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A Degree Abroad: Four Trips, Four Years

December 10, 2018

Sofia Logan and other students with the Dalai Lama

Sofia Logan and other students with the Dalai Lama
Sofia Logan (pictured far right) and other students with the Dalai Lama.

Sofia Logan (pictured far right) and other students with the Dalai Lama. Photo courtesy of Sofia Logan.

A semester in Ecuador, a semester in Cuba, a three-week trip to India, and a summer in Brazil has rounded out Sofia Logan’s list of international educational experiences. The thread that tied them all together? Music.

A Curiosity for Traveling

According to the Learning Abroad Center, only 34% of University of Minnesota students have a learning abroad experience during their undergraduate career. Then there is Sofia Logan, who has studied abroad four times. Logan is a senior double majoring in global studies and history with a Spanish minor. “I want to get out,” she says. “The more you get out the more you bring back to your own place and culture.” 

Logan’s love for traveling has been nurtured since she was a teenager when she attended Camp Rising Sun, an international leadership camp in upstate New York for girls and boys from over 30 countries. She also went on a US Department of State scholarship program that took her out of the country for the first time to Bangladesh her junior year of high school to study climate change. These travel experiences launched her interest in international relations and cultural exchanges. 

Music and Culture

Besides being a world traveler, Logan is also a musician, with a fascination in ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology, in her own words, is “the confluence of history, music, sociology, and ethnography. It looks at the history of music and how it has been used by different groups, and how it's changing.” 

Logan has taken 7 plus years of violin, piano, guitar, dance, and some classical singing lessons. In each country she’s been to, Logan actively sought out private music and dance lessons outside of classes in history and international relations. Talented professors in the global studies, history, music and philosophy departments helped her figure out how these disciplines could be combined. “I feel like wherever I've traveled I've tried to find ways to connect with music and dance, because that's what I’m most passionate about,” Logan notes.

First: Ecuador

In the spring semester of her sophomore year, Logan’s first learning abroad program was in Ecuador through the Minnesota Studies in International Development (MSID). To satisfy her love for music, she bought a guitar in her first week to take lessons in Ecuadorian folk music. Logan also had an internship at a law office that is representing a confederation of Indigenous peoples in an environmental justice lawsuit against the oil giant Chevron during the second half of the program. 

At the end of the semester, she lived in the Amazon Rainforest with a Kichwa indigenous community to conduct research on how they were using ecotourism as a way to preserve the environment.

Second: Cuba

Spring semester of her junior year, Logan was one of the first UMN students to study abroad in Havana, Cuba while also receiving the Gilman Scholarship for the four-month program. 

The artistic culture of Cuba meant that Logan could fully explore her interest of music and dance. In addition to Cuban history classes at the University of Havana, for four months she took guitar, voice, and percussion lessons once a week at a private music school. Along with this she took two classes at the National Theater of Havana in Afro-Cuban folkloric dancing and popular Cuban dances, which includes casino, son, mambo and cha cha cha. She also participated in the International Cuban Dance Festival, a four day long outdoor festival in Old Havana. There, she took master dance classes during the day, and watched world-class dance groups by night. Logan quickly noticed a cultural attitude towards music and dance. “In Cuba, if you are a painter, a dancer, or a musician, that's very respected.” 

Third: India

Fast forward to summer 2018, where Logan was catching another flight, this time to Northern India. Logan took U of M Instructor Miriam Cameron’s class, Traditional Tibetan Medicine, a prerequisite for the May term trip to Dharamsala, India. She went on the trip, which entailed twenty days of classes in Tibetan medicine and Tibetan Buddhism at the Men-Tsee-Khang Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute. “[It] wasn't really even for my major,” Sofia says. “[The] program was so unique, I had to do it.” 

Logan found more ways to explore music, completing her final project on how Tibetan medicine views performance anxiety. “Performance has always been this anxiety-causing fear, ” Logan says of her own performance. “In Tibetan culture, it’s this exchange of energy between the music and the audience. Music is meant to heal, and it's not about the performer, [but] about healing other people emotionally.”

Last, but not least, Brazil

Just one week after returning from India, Logan was on her way to Florianópolis, Brazil, for an intensive Portuguese program. She received the Foreign Language Area Studies Scholarship (FLAS), an award funded by the US Department of Education to assist students in learning a language critical for international relations. For a month after her program, she lived in a house of musicians and artists in Brazil to do research for her senior paper on the construction of samba as a national symbol in Brazil. She received the Hedley Donovan Scholarship from the UMN history department to do this research. She plans on returning to make an album that's half English and half Portuguese with the friends she made there.

So what’s next for this world traveler? As Logan finishes her final semester, she has a few new trips in the works. “My goal is to save up money working at a law firm in St. Paul and backpack Europe to visit all of my friends and coworkers from Camp Rising Sun,” Logan says. “I really want to take those five months to also pursue music and dance full time.” In the meantime, she’s applied for the Critical Language Scholarship to continue studying Portugeuse, in addition to a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Brazil. 

This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLAgency. Meet the team.