Experience study abroad through the eyes of our past returnees as they discuss their adventures in over 20 countries!
“To experience a foreign place and to begin to understand and enjoy the customs and traditions of that place is a truly remarkable thing.“
Prior to my Education Abroad experience, the only time I had spent out of the country was in Montreal, Quebec - a mere four-hour drive from my hometown. I would consider myself an adventurous person, so the fact that I had yet to cross an ocean to experience an unfamiliar land and culture was really starting to bother me. In the spring of my sophomore year, I saw a poster for the Digital Archaeology of Heritage Buildings of West Africa program held in Ghana by the Archaeology, Technology, and Historical Structures department in May and June. Since I was interested in pursuing an ATHS minor, I concluded that this program would be a good fit for me.
It turned out that I was right - the program was an excellent fit for me. While some students might reject the idea of learning during summer break, I saw an opportunity to learn in a new and exciting way. The program consisted of archaeological and ethnographic fieldwork at and around 15th-17th Century castles on the coast of Ghana, as well as digital modelling and engineering analysis of said castles. Now I had zero experience in all of these fields, but the idea that I could learn them in a hands-on way was very appealing to me. And I was not disappointed. The break from the traditional classroom setting with exams and papers was not only much needed, but an effective way of immersing myself in these new fields of study.
Perhaps the greatest learning experience, however, came from immersing myself in the country and the culture. To experience a foreign place and to begin to understand and enjoy the customs and traditions of that place is a truly remarkable thing. Whether I was walking through a market in Kumasi, traversing a forest canopy walk 160 feet in the air, or attending a meeting with the chief of a small fishing village, I always felt that feeling of excitement that comes when you are experiencing something completely new to you. Also, the food was simply phenomenal. I’ve been trying to get my hands on some fufu and light soup ever since I returned to the States. I would strongly encourage anyone who wants to experience a new place and a new culture (and of course, new food) to reach out to the Education Abroad office. Additionally, if the idea of fieldwork in the summer sounds appealing, I recommend looking into summer field schools offered by the ATHS department.
-Josh Narey, Ghana, Summer 2019
“The most impactful experiences come from outside of your daily routine. Though common sense and safety should always be of foremost importance, risk shouldn’t be feared.”
Years ago, when I had first travelled far from my hometown, I promised myself I would always take the opportunity to do so again. When my Russian professors came to our class with the suggestion of a summer abroad, I was instantly interested. Without financial aid, however, I wasn’t confident my excitement was realistic. The financial aid I received allowed me to study abroad when otherwise it would have been an impossibility. I encourage students to reach out if they feel doubtful about their financial ability to pay for the trip.
My most genuine advice for those studying abroad is to immerse yourself in the culture as much as possible. By this, I don’t mean simply going to class or tourist sites. The most impactful experiences come from outside of your daily routine. Though common sense and safety should always be of foremost importance, risk shouldn’t be feared. Part of learning a language, or another facet of culture, is the uncomfort and fear during interaction. Naturally, there are moments of confusion or misunderstanding in this exchange. Yet something is always received as well. There were moments of clarity when I finally utilized a grammar rule properly, or when I noticed a cultural difference I had never known about before. Both cultures learn to laugh at each other's mistakes, and barriers of difference only lessen over the trip.
It is inevitable that you will become closer with those you travel with. Travel-mates become lifelong friends, and experiences exclusive to the journey are shared. You leave with a list of inside jokes, ranging from a food you didn’t quite enjoy, to taking the wrong metro line on the way to class. The change is jarring at first, but you learn to navigate the local streets. You transform into a kind of “temporary native”. On the plane back, part of me was ready to binge on cheese and grease. The other part wasn’t prepared to leave, and was instead planning the next trip. My final suggestion is this: fill yourself with stories until you are exhausted, and then do some more.
-Nadezdha Huges, St Petersburg, Russia, Summer 2019
“What I wish to sell you on is a benefit that is strikingly powerful but it is nothing more than the value of time to yourself while abroad.”
Very well-known are the benefits of any study abroad experience. Learning or perfecting a new language, engaging in a different culture, learning a new way of life: these are all signature selling points for an education abroad experience. Although each of these are true, I want to sell you on another facet of an experience abroad. What I wish to sell you on is a benefit that is strikingly powerful but it is nothing more than the value of time to yourself while abroad.
With the perpetual buzz of daily life here at school, we frequently forget to sit and talk to the voice that accompanies us everywhere. In an effort to fill each minute of the day, we find it dangerously easy to occupy just about every waking moment. Yet, as the great 13th century Persian poet Rumi so succinctly and astutely put it, “Listen to silence. It has so much to say”.
After my summer in Paris, France working for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - or UNESCO, as the acronym goes – I became convinced that life’s greatest lessons and life’s most profound thoughts are born out of silence. Aside from the inspiring work that I was able to do over the summer and the wonderful experience of immersing myself in French culture, what I was offered in abundance during this experience was nothing more than a calmness. This calmness allowed me the space to reflect on what mattered most to me and allowed me to understand more about myself. Surely in saying that calmness was the most valuable thing to come from this experience, I might be garnering some push back already. After all, an education abroad experience is no cheap order. Why do you have to go abroad to find calmness? Why can’t you just go to a campus meditation session or a yoga class, or even just sit quietly in your room undisturbed? Frankly, surely you could do one of these and you would be saving quite a penny. However, what I aim to testify on is the unique characteristics of an education abroad experience that allows you a special type of calmness.
When you are put in an entirely fresh environment your brain works differently than when you find yourself in your known routine. Immersed in another culture, positioned without friends in the beginning, and occasionally speaking in a language other than your native tongue, my brain simplified everything around me. Because of so much unknown, for some reason, I felt that my brain’s natural reaction was to calm its constant hum to focus its efforts only on the essential. Among the cacophony around me, my brain found peace in silent observation. Amidst the common reaction of trepidation with the unknown, my brain found wonder and awe in the most nuanced things. With this wonder and awe came a sense of calmness and tranquility that I cannot quite fully describe. And, this gave rise to clarity of thought which led to an experience of self-discovery that I will never forget.
In testifying to my own experience, I wholeheartedly encourage others to pursue a similar education abroad course. I truly believe that there is so much value in stepping outside of the traditional educational setting that we have here on campus and stepping into a new opportunity for discovery. Whether you have the experience of calmness and understanding that I did is never assured but I hope to inspire you to courageously place yourself out of your comfort zone and see where your mind takes you while you are there.
-Nathan Leopold, Paris, France, Summer 2019
"Ever since I was old enough to know what study abroad was, I knew I wanted to do it".
"Spend a few months (or even a year!) in basically any country you want? Who could say no? At first, it was impossible to narrow down the list of places I wanted to go—the only programs I crossed off initially were the ones I didn't meet the prerequisites for! When I really thought about what I wanted from my study abroad experience, though, it was much easier. I'm a Spanish minor and absolutely love the language—it has always been my goal to speak it fluently someday. The more I thought about it, the more I knew I had to go to a Spanish-speaking country. I knew I wanted to go to Latin America rather than Spain, because it seemed more adventurous to me; I am lucky enough to have lived in Europe already, so I wanted to try something completely new and different. To be honest, I don't know why I chose Buenos Aires specifically. I knew very little about Argentina before coming here, but for some reason I was drawn to it (and I'm so glad I was!).
Studying abroad was easily the best decision I could have made to improve my Spanish. I'm constantly interacting with native speakers in my homestay, school, and daily life. I've learned so many new vocabulary words and idioms simply by hearing and using them so frequently. I'm sure that I could have eventually learned them all from a textbook, but here I was picking them up starting on my first day. There are also so many words I've learned that would be essentially meaningless without knowing and understanding the cultural context behind them.
I'm also taking a Spanish grammar class for the first time since high school. In college, once you get to a certain level, you just start taking literature or other content-area courses. There are many amazing courses offered at UR, but I'm a huge grammar nerd and missed my conjugations! Before coming here, I felt that I had sort of been stuck in a grammar rut—I knew all of the tenses and many other concepts, but I had no idea how to progress. Here, I feel like I'm pushing myself to new limits—we spend four hours a week going over and practicing complex topics. I'm learning a ton!
There are so many intangible benefits of living in a Spanish-speaking country, as well. I've studied Spanish for eight years now, and living here successfully really makes me feel like it's paying off. It is also definitely encouraging me to keep studying; every day I realize I still have much to learn! I've also noticed myself becoming more confident in speaking—I rarely get nervous now when I have to say something, and I'm way more comfortable trying trickier sentence structures in conversation.
If you're considering studying a language at UR, I can't recommend study abroad enough. Take language classes early and often, and remember that it's never too early to start thinking about going abroad!"
-Kristen Scherb, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Spring 2012