BRANDON — With a single backpack, college student Taylor Cochran is ready to take on the world.
Over the next eight months, the 2009 King High graduate will immerse herself in the cultures of five countries — Turkey, Tanzania, India, New Zealand and Mexico — for a study abroad in globalization.
"I just think there's so much to learn outside of school," said Cochran, 20, a junior at the small, private Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. "Once you learn how big the world is, it's hard to be contained in one place."
Cochran, who is from Brandon, leaves today to join about 30 students in the comparative international study called Beyond Globalization, run by the International Honors Program based in Boston. The country-hopping program focuses on the effects of a developing world economy on communities' growth and sustainability.
Many of the students are already questioning how the world works, said program coordinator Chiyo King.
"It's a way of helping them explore those questions," King said, "not necessarily giving them those answers, but helping them be able to see what's happening in real life and be exposed to greater connections that are out there."
Cochran describes the program as a mix of anthropology, environmental studies and economics.
Her financial aid packages, which include a Barnes Scholarship from the St. Petersburg Times Fund, will cover the estimated $44,000 cost of the trip — cheaper, she said, than a year on campus at Bowdoin.
The study abroad fits well with Cochran's work with the Maine Conservation Corps, where she examines the relationships between changing societies and the changing environment.
A psychology major, she's drawn to how the mind and body release stress when immersed in nature and away from a fast-paced, technology-obsessed life.
That has a deep personal connection: Cochran's father died when she was 11, which she said left her battling grief and emotional instability throughout her childhood.
Cochran found herself feeling more grounded after going to camp in North Carolina, where she spent a lot of time in the quiet outdoors: "Time for reflection can be powerful," said Cochran, an aspiring grief or youth counselor.
So the upcoming trip presents a challenge. Cochran is eager to put herself in new places with new habits, where she will seek an emotional balance while constantly traveling.
"I want to be open to new people," she said, "and learn as much as I can about myself."
Her grandparents, who raised her in Brandon, worried about her traveling abroad after hearing news stories of drug warfare and bombings. Don't go out alone, they told her. Be careful.
"I told her I don't have the resources to come and look for her in a foreign country," joked grandfather Jim Sclavakis, 74. "I told her, if they need a chaperon, I'm volunteering."
But he said he knows she can take care of herself.
He gave her an international phone and stamps, and she promised to send e-mail updates.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.