Nhan Nguyen, a junior at Minnesota State University, Mankato, is a three-time study abroad “winner.” Not because he won money to go to Paros Island (Greece) twice already and is going a third time this summer, but because he found a study abroad location that he absolutely loves.
Nguyen, a BFA in painting student, went to Athena Study Abroad’s Paros Island program the first time as a freshman, and the second time as a sophomore. Now he’s going again this summer.
When asked why he’s going a third time, he says, “Oh man haha. Yes I am wanting to go for a third time because I am so in love with the place. I wanted to study all the courses there and get to make better relationships with the locals and professors there.”
On how the second time was different than the first time, Nguyen says, “The second time I went was different yet the same. Different as in I get to meet new friends and students as well as learn new things but the same as in the locals recognized me and we made better relationships because I was there twice.”
Minnesota State University-Mankato has an engaged, knowledgeable study abroad office, and Nguyen had a lot of study abroad options. He says Paros Island was recommended by his “wonderful” art history professor, Dr. Alisa Eimen. “I wanted a place full of art and rich in history and Greece was one of them and it was more than perfect timing.”
Paros Island more than lived up to Nguyen’s hopes and expectations. Now planning his third time there, he feels like he has completed most courses available there. “The courses were nothing like I expected to be, in a good way. The class size was like a regular studio class size in my University. However, the best part of this program are the professors and faculty. It felt like it was not a chore to go to class. I always show up for class because I wanted to, not because I had to.¨
“And I believe the professors had a huge impact in that. Classes were very interesting and engaging. The professors cared so much about the student quality of learning. For example, I have learned so many new and different painting techniques with my painting professor, Neva [Bergemann], that when I brought it back to my University, it was like a totally new and different art style. I developed so much of my own identity and maturity throughout my time there.¨
Like all study abroad students, though each with at least slightly different story, Nguyen says that his family played a role in his decision to study abroad. “I live in a big family. I have seven sisters growing up. I have always done everything together with my family. So Greece was something for myself. I work part time and study full time. I am of Japanese and Vietnamese descent. I make and sell my own artwork.”
Nguyen’s study abroad experiences have been dovetailing with his coursework and other activities at Mankato (which include working in its study abroad office), as well as his plan to become an art professor himself one day. “My goal for the academic term is to immerse myself in the community, both art and college, and as well as learn as much as I can through my professors and artists. I wanted to fully understand what an artist is like through my peers and professors. In addition, I would like to be able to fully see what college teaching is like for one day I would aspire to become an art professor. I would like to utilize what I have learned through the University as I travel and have new life goals. My goal for the future is to constantly produce my creativity and support others doing so as well.
“My Asian heritage will continue to merge with my American as I create art pieces throughout my life. I wanted to continue to love art and to support others who are loving art as well. In hopes to get as close as I can to becoming an artist. For someday, I dreamt that my artworks and future jobs will become inspirational to my peers and the people around me. I wanted everyone to understand how important creativity is throughout my life and help others understand the importance of creativity. One day, I hope for more people to come together because of art and love one another. And I hope that I can get to be a part of it.”
Of course on Paros Island, Nguyen did not only spend time in art studios and classrooms. Athena’s program there is culturally immersive—rich in every way. “Almost every weekend the student can choose to go on class field trips throughout neighboring islands and in archaeological sites with our archaeological professor Ioannis [Georganas, Ph.D.]. It was nice to have someone professional to learn about the site as well as witness them in person.” He called the field trips “so splendid. Icing on the cake really.”
The combination of courses, excursions, and other activities naturally helped the students get to know each other well. “We lived close to each other and we go to the same school so we bonded really quick and it was like a whole new family. Everyone was helping and supporting each other,” Nguyen recalls. “We had a communal kitchen apart from our own and we all often come up to the kitchen and cook and eat together and talk about our stories, art, and how much we enjoy these classes.”
U.S. students going to Paros Island do not need to know any Greek language. However, Nguyen said that he tried to learn a “couple” of Greek words before he left Mankato. To prepare, he also carefully budgeted his money for his entire stay. He said he “had so many questions regarding my trip that Athena was so gracious in helping me answer them.”
Overall, he says about study abroad (which he has promoted at Mankato both to art classes and in the university’s study abroad office, “Do it! Please, if not Greece, then anywhere is good. I was able to grow so much and my mind has bloomed many new flowers. It was a wonderful experience for me and I hope that many college students get the opportunity to do what I do. Athena was of great help for me. The reason why I went through them [Athena Study Abroad] twice is because they really do go beyond to try to get students abroad. Thank you, once again.”