On April 16 and 17, three Knox students, junior Emily Oliver, senior Ana Marquez and myself got to take a train to Chicago on someone else’s pretty penny. The Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) funded the two-day excursion to the city for students from all colleges in the ACM to give small presentations at the ACM Student Symposium on Off-Campus Study.
Our accompanying faculty member was Professor of Spanish Robin Ragan, with whom we later enjoyed the Latin American Film Festival in Chicago after the first day of ACM presentations.
There are 14 colleges in the ACM overall, including Knox and Monmouth College. Walking into the conference room where presentations would be held on the first day and looking forward to nothing but the free buffet of food after a night staying up putting together our presentations, it seemed grim. The food was wonderful, the photo display of snapshots from all over the world was lovely and nostalgic, but where were we?
A completely grey conference room. No windows. A projector overhead for PowerPoint presentations. Is this what it’s like to go corporate? I started to get the fear inside of me. I wanted to leave immediately.
It was, unsurprisingly, not that dramatic. As the presentations began, some about students experiencing art in Nicaragua for the first time, others about senior research projects in Kenya, I began to truly admire my fellow ACM folks. At the start of each presentation, I was not overjoyed.
I was unenthused at first about senior research presentations, thinking I’d be bored to death learning about how microfinance can relate to women’s empowerment.
By the end of each, however, I was always inspired. Many of the presentations brought to my mind the moral implications of studying abroad, especially for those who went abroad to help at orphanages or in other nonprofit organizations. The questions came up everywhere; who has the right to say who is “impoverished”? Who says everyone wants tile floors?
What guts it takes to go to Kenya and interview women about their lives, financial situations, deeply personal problems and children. What a strange experience it must have been to live on a boat for six weeks studying ocean acidification, as one student did on SEA Semester.
And then there was the girl from Monmouth College who came back to tell us the story of her host family in Italy and how much she loved them. Many of us, self included, couldn’t hold it in — after coming back from Argentina and intensely missing my family (not host family, simply family) so much, it was a refreshment and also a regurgitation of emotions that hit me after she talked.
Oliver presented about her project, recording poets in Argentina. Marquez gave a presentation about the issue of asylum and refugees in Denmark, while I presented about writing news stories from Argentina.
This year was the second annual ACM Symposium in Chicago.