Foreign travel is big part of Milton student's college experience
MILTON--Hanna Hermanson is learning how to embrace the questions.
As a college student, she journeyed to four different countries in four years. After each trip, she came home with more questions than answers about herself and her place in the world.
“I'm still trying to piece it all together,” the 22-year-old said.
The daughter of Teresa and Paul Hermanson graduated from Milton High School in 2010.
When Hanna began at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she had not traveled outside the United States. Like many students, she seized opportunities in college to see and experience the world.
In May, she will graduate with a degree in psychology. She learned much on campus, but she also forged relationships with people in the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Cambodia and Nepal.
As a freshman, she taught English for a week to third-graders in the Dominican Republic through a program offered by her dormitory.
“It was my first waking up to what poverty can look like,” she said. “It was not so much about the words I was teaching as it was about having human interactions. I went there and realized I have so much to learn.”
In following years, Hanna traveled during three winter breaks through Badger Quest, a program offered by The Crossing. The Crossing is a UW-Madison campus ministry committed to service, peace and social justice, said Doug Pierce, executive director.
“We are much more than a service-learning trip,” he explained. “The idea is to get students outside their comfort zones and to experience cultures through the eyes of the people in those cultures.”
Hanna paid from $1,900 to $2,300 each for three trips. She got some support from relatives and family friends, but she paid for most of the cost.
“I work three jobs and have been intentional about saving to afford these opportunities,” she said.
In Kenya, Hanna helped run a camp for children, many who had parents with AIDS or who had lost parents to the disease.
“These students wanted to get to know us, which allowed me to get to know each of them,” Hanna said.
In Cambodia, Hanna taught English, used makeshift tools to dig a trench for water and helped plant corn and rice at an orphanage.
“I struggle with saying I did those things,” she said. “I got to know the people and did the work, but I don't really know poverty. In the back of my mind, I always knew I was coming home. I had a way out.”
In Nepal, she traveled five hours by vehicle and then hiked two hours up a mountain to a remote village.
“It was the hardest thing my body has ever done,” said Hanna, who runs half marathons.
During the day, she used a cow skin to remove dirt from a mountainside to make room for a school library. At night, she stayed with a family and tended the fire in a home without electricity or running water.
“There were times when I looked around and thought this is like National Geographic,” Hanna said. “I kept running into things in the house because it was dark. I wore all the clothes I had all the time because I never felt warm.”
She is still trying to figure out how to integrate her travel experiences into her life.
“I feel like I had these big experiences,” she said. “Now, how do I channel them into change somehow?”
She is certain she will continue to travel after graduation.
“I have so much to see,” Hanna said. “I have been privileged to hear some different perspectives. Now I feel responsible to take meaning from them. I would like more people to have these kinds of experiences and to come back and ask questions.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org