Where did you study abroad?
I studied abroad for a full fall semester, at HZ University of Applied Sciences in Vlissingen, Netherlands.
What made you want to study abroad?
The main reason I wanted to study abroad was to quench my thirst for culture and traveling. I've always had a passion for traveling, and I thought that completing a semester abroad would be a great opportunity to immerse myself in another culture while also earning school credit.
How did you search for programs? What made you select your program?
My search for programs was actually not that difficult, because my home university has a very informative and helpful International Education Office. The office had a large list of partner universities, and from that list I narrowed my choices down to my top three locations. From that point, researching online was quite easy. I chose HZ University mainly because of the international presence represented on their academic Web site, the easy access to resources, and a particular scholarship that was available through their exchange program.
Do you have any tips on writing applications and preparing for a study abroad term? What was your application process like?
In writing my application, I felt the most important aspect was to show my passion for traveling, learning and experiencing new cultures. The application process was lengthy but not difficult. It consisted of attending an information session. I was given an application form. To complete this form, I had to conduct research on my top three university choices, write an essay on why I wanted to study abroad, provide two letters of recommendation, show that I had a valid passport and that I met visa requirements, etc. After my application was submitted, I was then contacted for an interview. This interview was conducted by a team of three people from the International Education Office and consisted of common interview questions (e.g. "Why do you want to go abroad?" "How will you cope with being away from home?")
What was the biggest surprise about your study abroad experience?
The biggest surprise of my study abroad experience was the lifelong relationships I formed with the friends I met abroad. I never thought I would meet so many people from all over the world and become such close friends with them. I was fortunate enough to experience not only Dutch culture, but through meeting friends from Germany, Austria, France, the Czech Republic and other countries, I gained an understanding of other cultures too. I was also so happy to share my own culture with my new friends. I was also amazed at how easy it is to travel in Europe. I traveled to over 15 countries during my semester abroad!
Did you participate in extra-curricular or social activities abroad? If so, how did they differ from social activities in your home culture?
The university abroad had an amazing International Student Union that made all sorts of extracurricular and social activities accessible to students. I was able to connect with local Dutch students as well as international students. In class we were also encouraged to work with students from other countries, so we'd get different perspectives on school assignments.
What made your study abroad experience abroad a success?
The amazing international education programs at both my home university and at my university abroad. My university abroad really put effort into integrating all the international students and encouraging student participation through organized activities, office hours, and much more. I always felt welcome and always knew that they'd try their best to help me with whatever I needed.
What international career skills did you develop?
Living and studying abroad has developed my cross-cultural communication skills; it has made me more approachable and unafraid of taking risks -- all of which I will take with me into my future career.
What was the most important thing you learned about cross-cultural communication while you were studying abroad?
The most important thing I learned about cross-cultural communication while studying abroad was never to make assumptions that people know what you're talking about. It's important to be clear when communicating with people from other cultures, as there's a good chance certain slang terms or common phrases are not translated into other cultures. I also learned that people from other cultures all have different ways of communicating, and that misunderstandings are common. For example, the Dutch tend to be blunt when communicating, which can be construed as being rude, but it's simply how they communicate!
What was your return like?
Tearful, as I was not ready to leave! I absolutely loved my study abroad and was sad to say goodbye to friends.
What is your number one tip for anyone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
The number one tip I have for anyone hoping to study abroad is to keep an open mind and not to have any expectations. And to travel whenever you can!
What did you miss most about home?
I did miss my friends and family from home, but I always knew I would see them soon. I always knew that I would be with my new friends abroad for only short time. But I missed my mother's cooking! (Who doesn't?)
Do you have any final reflections on your experience?
Always look for scholarships and no matter how scary it may seem, studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience!
What are your future plans for going abroad and for your career?
This is my last semester in university and after my semester abroad, I fell in love with Europe. I have looked a few internships in Europe and spoke to an agency that matches interns with companies, but as of now I have not made a decision of where I want to go or what I want to do. I may stay in Canada and get experience in my industry, then apply for jobs abroad. The biggest factor in my decision right now is money, as most internships in Europe pay very little or nothing at all. Whether I decided to try and work abroad or not, I know that travel will be in my future no matter what!
Theresa caught the travel bug while she was away, and she now faces a common decision: whether to stay in her home country to gain industry experience, or head back abroad to further develop her international skills. The good news is that it's possible to do both. We recommend that Theresa follow through on her proposed search for international internships. We're not sure what her industry is, but nowadays in the global workplace, almost every industry has an international component and we'd encourage her to investigate. She could also consider teaching English in a foreign country, which would provide her with stable financial income and she could pursue additional side contracts and professional opportunities in her field while teaching.
- How to Survive Your First International Internship describes fundamental work habits that are key to succeeding on your first international internship.
- Job Hunting During Your Internship, from the same section, describes how to maximize the long-term career value of your international internship.
- Read the Teach English Abroad section to get a sense of whether this might be an ideal career-boosting international adventure for you.