When and where did you study abroad? Did you have a study focus?
My study abroad trip took place during the spring interim of the 2015 semester. My trip focused mostly on Greece, and I traveled to many places throughout the mainland, as well as to different islands on a cruise. On the cruise, we were also able to spend one day in Turkey. After the first two weeks of the trip we headed to London, where we spent the final week, and from there we were able to take a day trip to Paris. My trip was arranged through the Social Justice program at UW-Oshkosh; but I myself am studying in the Education program. Even though the trip was planned through another program, it didn’t focus too much on any particular subject. Students from any major were able to have rewarding and fulfilling experiences, since we did many different volunteering activities and explored various cultural experiences that could fit with everyone’s individual interests.
What made you want to study abroad?
Since starting college, I’ve always wanted to study abroad. I’d heard such fascinating stories about being fully immersed in a completely different culture; experiencing the food, the people and the differences in daily life. I longed to have this experience and see the world within the education context, since the directors of the program have experienced the places before, so they know all of the amazing must-see things in each place. My initial desire kept growing as I learned about all the wonderful and diverse programs that my school offers. I also wanted to find a trip that would create meaning for my major, and help with my future goals in education. I chose this program because there were lots of different volunteering opportunities, and chances to work with children from completely different cultures. I knew as a future educator that this would be incredibly beneficial for my career.
Describe the application process. What made you successful?
I think the most helpful thing when starting my application process was to begin early. I started almost a year in advance, which may seem a bit soon; but this meant that I was able to plan out my finances and make sure I had every form and piece of documentation ready and handed in before the deadlines. Being so well prepared made the application process much less stressful. It is true, there’s a lot to fill out, and a lot of time must be put into making sure you get everything ready. By starting early, the process seems more exciting than stressful, because you are getting ready at your own pace and building towards a remarkable trip!
What was the most important thing you learned about communicating in a foreign culture while you were studying abroad?
Learning the language and talking with locals was my favorite part of the trip, and the most memorable. It is incredibly important to get yourself out there and to talk to people whenever you can – about anything. Locals love it when Americans try to use their language, even if you mess up! Some locals actually think it’s rude if you just assume that they speak English. I will never forget walking into a Greek restaurant where I couldn’t read a word of the menu, and the locals spoke very broken English. I had to use the few words I’d learned in Greek to communicate with them and order my food. It was such an empowering experience to actually get through to someone who speaks an entirely different language than you, and for you actually to understand each other. My advice is to try your best, ask locals to teach you new words, use them every chance you get, and keep trying!
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
My number one tip is short and sweet: try everything! From food to excursions, and any cultural event that you have the opportunity to be a part of. You don’t want to miss out on something that could change your life forever. Take risks and get out of your comfort zone, you may never be in the same place again! Live and enjoy every single minute.
What made your study abroad experience abroad a success?
I would have to say; having a knowledgeable, easygoing professor, as well as an amazing group of students on the trip was the key to our success. It’s important to have a go-with-the-flow attitude, and to be able to adjust when plans might not always go the best they can. I am so thankful that we had an amazing group of students who were up for anything, got along without any drama, and wanted to experience everything. This being the case, I would say if anyone is planning on studying abroad, it is incredibly important to go in with the mindset that things might always go as planned, due to weather or whatever it may be. Keep looking up, be optimistic, flexible, and know that despite changes, your trip will never be short of amazing, and will be the best experience of your life.
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
I hope to travel whenever possible, and learn about new cultures in order to be a more well-rounded teacher in the classroom, and to be able to share my knowledge of the world with my students. I also hope to spend more time volunteering abroad with children. We spent a great deal of time in Greece, working with various special education programs where children had been abandoned or left without the hope of a good education. I hope to travel back to Greece (and other countries) where the education system is struggling to create positive futures for children with disabilities. I hope to improve these programs, and improve children’s lives.
Throughout her Q&A above, Katie demonstrates a fantastic attitude to the go-abroad experience. Her response highlights her flexibility, openness, and huge enthusiasm for learning from other cultures. These are some of the most crucial qualities for anyone hoping to build high-value international experience. Now that Katie has had a short taste of life abroad, we would recommend that she plan to go on a solo excursion for a slightly longer period of time. By going alone, rather than with a group, she will give herself the new and exciting challenge of full immersion, and by going for a longer period of time, she’ll experience new and higher levels of cross-cultural engagement. Since Katie is committed to being a teacher, and has an interest in helping disadvantaged young people, we would suggest either a longer-term volunteer trip with an NGO (perhaps in Africa, South America or South-East Asia), or a term teaching abroad. Either of these opportunities will allow her to learn new skills, and build career-boosting experience. Good luck!