, Nepal, South Africa, and Colombia. Her research centered around human-wildlife conflict management at the borders of major national parks. At each destination, Ragan would ask local community members questions about their experience living near the parks and their relationship with indigenous wildlife. She would then apply this newfound knowledge toward her study of human interaction with local ecosystems. Lauren Barnes with family

“The unique perspectives I was enlightened by this summer allowed me to understand conflicts and issues from angles I previously did not know or consider,” the student noted. “There were many times when I learned about the environment directly from the communities. They live and breathe next to this wildlife. They have such an intimate knowledge and understanding of their ecosystems that getting time with the communities and interacting with the different cultures was transformative for me. I was honored to be able to listen and learn from them.”

Along the way, Ragan was blessed by Thai monks, held a Koala bear, participated in game drives and photographed an array of exotic animals. Through these experiences, grant recipients are able to fully immerse themselves in local culture and activities– an equally important aspect of traveling abroad.

Barnes shared similar insights after traveling to Ghana, France, and Spain to study human trafficking. Working alongside non-profits in each country, she learned about various forms of sex and labor trafficking as well as prevention and victim outreach efforts.

“I partnered with organizations like Challenging Heights, Ac.Sé, and Genera, to learn a massive amount of information regarding trafficking non-profits,” Barnes reflected. “I was able to help tackle issues ranging from child labor trafficking in Africa to health and safety education for sex workers in Spain. I made contacts with people around the world that cared about the same topics and issues– I even met a woman in Ghana who is about to enroll as a Social Justice major at ASU.”

Though an overwhelmingly positive experience, the students also noted that adapting to a foreign culture and traveling independently across the globe certainly brought about new and unanticipated challenges.

Kinley Ragan with snake“There are so many cultural nuances that one has to adjust to when traveling– it truly makes you mindful of your own existence,” Barnes said. Ragan shared a story about the time her phone broke en route to Chingaza National Natural Park in Colombia. “It was incredibly nerve-racking, especially when heading to a more rural area. Thankfully, I kept my cool and organized myself a ride to a local hotel where I could pay to make a call from their phone. It was more about overcoming the fear of being stranded in a foreign country. I used my resources and pre-existing knowledge of the area to create a plan.”

Despite occasional challenges, both students gained a vast amount of knowledge and memories to last a lifetime. And in turn, both strongly encourage other students to travel meaningfully during the course of their college career and participate in cross-cultural experiences whenever possible.

“Cross-cultural interaction is vital for understanding societal growth and our societies as a whole. Experiencing life in another country broadens your perspective about the world,” Ragan commented. “I think it makes you a more creative, thoughtful, endearing and passionate individual. In this day and age, it is so easy for us to be globally connected without forming real bonds. Being abroad, being exposed to something out of your comfort zone, and being in a different environment fosters personal and professional growth.”

Barnes was also quick to note the rarity of such opportunities, speaking to the many benefits of being a Barrett student and the available resources at BHC that make these trips possible.

“This will probably be the only time in your life when you're going to have this type of program and support to go on such a trip. The people I met during my travels would share words with me, would share food with me…it was an opportunity for me to experience cultures that I normally wouldn’t have the chance to engage with. ”

These experiences are sure to echo throughout the futures of both students, who have lofty aspirations. Barnes seeks to apply her knowledge to a position as a Program Manager for the United Nations, continuing her quest to help survivors of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual violence internationally. After obtaining her masters, Ragan plans to apply for a Fullbright scholarship to continue her research before pursuing a PhD in conservation and ecology. 

For more information on the Barrett Global Explorers Grant, click on this link: