Knowing and Being Known

One of the best experiences which my time at Erskine has afforded me has been the opportunity to study abroad at the University of St. Andrews. For three and a half months I am living and learning in a new country, entirely different from my own. Studying abroad is amazing.

Studying abroad, strangely enough, has also reinforced all of the reasons why I love Erskine College so much and why I chose to study mathematics and psychology there instead of anywhere else. I am sure you have heard that the “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Before I came to Scotland, I loved Erskine, but I was still unsure if I had made the right decision when I heard about things students were doing at other colleges. The fact is that no matter where you go to college, someone else, somewhere else will always be doing something amazing. Experiencing the large research university, with hundreds of students in every class and professors who will never even learn my name, has shown me that the “other side” might be what is right for some people, but also that Erskine College has helped me to grow academically, emotionally, and spiritually more than I ever could have expected to anywhere else.

The key difference is the relationships I have developed with my professors. Students at colleges around the world usually have plenty of opportunities to meet new friends and spend time having fun with people they care about. They don’t usually have the opportunity to spend time with their professors, the people who are teaching them every day in the classroom. When I tell my new friends in here in Scotland that I have spent hours in my professors offices, babysitting their kids, or going over to their houses for dinner they generally look at me as if an alien has landed and taken over my body; none of them have ever heard of such a thing!

Freshman year I came to Erskine confused about who I was and what I wanted to study. I had only visited Erskine one time prior and still was unsure how to make my way around campus, the typical lost freshman girl who was unsure about anything and everything. I still remember the day that I decided I wanted to study psychology and needed to write my four year plan. I wondered in to Dr. Elsner’s office (the chair of the psychology department at Erskine) and asked him for his help. I didn’t know, then, that professors have office hours for students or that students are typically schedule appointments with their professors before just showing up at their door. I stumbled into Dr. Elsner’s office, and he helped me with my four year plan for psychology and patiently answered my seemingly unending stream of questions.

Sophomore year I requested to have Dr. Elsner as my advisor and also took a class with him that met five days a week, all year long. I am pretty sure that any other professor would have been absolutely tired of seeing me every day that year! But if he was, he hid it well. Almost every afternoon that year I came into his office with at least ten questions about what we were learning in class that day, and to ask for his opinion on my ideas for a research project. Dr. Elsner answered them all, and encouraged me to try new things. He suggested that I try applying for summer research opportunities, gave advice for which ones would be good for me, wrote letters of recommendation for my applications, and then encouraged me to try again next year when I didn’t receive any offers for placements.

Junior year came with a surprise: I decided that I wanted to study abroad my senior year. Most students plan to study abroad well in advance before they go; they usually come in to college and design their four year plan around their semester away. About a third of the way through my third year, I decided I wanted to go too. Yet, if it hadn’t been for Dr. Elsner, I would not have been able to go. Not only did he support my decision, he helped me to completely rearrange my four year to include time for studying in Scotland. Making my trip to Scotland possible was not just an afternoon of creative thinking! To make sure I received all of my credits for graduation, Dr. Elsner had to meet with me twice a week spring semester to teach me a course in Developmental Psychology. Developmental psychology is offered every year in the fall, but I wanted to take it in the spring so I could go to St. Andrews in the fall. If Dr. Elsner hadn’t been willing to take time out of his busy schedule to teach a course just for me, I never would have been able to come to Scotland.

Senior year has been no different. Right now I am in Scotland, writing this article in the University of St. Andrews library. Already I have emailed Dr. Elsner three times this weekend. The first was ask him several questions about class registration for spring registration. Two of the classes I need to take to graduate are offered at the same time, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Dr. Elsner emailed me back and offered to move the time for psychology senior seminar so I could get all of my classes does in time for May. The second email was about the new APA guidelines for undergraduate psychology. Dr. Elsner emailed all of his students and asked us if we would like to read the new guidelines and offer feedback for the upcoming changes in the department. I think all students really appreciate the regular opportunity to give feedback on what we are learning and how the department can improve. The third was about graduate school, to ask him if he would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation letter for my application to a Ph.D. program in North Carolina. Dr. Elsner wrote back quickly and told me to send him the details!

The best thing about Erskine is that this story would not be surprising to any of the students who read it. Dr. Elsner treats each and every student who has him as their advisor as important and worthy of his time. When I go to his office, there is almost always a line of students waiting to talk to him and get his advice, because he makes it clear that every student is important to him. Each student who comes to ask for his advice gets his full attention and support, even those who don’t have him as their advisor or may not even be taking any classes from him! I have written about Dr. Elsner because he is my advisor, but I would also not expect anything less from any of the other professors who mentor each of the students at Erskine College. In my opinion, this is what Erskine really means when they offer the chance for each student to know and be known.