NATCHITOCHES, La. (KMSS) – This week’s standout student is a senior at Northwestern State University who was studying abroad when the COVID-19 emerged and had to come home before completing her six months in Spain.
“I feel like I was there for more than two months because of all the experiences that I had,” said psychology major Katelynn Benge. “But coming back was a pretty crazy experience.”
NSU flew back their study-abroad students quickly, within one weekend, before countries went into lockdown.
“Not knowing what COVID means and on top of that, being in another country where you do not speak the native language, and then have any scariness of traveling through the airports. It was very scary just not knowing if the country was going to go into lockdown.”
Katelynn, who is minoring in Spanish, had saved up her money for a year before traveling to Alicante, Spain through an international study program through NSU and the University of Alicante.
“I took Spanish classes with some great Spanish teachers at Northwood that inspire me to continue to want to learn the language.”
The historic city of Alicante on the Mediterranean coast dates back thousands of years to Roman times. It is now a tourist destination and beach town, very different than the Caddo Parish town where Katelynn grew up. She says the experience expanded her horizons and her perspective on the world.
“I feel like I’m a better person, more cultured. I know what it means to be a global citizen, along with how being an American has a huge impact in the world.”
She of course was disappointed but says it happened when everything was so uncertain about COVID-19 and her new friends told her not to go back.
“That genuinely are looking out for your well-being. Whenever COVID hit, they were all concerned for me to go back to America because of our health care system. They said, ‘Don’t go back because you won’t be able to pay for it.'”
Now, Katelynn is planning on returning abroad when safe travel can resume, thanks to a Phi Beta Delta International Honor Society Scholarship she had applied for before she left and learned she’d won after her return to the U.S.
And she wants other students to know this kind of horizon-broadening experience is not as far out of reach as they might think.
“If you can go to college in Louisiana, you can afford to go out of the country,” she said. “Studying abroad is something that you never think you’ll be able to do. It is a very privileged thing to do. But it’s also super accessible and you don’t realize it. I am not going to act like I’m underprivileged. But I am also not from a super-wealthy family. They didn’t pay for my college or study abroad experience. I think that’s what holds a lot of people back from studying abroad and I don’t think that’s something that should hold you back.”
Besides heading back to Spain, she plans on getting her Master’s degree in Psychology and later her doctorate.
“I’ve always been interested in people, behavior, and culture. I thought I was going to be a therapist. But I think I’m going to go more the research side.”