When and where did you study abroad? Did you have a study focus?
I have been fortunate to study abroad several times. My first trip overseas followed my first year of studying Chinese. I visited Hangzhou, China, for a month and focused my studies on Chinese culture in film and learning the local language. My second trip abroad was a semester program in South Africa and Namibia with the Center for Global Education. This program strives to break down stereotypes and discern development projects in southern Africa, aptly titled “Nation Building, Globalization, and Decolonizing the Mind.” Lastly, I studied for an additional month in China in the city of Nanjing after receiving a scholarship from the local chapter of the Confucius Institute in Indiana.
What made you want to study abroad?
I’d traveled to England with my family when I was 13 years old and distinctly remember visiting Oxford and Cambridge. My parents and relatives suggested that I “come back someday and study there” and I just knew I had to! Turns out, I haven’t quite made it back to England yet, but I’m hopeful!
What was the biggest surprise about your study abroad experience?
My first study abroad experience in China truly made me feel like I was on another planet! It was a strong reminder that there are a lot of people on this earth and there is no single “correct way” to go about your life. At the end of the day, though, we have more in common than we think! It was fun to celebrate the similarities and recognize the differences.
How did you finance your trip abroad and did you find any creative solutions to stay on budget?
The scholarships I had received for study at Valparaiso University carried over into most of my study abroad experiences. I also applied for and received outside scholarships and grants to help finance my trip; for China specifically, students should look into local Confucius Institutes for any connections or scholarship opportunities. I participated in a grant program that included a 100-hour volunteer internship in an NGO that was later rewarded with $1,000. I also always worked part-time while at school and even if I had to make social sacrifices, I knew it would always be worth it in the end (and I was right!)
What was your return like? Do you plan to go abroad again?
Each return has had its ups and downs and there are hardly any commonalities among my separate returns to the US. The re-entry experience really depends on the length of time you were abroad and how dedicated you were to engaging with and immersing yourself into the local culture. People/advisors will always tell you that you are going to experience culture shock, but while this is possible, I feel that sometimes students psych themselves up too much anticipating a tough transition. Be flexible, write down everything you remember from your trip, and be patient with yourself – grown accustomed to your old stomping ground takes more than a few days!
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Plan early and be up front about your goals with your academic advisors. Because I wanted to study in Namibia and my degree emphasis was on East Asia, all of my elective courses were completed on my semester abroad – which meant I had to hustle every other semester! In the end, the important thing is to make the decision to commit to studying abroad. Yes, it is a financial and a planning hurdle but you will have few or no regrets upon returning. Who knows, you may end up becoming addicted to it!
What did you miss most about home?
Mom’s cooking! Signs in familiar languages! The ability to truly relax and not feel like I was wasting precious moments.
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I want my life’s work to be dedicated to facilitating cross-cultural exchanges through education. I have hopes of working to create programs, maintain programs and help advise students who are looking to go abroad. I especially want to make study abroad more affordable and accessible to students, as well as working to make the programs more effective and social-justice oriented. I am looking forward to the possibility of working with colleagues who share my passions and I’m excited to help mold students’ worldviews!
Megan knows exactly what she wants from her future career. Having had multiple positive experiences abroad, she is now dedicated to providing others with the same opportunity. Her proactive and enthusiastic attitude to facilitating cross-cultural experiences will serve her well as she pursues her career goals. As Megan moves into program management and creation, she may find that language fluency and international business skills would be of value. She might even consider taking time off to pursue an international MBA.
- 24 Ways to Go International offers great advice on how to build international skills on and off-campus. Megan might choose to share some of these suggestions with the students she advises.
- Language Learning and Your International Career will inspire you to build your language skills and provide tips on how to become fluent.
- Those interested in following in Megan’s adventure-filled footsteps should check out International Volunteer Opportunities.