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York College Political Science major find peace and purpose abroad in Thailand

Jeremy McNeil, political science student

When Jeremy McNeil came to York College of Pennsylvania four years ago, he was majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He liked the campus, the major, and even got a scholarship.

At the end of his freshman year, though, his world turned upside down.

“My older brother James died from heart disease,” Jeremy says. “That’s when I decided I wanted to do something where I could have a bigger impact on people’s lives.”

He switched his major to Political Science, and that set him on a path halfway around the world that has changed his whole outlook on life.

A unique perspective

Jeremey recently completed six-month study abroad in Thailand encouraged by his York College adviser, Dr. Nicolas Anspach, an assistant professor of Political Science.

“Professor Anspach was really helpful and encouraging about this trip,” Jeremy says. “He felt it would help me learn outside the box and get a perspective on politics not possible in the United States.”

The study abroad program arranged by York College was through the University of Chiang Mai. Jeremy took his Political Science classes there, but what he learned outside the box, or more precisely, outside the classroom, made the real impact.

“I went to an orphanage and worked with kids who were abandoned because they have HIV. They were very loving because someone paid attention to them,” Jeremy says. “It was a wonderful experience and showed me how much of a difference I could make in someone’s life.”

Learning to reflect

At the orphanage, Jeremy felt his brother’s presence and his loss.

“I felt like he was with me. It was bittersweet because I was able to experience life in a way I never had but that he could never do,” Jeremy says.

His York College study abroad experience also provided him a chance for a side trip to Malaysia, where he found a guru who taught him meditation techniques.

“I learned how to reflect, and it changed my outlook,” he says. “I stopped worrying about what had happened in the past or what might happen in the future — and to do my best in the present.”

This new perspective, and the difference he made in the lives of those orphan children, led Jeremy to how he thinks he can make that bigger impact on people’s lives here at home.

Giving people a second chance

Jeremy will graduate in December. He wants to go to law school and become a prosecutor, with the unusual goal of trying to change the system to help those accused of crimes.

“Our prison system is not helping people,” he says. “Recidivism is high, and often people commit more violent crimes after being in prison.”

Prosecutors can have discretion in what charges to bring against people

“In some cases,” Jeremey says, “by bringing lesser charges, we can be less punitive and offer people a chance to fix their lives through community service and restitution, not prison.”

York College made it happen

Jeremy credits his parents with always being supportive. But York College’s study abroad options — and Professor Anspach’s unwavering backing — have put him in position to realize his dreams.

“I asked Professor Anspach if this trip was possible. He looked into my academic career, made sure I would get credits for the study abroad, and I would graduate in December,” Jeremy says. “He said this would be the highlight of my college career, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and he made it happen.”

Now, Jeremy believes he can pursue his dream of making life better for others, by giving convicted criminals a second chance, the way provided something that was needed for those orphans in Thailand.

Jeremy hopes to impact people’s lives in a way his brother James didn’t get the chance to, but he’ll take James along on that journey, too.