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With graduation from the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies (BIS) program fast approaching, Karen Hennessee wanted to make certain she had taken every possible advantage of the programs the University offers its students. One item on her bucket list was an intensive study abroad course during the University’s two-week January-Term.
With financial aid from the University and permission of her manager at the salon where she works, Hennessee enrolled in a Commerce School course led by Associate Professor Amar Cheema entitled “Consumers and Markets in India”. “It was one of the best educational decisions I have ever made,” says Hennessee, citing a packed schedule that included meetings with marketing directors of multinational companies, such Indian businesspeople as the CEO of Quikr (the Indian Craigslist), and, of course, a visit to the Taj Mahal.
She also enjoyed the nonacademic side of the trip. “It was exhilarating to haggle for fares with Indian cab drivers, negotiate prices for souvenirs, make our way through Indian airports, and take in the sun, sights, and smells of Mumbai while thinking about how cold it was back in Virginia,” she says.
Hennessee was, however, apprehensive about spending two weeks with traditional college students 10 years her junior—and in particular that they wouldn’t have much in common. “I needn’t have worried,” she says. “Being immersed in a foreign culture served to highlight our similarities, rather than our differences. We went out together just about every night—and together had a great deal of fun.”
For Hennessee, the J-Term class epitomized the opportunities for personal growth that are at the heart of the BIS experience. “I think I’ve changed in ways I didn’t anticipate when I started the program,” she says. “The program’s emphasis is not on memorizing facts, but on analyzing and interpreting them. I wasn’t used to having people ask me what I think. Though more challenging, it’s been wonderful.”