Recently, the organization I studied abroad with USAC, gave me a list of questions regarding my experience and how it has changed my life. I sat in a coffee shop, trying to convey in writing, all the wonderful, amazing, unbelievable things I did studying abroad. Reflecting on my experiences as a student in Thailand and India, I just couldn’t believe how freaking grateful I am for my experience, that somehow, with no guidance, I just went for it! Below are my answers-I hope they help inspire and ignite a desire in you to study abroad or even travel. I hope they put whatever fears or hesitations you might have to rest and that you to, just go for it! (please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further questions)
Why did you choose the program that you did?
My first time studying abroad I chose to go to Thailand because I wanted to go somewhere vastly different from what I was used to in California. I wanted to challenge myself to thrive in a country with a different language, cuisine, and dominant religion. I also knew I wanted to go to a warm country that offered mountains, beaches, cultural sites, and adventure, needless to say, Thailand was everything I could have wished for and more. The second time I studied abroad I chose India. The main reason for this was that I was going to graduate school for public health and I wanted to be part of a program that would give me the opportunity to work with marginalized populations in a developing country. The India program gave me the opportunity to work with HIV positive orphans and children of the lowest caste in the local slum school center. Another huge factor/benefit to these programs were their affordability. Time and time again, I am positively surprised with the quality of program, and pure experience that developing country programs provide. Studying abroad is by no means all studying; the off time is where most of my personal development took place, and with inexpensive destinations such as Thailand and India, myself and fellow students were able to travel to exotic beaches, jungles, temples, cities, and more for a very little. Beach bungalow for $4 per night, massages for $5 per hour? Delicious noodles for $1! Count me in!
If or when you study abroad again, where would you like to go? Why?
I would love to participate in the Ghana program. I have always been interested in African culture and how related factors influence health. Israel and Brazil and top contenders though.
What are some of your favorite highlights from your time abroad?
- Traveling by train from south to north in India
- Working with children
- The islands and beaches in Thailand
- Making amazing friends from all over the world
- Tubing in Laos
In your experience, what are the major benefits of studying abroad?
The personal benefits are endless; you gain skills in adaptability, communication, relationship building, resourcefulness, confidence, and self-reliance.
What were some of the special/unique things you were able to do or see?
- The temples and killing fields in Cambodia
- Living with a Thai family for a week and teaching English at the local school
- Having traditional food and henna done at my program hosts house in India
- Seeing up close, all different types of monkeys and elephants
- Experiencing how amazing Bangkok is with all its markets, malls, temples, street food, clubs, and culture.
What was a funny cultural experience?
Trying to buy tampons in a pharmacy, picture little white girl with no Thai language skills, miming what I needed. Enough said.
What did you learn about yourself?
That I can do anything, cheesy I know, but true. Ever since I studied abroad I feel like I could do anything, go anywhere, make friends, rise above, anywhere in the world. It was completely inspiring and freeing.
How did studying abroad change you?
It has changed everything from what I want out of life, to my daily thoughts. Studying abroad enabled me to dream big and live authentically.
What’s one thing you would have done differently?
I would definitely have gone for a whole year and not just a semester. I know everyone says that and its just not always possible, but if given the chance again, I would have made a whole year work. Especially as an undergraduate, I think a whole year in Thailand would have given me the opportunity to really retain the language and not feel so rushed.
Now that you’re home, how has study abroad impacted your life?
I am a travel addict. I dream daily of new exciting places with new food, beautiful languages, interesting people, and purely experiencing a different way of life. I have the travel bug, BAD. In retrospect, I feel like I was wearing a weird filter all my life until I went abroad. I was operating in a bubble, and I didn’t even know it, and now I see the world in a broader sense, undiscovered, yet interconnected in ways I long to discover.
How many years did it/will it take you to graduate?
My bachelors took me 3 years and masters took me 2 years. I wish more students knew that with the right program match, studying abroad does not hold back your academic track. In fact, many times I was able to use my experiences for independent study credit in addition to course credit.
What are you doing now?
I started a travel website called balancedbackpacker.com where I share my experiences and tips/tricks which I am having a great time with.
I am also gearing up to get married in August, (lucky he loves travel and food and much as me)! Then we are off in November for a around the world adventure. We have saved a chunk of money and are planning to just go! We will work here and there, but in general we just want to give ourselves, and our marriage, the ultimate gift of travel in our first year as a married couple. No chocolate for us, adventure is our aphrodisiac!
What, in your opinion, are the biggest myths students believe about study abroad?
- That it’s too expensive
- That it will hold back their academic track
What advice would you tell students trying to decide whether or not to study abroad?
Although images of partying your way around Spain are enough for some to take the plunge, many people just don’t know all the amazing, countless options there are for studying abroad. Often, feelings of excitement, finances, and fear of the unknown whirl around your brain until you crash and think it’s just not for you. But I am proof that not only can you find a program that in the country you want, with the academic requirements you need, without breaking the bank. I would recommend starting with a list of what you know you are looking for and what you definitely don’t want. For example, if you hate rainy cold weather, but want an English speaking country, check out Australia instead of England. For me, I hate cold weather, wanted to learn a new language, love beaches and Asian food, so Thailand made sense. I found this exercise to be really helpful in choosing a country so that you don’t wind up in a place based on others opinions, but with what is a good match for you.