Meghan Cusick studies abroad, at home

by Mike Rhine,

A little more than 50 percent of Willamette University undergraduates take part in the university’s study abroad program, traveling to countries including China, Switzerland, Chile and Iceland. During her junior year, Meghan Cusick chose a different path — one that defined a new meaning to studying abroad. Instead of leaving the country and immersing in a different culture like most of her peers, Cusick chose to spend her study time in Washington, District of Columbia, with the Washington Semester Program WSP. The program offers a mix of classes, seminars and internships that allow students to improve their professional skills, study foreign policy or, in Cusick’s case, American politics.

In her blog detailing her experience with her study abroad program, Cusick discusses how, although she never left the country, she was able to experience a full immersion in other cultures thanks to WSP. The program welcomes international students as well as domestic, but according to Cusick, her “culture shock” came more from the different styles of speech brought from the American students, not international. While boundary lines and time zones separate states, they are also separated by subtle differences in local lingo, such as calling soda “pop” on the East Coast. In general, Cusick found Washington, D.C., a melting pot of international culture.

In her blog, Cusick talks about driving down her street and seeing dozens of international embassies, some belonging to countries she’d never heard of. Of all the different states in the U.S., foreign nationals from countries big and small choose Washington D.C. to “raise their flags” and share their culture.

Now, Cusick is using her double major in politics and civic communication and media to connect with other Willamette students in the hope of convincing them to choose WSP. The skills she gained through her study “abroad” program pushed her to become more active in helping other students experience the world and drive them to reach outside their comfort zone to visit a place they never would have before — even if that place is in their own backyard.