Editor's note: Miles from Muncie is a Ball State Daily News series profiling Ball State students and their study abroad programs. If you have any suggestions as to who we should feature next, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In an older Foz do Douro neighborhood near a beach on the North Atlantic Ocean, eight Ball State students explored city sights along cobblestone paths while discussing neuroscience research in Porto, Portugal.
From July 5-20, Kristin Perrone-McGovern, a professor of psychology counseling, and Stephanie Simon-Dack, the associate dean of the Graduate School, co-led a cross-cultural counseling study abroad program for a third time.
“We held class at Ball State in Muncie prior to leaving for Portugal,” Perrone-McGovern said. “Class content focused on learning about cross-cultural counseling, Portuguese culture, and the application of neuroscience and physiological methods to the field of counseling.”
Meghan Pier, a 2019 Ball State alumna, participated in the program before beginning her master’s degree. She said being surrounded by doctoral and master’s students “who [were] passionate about counseling” throughout her study abroad experience was “incredible and enlightening.”
“Most of my undergrad classes were full of people just trying to finish their degree and were not even furthering their education in counseling,” Pier said. “I loved being around people who love what they do and are excited about becoming psychologists.”
Partnering with the Catholic University of Portugal, students on the trip attended daily presentations from psychology professionals.
Bre McClintock, a second-year graduate student from Ball State’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program, said not only was collaborating with professionals in her field a good networking opportunity, but it also gave her the opportunity to learn about differences between psychology in Portugal and the U.S.
“I suspect that all of the students had a very similar experience to mine in that I gained a wide range of knowledge and information regarding what the field of psychology looks like in Portugal,” McClintock said. “It was truly fascinating to compare and contrast the prevalence of issues in Portugal, and I found myself contemplating how to translate and apply these findings within the United States.”
Students also engaged in lab meetings where they discussed their research interests and exchanged ideas with the university’s faculty and other students from Portugal, Turkey, Spain and Puerto Rico.
Pier said as a visual and hands-on learner, working with others and immersing herself in their different cultures allowed her to “see things from a different perspective.”
“I love being able to bounce ideas around with various people who come from various backgrounds, and those sort of instances only happen when you do these cultural programs,” Pier said. “It gave me the chance to get outside of myself, in a sense that I wasn’t focusing on myself, but I was absorbing and learning so much from everyone else.”
In addition to their research, students toured historic castles in Guimaraes, Portugal, sampled port wine and went on a dinner boat cruise along the Douro River. The group also visited Livraria Lello, a bookstore in Porto where author J.K. Rowling was inspired to write her “Harry Potter” book series, Pier said.
While touring Porto, Pier said she felt a sense of peace because everyone around her seemed to move at a relaxed pace.
McClintock said she shared a similar experience where she noticed meals lasted much longer than the quick lunch break she was used to in the U.S. She said it was difficult for her to adjust to a city without strict schedules because she has “adapted to a constant state of stress and anxiety” in the U.S.’s fast-paced society.
Because she visited a country where people speak multiple languages, McClintock also said it surprised her that Porto’s residents were open to speaking in English with her.
“I found myself reflecting on how much respect was translated during conversation as an English-speaking student that traveled to a country where I did not speak the native language, yet nearly all of the residents were fully capable and willing to communicate with me through the language I was familiar with,” McClintock said.
After returning from Porto, McClintock said she now thinks about what else is happening in the world around her as she continues to balance her time as a graduate student, having therapy sessions with her clients and staying up late writing papers.
“For me, it was so liberating to recognize the endless bounds of the world and how life is so much bigger than what I confine myself to, as I naturally am preoccupied with the hustle and bustle of being a graduate student in the United States,” McClintock said. "For lack of a better description, this [study abroad program] felt like a breath of fresh air that I seemed to be missing in my life before the trip.”