Leslie Pitman Is GlobaLinks Learning Abroad’s 2011 Alumna of the Year
By Stacey Hartmann
GlobaLinks NewsWire Editor
Leslie Pitman spent one of her last days studying abroad at Kingston University in London with a fellow photographer friend trying to soak up her surroundings through a camera lens, hoping in some way to preserve in her memory a place where, around every corner, she felt the presence of the British writers she so admired.
“We stayed there until after the sun went down,” says Pitman, 22, who GlobaLinks Learning Abroad presented last week with its 2011 Alumna of the Year Award during the annual NAFSA 2011 Annual Conference & Expo in Vancouver, British Columbia. “We walked over a bunch of the different bridges taking night shots, leaving our shutters open for a long time and capturing the light. I was trying to take it all in before I had to leave.”
Leslie Pitman (L), the GlobaLinks Learning Abroad 2011 Alumna of the Year, is pictured with Cynthia Banks, Executive Director of GlobaLinks, and Dr. Heather Forland, Director of International Development for Kingston University.
Pitman, from Jacksonville, Fla., has since graduated from her home university, Queens University of Charlotte, N.C., with a degree in English literature. After returning home from her spring 2010 semester abroad in London, she applied for the GlobaLinks Alumna/Alumnus of the Year Award with the hope it would be a first step toward a career in international education.
“In five months, I built some of the strongest relationships I have ever had, learned an old language in a totally new way, developed lifelong skills, traveled to four other countries, conquered the bus system, and learned how to be a Shakespearean actor,” Pitman said during her award acceptance speech, who was actually joking about the actor part, but learned how to push outside her comfort zone trying to deliver a few lines as Henry III. “… I plan to attend graduate school to study international education so that I can one day inspire other students like myself to step out into the world and find out what it’s like to be someone you never thought you could be.”
Leslie Pitman, third from left, with friends during her time in London.
The GlobaLinks Learning Abroad Council selected Pitman for the award, which included financial support for lodging and registration for the 63rd NAFSA annual conference, the world’s largest gathering of professionals in international education and exchange. The goal of the award is to encourage and support the next generation of professionals working in the field, which encompasses college and university professionals developing and evaluating programs, employees and overseas staff of program providers, government employees, researchers and related service providers, among others.
“Leslie’s study abroad semester in London via our EuroLearn program hit all of the high notes of a superb international education experience, including academic enrichment, cultural exposure, personal growth and career inspiration,” said Cynthia Banks, executive director and founder of GlobaLinks Learning Abroad. “Through her writing and photography, Leslie has inspired others to consider the potential of studying abroad, and I look forward to seeing where her talents will lead her in international education.”
Pitman is the fifth recipient of the Alumnus/Alumna of the Year award. Previous winners include Emily Nagle of Elmhurst College (2010), Kimberly Iona of Chapman University (2009), Michelle “Shelly” Jackson of Furman University (2008), and Kelsey McNichols of the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities (2007).
“Today was absolutely incredible,” Pitman said, describing her NAFSA experience in a post on her blog, Something I Can Send You From Across the Sea. “I think that many doors were opened, and I am increasingly blessed to have the opportunity to be here.”
Pitman knew she wanted to study abroad after traveling through Europe with her mother at the age of 15. She envisioned studying abroad in Switzerland, Denmark, or England, but as decision time neared during college, she realized England was the best choice because it enabled her to also make great progress within her English literature major.
“I was resistant to the idea of England at first because I wanted to go somewhere where they spoke a different language,” she says. “It ended up it was the perfect place for me.”
One of Leslie Pitman's scenic photographs during her time studying abroad at Kingston University.
“Being in England with EuroLearn, I was able to really focus on my major, which was important to me,” she says. “I didn’t really want to just take time off for a semester, I wanted to actually move forward. I was an English major who was interested especially in British Literature.”
Her program at Kingston University featured British literature classes from British professors, including a Shakespeare class taught by three Shakespearean actors, as well as British Life & Culture, 19th Century British Literature and Children’s Literature.
“It was just incredible to learn from those people,” Pitman says. “I was looking forward to it, but I had no idea how awesome it would be.”
Outside the classroom, Pitman was able to walk out her apartment door and experience the historical sites of her favorite British writers, including John Donne, who is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“Having the opportunity to go there,” she says. “I just stood there for a long time.”
As Pitman wrapped up her time in London, she’d not only expanded her understanding and appreciation of British culture, but also her own ability to make the most of opportunities.
“I’ve always been a rule follower, sort of a type A,” she says. “ … Just being there and knowing I was in a foreign country, I learned how to be spontaneous and live in the moment more.”
So when a friend suggested a spontaneous trip to Ibiza, Spain, for some time on the beach, Pitman ran with the idea and had an incredible time.
“I’ve definitely brought that back home with me and learned that sometimes you have to just do it,” she says, “instead of stopping to think about all the reasons you can’t.”
Quick-hit questions for Leslie Pitman
Q: Favorite new food while abroad?
Tea. I used to not like hot tea at all. When I was there, I learned that when you put milk and sugar in it, it’s really good. I don’t always choose coffee over tea now, which is nice.
Q: Favorite new music you picked up on while abroad?
A band called Biffy Clyro. One of my English friends sent me one of their songs and they were great and awesome. I almost went to one of their shows back in the states a month ago. I guess Mumford & Sons, but they’ve gotten big over here too.
Q: How many people do you keep in contact with from your abroad experience?
A lot of them. … With Facebook and email and phones, it’s pretty easy to keep in contact. I mostly Skype and Facebook with the people in England.
“Life Lessons from London” – Leslie Pitman’s Alumna of the Year Speech, GlobaLinks Affiliate Advisor Appreciation Luncheon, NAFSA 2011 Conference
There are some lessons you can learn at home, others that you learn in school, and others still that you learn from relationships. But there are some lessons that you will only learn through a semester abroad—and specifically, a semester in London. Despite my excellent upbringing in Jacksonville, Florida and exceptional education at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina, and constant support from my EuroLearn coordinator, nothing could have fully prepared me for five months of living and studying in England. I am often asked, “What did you learn?” and “What was your favorite part?” I have attempted to summarize the answer to these questions using three simple skills I developed abroad: how to manage my time, how to speak proper English, and how to be Richard III.
Although I knew that there was a great deal of emphasis placed on independent learning in the UK, it was not until I got my syllabi, and calculated that I would be reading more than 15 texts that semester, that I realized how much of my time I would actually need to manage. As an English major with a specific interest in British literature, England was the natural place for me to study abroad, and I am certain that I resembled a kid in a candy store while I was choosing which literature courses to take at Kingston. The “modules,” as they call them, were challenging, interesting, and altogether different from any class I had taken back home. In order to be prepared for my final essays, I made a schedule for myself, planning out times and dates to read each novel or play. The trains, the parks, and Costa Coffee became my favorite reading spots, and I had a book with me at all times—which allowed me to be productive while waiting for my bus that was 13-minutes late…and counting. By reading week, I felt wholly prepared to write my essays and finished all of them before the deadline. Turning assignments in early was new to me—but it felt good. It felt so good that I carried this concept into my senior year of college, with great success, knowing that no one could have taught me how to manage my time quite like the British did.
And no one could have taught me to speak English like the British did. As a “grammar stickler,” I thought I had a better-than-average understanding of the English language. Little did I know, there was an entire island across the Atlantic that spoke the same language in a very different way. The word “well” is used in place of “very,” for example: I am well tired. “It’s okay” is a common response to “thank you,” and does not mean that you did anything wrong. Chocolate is not candy, pudding is actually cake, and “Hershey’s” is practically a curse word. “Mind” is a verb that loosely translates to “watch out,” what you may think of the city of London is actually the city of Westminster, and Big Ben is the bell inside the clock. There is a lesson here, if you look between the lines: language reflects the culture. With each new phrase and idea that I learned, I became more and more aware of the culture that was so different from my own. Simultaneously, I was becoming a part of this remarkable country where a bus ride could turn into a social anthropology experiment and a walk by the Thames revealed a diverse and vibrant way of life. Learning, or relearning, English, was a way to immerse myself in a place that was unlike anywhere I had lived before. I met most of my British friends through a local church, and I met students of many different nationalities through Kingston’s international student events. I had heard that a number one regret of study abroad students upon return was that they had not spent enough time getting to know their host country. I was determined to not have such a regret, and I can say with confidence that I learned London—I learned the streets, I learned the tube stops, but most importantly, I learned the people.
A trip to London would not be complete without learning a thing or two about one of the city’s favorite figures: William Shakespeare. And as an English major, taking a course on Shakespeare in England was, well, a midsummer night’s dream. But when I found out the course was actually a drama class, that my instructors were all actors, and that my classmates were all theatre majors, I began to think that I had made a big mistake. I said to my professor, “As an English major who is content sitting a corner reading, I am concerned about how much actual acting I will be doing.” He told me not to worry, but three weeks later, I was asked to memorize six lines for recitation the following week. And during our study of Richard III, I had to give a brief performance—acting the part of an old, crippled, angry king who is as sad as he is powerful. In the end, when I had turned in my final essay, I realized that I could not have chosen a better way to study Shakespeare. Not only was I encouraged to step out of my comfort zone, but I saw Shakespeare as I had never seen him before—through the eyes of dramatists. I had the extreme privilege of being taught by three men who had all spent their lives performing Shakespeare’s plays, and therefore, dissecting, translating, and reproducing the ideas of this iconic playwright. Learning to be Richard III was perhaps the greatest lesson I learned in London—because it taught me that the comfortable way of doing things is not always the most rewarding, that seeing from a new perspective is the only way to grow, and that the hardest part of a challenge is actually stepping into it—once you’ve taken the first step, the rest is a whole lot easier.
In five months, I built some of the strongest relationships I have ever had, learned an old language in a totally new way, developed lifelong skills, traveled to four other countries, conquered the bus system, and learned how to be a Shakespearean actor. Well, I’m not sure how well I learned how to act, but I certainly grew as an individual, and I am forever grateful to the country of England for welcoming me into their culture and providing a place for me to learn about life in a new way. I plan to attend graduate school to study international education, so that I can one day inspire other students like myself to step out into the world and find out what it’s like to be someone you never thought you could be.