Learning Arabic was among the most challenging, emotional, and rewarding experiences of my life. When I arrived in Lebanon, I spent most of my time retraining my tongue and throat and vigorously massaging my head as my brain scrambled to make sense of sounds and sights.
The students living on campus literally became my family. We watched Arabic movies together, went shopping, cried, laughed, and otherwise became siblings. The classes were intimate and engaging, and our professors became our friends. We incorporated current events, history, and culture into our daily lessons and immersions. The administration, pastors at the Middle East and North Africa Union, and neighbors were all a part of our learning process. The church is doing amazing work in Lebanon, especially with health and nutrition, and the University is right in the middle of the action. Everyone was involved and seemed genuinely excited in seeing students learn and grow.
And learn and grow I did. I learned that I couldn’t begin to understand the culture or language with assumptions or fears clouding my mind. I learned that it was important to step out of my comfort zone - I could not dismiss everyone or prejudge their perceptions of me. I was challenged to be open-minded, to learn in new ways, to love people I may never see again. As I learned Arabic, I realized that I wasn’t just learning a language - I was being stitched into the fabric of an intricately connected family. I hope that with every year more students will have the courage to try, and the family will continue to grow.
My experience abroad was something that was planned at the last minute; therefore, there was not much I was looking forward to except for learning a new language. I had not done much research of the target country, but I knew it was a requirement for my major and I wanted to learn Spanish.
Despite my lack of preparation and a few obstacles, I am happy I went to Argentina and got the opportunity to travel to various places. Although I am still not completely fluent in the language, I learned a lot about the culture, about myself, and about others. One of the experiences that stood out to me was the extra time I spent with the kids after my classes were done.
During the first trimester, I volunteered at the elementary school to get a deeper feel of the culture and also to immerse myself in the language. Assisting the teachers in the classroom helped a lot especially with little phrases that were not taught in the classrooms. The kids were very sweet and always wanted to talk. Going to the school after my classes was the highlight of my days, and I looked forward to it every day. It was something different, and it took me away from the other ACA students. I enjoyed learning the little things I learned on my own, and I am happy I took advantage of the opportunity.
I found that the best way for me to get the most out of my time abroad was to immerse myself in the culture and interact with students who knew much more Spanish than I did in order to improve the language. Fortunately, both of my roommates knew English well-enough in order help me when I got stuck on a word or phrase. There were other friends as well who also helped me out, but the more I practiced Spanish, the better I got and thus the less help I would need. During the summer, I would use what my native friends had taught me in order to help other of my ACA friends who struggled every now and then.
For me, the best ways to maximize my year abroad was through immersion and interaction with natives the majority of the time. These two techniques seemed to work best for me because the locals were willing to help me with smaller tasks, which would later work for more grand situations such as traveling or negotiation. It’s because of them that I feel better prepared to face every day conversation in a more fluid, proper, and effortless manner.
There were many important tasks I accomplished during my study abroad experience. One of the most important aspects of my study abroad experience was the ability of thinking outside of the box. I would advocate that in order to study abroad, a student needs to be willing to have an open mind and be willing to learn new ways of creative thinking. Prior to leaving for Argentina, I knew how to speak the basics of Spanish and I could express myself fairly well. However, when I set foot in South America, it was completely different. I knew it would be different and I went with an open mind. I had to think about the way I see the world and how the locals of my new “home” see the world. It was a process that was difficult at times, but completely necessary. This experience trained me to be more creative in regards to not only entertainment, but communication as well. Although I knew a lot of Spanish, I found it difficult to communicate with people at first. It was not necessarily that I did not know how to say something; I just didn’t know what to say. Of course, I was using broken Spanish, but the new people I had met could understand what I was saying. When I went to a friend’s home for the Christmas break, I knew I would see a way of living completely unfamiliar to me. I went into it with an open mind and creative thinking and had one of the best experiences of my life. I liked seeing a different perspective of the world and way of living. Overall, I believe that I acquired a lot of my creative thinking skills from my trip in Argentina, solely based on the fact that I opened my mind, and I also believe every student wanting to travel abroad should have this same mind set.
One of the most important aspects of my study abroad experience in France was going early and doing the summer program before the school year started. The summer program was fun and I made some great friends. Also, I felt less nervous and knew what to expect when the school year started.
I would advise anyone who is interested in going abroad to go early either for a summer language program or just to travel and start learning about the culture. It can be very difficult to jump right into an academic program in another country. Another reason to go early is to make friends who live there. My roommate (pictured) was from Denmark, and I ended up going to visit her in Copenhagen for my holidays.
As is the case with many new experiences and adventures, I had many memorable experiences while studying abroad in Argentina. The number of “Kodak moments” I experienced while there were numerous, but several in particular stood out.
The first would be when I visited one of my roommates, a native Argentinian, at her home in Patagonia. The region in which she resided lived up to Patagonia’s famously windy weather conditions and rustic terrain. Yet, the landscape wasn’t the only fascinating aspect of my visit with my roommate. Seeing the various differences- and similarities- of an Argentinian family in comparison to my American one was incredibly fascinating. My roommate’s parents came home every afternoon to eat lunch with her, and then take a siesta. This practice is of course, unheard of in the United States, but so very valuable for the family unit in Argentina.
Another memorable experience was trying mate for the first time. At first, I was very unsure of what to do. It’s not a common practice in the United States, of course, to sip boiling water from the same metal straw with individuals you just met. However, I knew that in Argentinian culture this is considered as a sign of friendship, and it would’ve been offensive and impolite to decline. Quickly making the decision to partake, when it was my turn to sip the mate, I took a large gulp- and promptly burnt my tongue on the boiling water.
The last outstanding memory I have of that year was exploring Machu Picchu with my fellow study-abroad students. The history and culture of the Incans will never cease to amaze me, or take my breath away. Their history and their culture was cherished in a way that was rare to see demonstrated in Argentina, and sometimes even in our relatively new United States.
Without doubt, these are several experiences that not only stuck out to me then, but that I will carry with me for decades to come, playing a key role in my worldview and perception of life and the differing cultures around the globe.
Everyone who has had the opportunity to travel abroad can list out the advantages and positive aspects they correlate with their travels. Some will point out the new language that was mastered or the different culture that was adopted. However, in my case, there is really only one aspect of my travels abroad that stands out to me.
Sure, I appreciated the wonderful places I visited and the new countries I was able to add to my passport, but for me, the friends I made during my year abroad will be what sticks with me the most. I will never forget the memories we all made together, and the relationships I created still stand strong five years later. These friends will be what keeps my year abroad fresh and alive in my mind.
One of the most important aspects of my study abroad experience was the feeling of "capability" that I achieved. It might sound silly, but once the language clicked, I knew where the local restaurants were, and I had memorized the bus schedule; I felt like a different person. I felt grown up and that I had acquired the ability to handle challenges at a whole new level.
In my last semester at Villa Aurora, I took drama and had a part in the final performance. This was completely out of my comfort zone. I had to act out a part in front of lots of people, but I also had to do it in Italian. . . with my terrible American accent. We practiced, and I battled anxiety. After the show, I knew that I had just done something I never would have dreamed of, and in that moment I realized I could do almost anything I put my mind to accomplishing. I felt capable to attack challenges and succeed in the next phases of my life.
Something that I feel stands out as one of the most important experiences that I had while abroad was a gaining of a broader cultural awareness. By this, I mean that I didn't realize that I was living in a cultural box and a tiny world before I left the country. I didn't realize that everything that I did daily was according to my own set of values and according to my own worldview that I had developed as a result of where I've grown up. By studying abroad in Argentina, I had to forget the customs that I considered "normal" and embrace the customs that are considered "normal" in Argentina. Once I did that, I really enjoyed their way of life and enjoyed comparing it to my own way of life. Their culture focuses more on the "being" aspect as opposed to the United States' concept of "doing" and "progress". Friends and family are extremely important to them, and I learned to slow down and appreciate people more than I ever have. It was a challenge for me to greatly increase my sociability, especially since it was exhausting being constantly with people speaking a foreign language. I have no regrets and would adore to return one day to continue improving my language skills and absorbing the culture.
I think one of the most important aspects in my study abroad experience was the many different people I was able to meet and network with. I got a lot of new friends out of my two years abroad. Not only that, but experiencing a culture different to the ones I was surrounded by growing up and practiced was great.
Learning to get around places and depend on the host country language also opened a lot of new experiences as well, and once getting used to this aspect, I felt my experience much richer – almost as if I was a local myself (many people believed that I was once my German became good).
I was able to fully immerse myself in the culture by being very active on campus and in church. I led children’s Sabbath school, was a leader in their Little Lambs program, taught English in a local public school, and became very close friends with a lot of the locals. I think the important aspect in all of this was the fact that I chose to have an authentic experience, rather than always relying on the other North Americans who came to study abroad as well. They tended to stay in a large group and not be as active or social with the local people around us, and I saw this to be a waste of opportunity.
One of the most important aspects of my study abroad experience was my exposure to different cultures and languages. I learned Spanish to an advanced level, which is great in and of itself. However, it was my exposures to other cultures via my travels and friendships I made that increased my open-mindedness and acceptance of the diversity in the world. Observing, experiencing, and learning about new cultures widened my worldview and taught me to respect others’ ideas and perspectives despite the large differences we had.
My travels helped me experience the atmosphere, food, language, and culture in different places around Europe. However, the friendships I developed with people from different countries that lived on the Sagunto campus helped me get a deeper understanding of the views different cultures have of certain topics, as well as the meanings behind cultural practices and linguistic phrases. While traveling was an excellent experience, I believe the personal relationships led to a deeper understanding of certain cultures.
My study abroad experience would not have been as beneficial or rewarding if I had not been able to visit new places and learn more about certain cultures in depth. The language skills learned are extremely valuable, but the knowledge I acquired was much broader than just linguistic skills.
Traveling and studying abroad for a year has many beneficial aspects, but for me the one thing I enjoyed most about being abroad was the time we actually spent traveling. I think that traveling was not only fun but one of the most important parts about being abroad. We were able to experience not only Argentinian culture but also Peruvian and Brazilian culture as well. Also since we did go to an Adventist school while in Argentina, some of the customs and ways of life are not completely foreign to other fellow Adventists. At least for me, I felt I could understand why some of the things were done a certain way. But when we left the school and traveled to different cities, we were just considered Americans, and we got to see how the native people really lived and acted.
We got to experience different foods and drinks and different ways of travel that we may have not been accustomed to beforehand. Also, we were seen as tourists and got to experience the everyday exchanging of monies for food or shopping. For example, I was able to experience firsthand how businesses ran and how they lacked a lot of technology. In Argentina, for example, returning something with a receipt doesn’t exist and is frowned upon, just like asking for a “doggy bag” to take leftovers home with you. By not being able to travel, we would have lost the opportunity to see how the natives lived outside an Adventist community. That is the reason why I feel like traveling was the most important part of my experience from last year
This morning I walked to the café tango, the café about three kilometers from the school. On my way, I take in the picturesque scene as I pass the different local companies and apartment buildings. I pass the bakery were signora Silda bakes the most delicious bread every morning; she always laughs about the first time I ate breakfast in her shop, which was also the first time I ate the famous saltless Tuscan bread. I pass the small shoe store with outdated shoes that are way too expensive, and the grumpy storeowner gets mad every time someone spends too much time looking at his window. I come to the bank where I withdraw the colorful differently shaped euros. I pass the post office where I signed up to become a student resident of Italy. Finally, I come to my café; the owners are Argentinian, and they even know the small town where my grandma is from. I love this café because I can order a yummy café latte, relax and listen to cultural music. Today, as I sip my drink and greet the people who come in, I close my eyes and try to keep this moment in my mind, because a year ago I was dreaming of this moment, and a year from now I will be remembering the many times I walked to my favorite café in Florence Italy.
There is nothing more exciting than being able to speak in another language. You never realize how important communication is until you have to really work hard to do it. My goal for my year abroad was to learn Italian. I knew that I wasn't going to be fluent, because realistically becoming fluent takes two years. But, I just wanted to get to the point of being able to speak and listen without having to think; just letting it happen naturally. Near the end of my year abroad, I was walking downtown, not wanting to leave at all. I was hearing people speak in Italian and didn't even think about it being a "different language", it just felt normal to hear. I walked by the Uffizzi and saw my favorite artist selling his beautiful paintings. Throughout the year, we had had several talks that were always great, but unfortunately they tended to be more one-sided.
This time, however, was different. He smiled at me, and I walked over to him, and we started talking. He asked me how I was doing, and I said I was ok, but that in two days I was leaving to go back home to the United States. I didn't even have to tell him I was sad or didn't want to leave. He just looked at me and told me, "Don't be sad signorina. You are so young and have lived such a beautiful year here! You have accomplished so much and have so much more to do in your life. Look back at this year and smile at all your beautiful memories." I thanked him for his kind words, and we talked for a little bit longer before I left. It wasn't until I was back on the bus headed to the Villa that I realized I had a full conversation without having to think! I had truly accomplished my goal! It was the most amazing feeling in the world.
Studying abroad is an amazing experience that has the potential to positively affect the life of anyone who goes. I am a Health Science major, and I can personally say that studying in Argentina last year has had a huge impact on my life.
When I went to Argentina, I had never traveled much out of the country and only knew that I wanted to learn Spanish better so that I could use it later in my profession of Occupational Therapy to talk to my patients one-on-one.
After Argentina, I found that I was a stronger person who had a new appreciation for different cultures and their beliefs. I believe that this experience has helped me turn into a better person that now has better life and social skills that can be used in any work place.
Going abroad was the best decision of my life, and I cannot talk about it enough. I had so many experiences that helped shape me and enable me to be more mature. I think the most influential experiences I had were the trips I made by myself in Europe. These solo traveling trips made me more confident and empowered.
I took a trip to Paris by myself while I was abroad, and that was the most valuable trip ever. I decided to go to France by myself for the weekend and do activities by myself. I took a night train to Paris and arrived in the morning. I took the subway all the way to my hotel, despite not knowing a word of French. I went out, took photos, visited museums and Versailles all by myself. I was nervous at first, but after my weekend in Paris, I have not been afraid to do things alone; a valuable skill I have learned.
This is such an important self-discovery that we do not have often. You will hear stories about people backpacking Alaska or running from one end of the coast to the other. As Americans, we have become used to doing everything in groups; yet, in Europe, I learned that I am able to do things on my own. Going abroad gives you that opportunity to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and really get to your core, to get to know yourself and who you are when everything that defined you back at home is taken away.
Not everyone has the opportunity to study abroad. But if you are able to find yourself so fortunate, there are definitely things to keep in mind. My experience at first was something along the lines of cinematic—I’d never thought I would even have the chance to go to another country, but simply getting on my flight brought me to a whole new reality. Once I got on my flight to Florence, I saw the Alps from the air, and even with all the turbulence, I’ve never felt so at peace. After a smooth landing and my bags coming in to baggage claim, I was then greeted immediately at the biblioteca aeroporto (airport library) by some representatives from my school. I got huge Italian hugs and kisses from people who didn’t even know me. And it made me feel right at home—speaking of which… Where I was living was a 14th century villa in the heart of Florence. It’s on a hill over-looking the city, so the view from my window looks like something from Under the Tuscan Sun. Everything I observed in a nutshell is:
- The people are very friendly. But usually you have to initiate the conversation in order to get the kind of reaction we take for granted in the U.S. (i.e smiling).
- Water is like Gold. If you happen to find some it’s like the baby Jesus kissed you.
- Air conditioning does not exist.
- Gelato is on every street corner.
- Obese people are like diamonds. Very rare.
- Transportation is very simple. Everything is very close, so your feet or the bus will suffice for any of your excursions.
- Hands for Italians are like a second mouth. Gesticulating is a sure way for you to tell the exact point they’re trying to get across to you.
- When all else fails, speak Spanish.
- The pasta and pizza are more delicious than anything you’ll ever taste.
- Gypsies are very crafty and creative characters. One day you’ll see a “helpless” old lady with a cup on the street begging; the next day you’ll see said lady walking around heavily ”pregnant” with a Prada bag.
- Do not buy anything around main attractions/ landmarks. It’s a ploy to con unsuspecting tourists. Most of the time, things are overpriced, and you can find the same deal a bit further into the city for cheap.
- For the ladies, be careful with smiling at just any man. Italian men are a bit more aggressive than American gentlemen, and they will catcall and whistle, even follow you around the city. It can be intimidating but a good “go away!” often does the trick.
Adaptation to another culture is very difficult, especially when you’re miles and miles from home. However, what helped me understand and feel comfortable in a surrounding that was unfamiliar to me was, first, remembering that things would not be at all like America; and the sooner I made that a reality in my mind the more comfortable I would be. All in all, my experience was something I’ll remember forever, and I will feel blessed for the opportunity to have traveled and learned another language. By the grace of God, I know I’ll be able to expound upon these skills and utilize them in the future.
Studying abroad has enriched my life in so many ways. First and foremost, I learned a new language. I also learned how to stretch myself out of my comfort zone. Finally, I learned how to adapt to any situation I find myself in.
Learning a new language is absolutely necessary in the world we live in. The world is becoming more of a global community, and it is essential we are able to communicate with the various people we come in contact with. Learning another language will immediately make you more attractive to any job you apply to and also looks fantastic on a graduate school resume.
The ability to stretch your comfort zone is something I really cherish from my time abroad. I did things that I never would've thought to do back in the states, but my life is richer because of them. Going abroad opens your eyes to new possibilities and things that never would've crossed your mind before.
Adaptation is something we as Americans sorely lack. Going abroad has turned me into something of a cultural chameleon. I'm able to blend in with any culture I find myself in because instead of acting like I know what's going on, I simply listen and observe. This skill has saved me from embarrassment plenty of times and has allowed me to make new friends, explore new places, and have plenty of exciting experiences that never would've happened if I didn't adapt to my situation. There you have it. Three great reasons to study abroad.
Now, what are you waiting for? Go!
Studying abroad is like nothing most people have ever done. It is not like a long vacation. It is not like your high school's Europe tour. It is not like your church mission trip. I get the feeling that every person that feels like they have done a mini version of a study abroad year by just taking a vacation or mission trip or whatever. It is nothing like that.
I can't explain in a short essay the significance of seeing famous paintings or hiking through the Swiss Alps. I can't explain how much you gain by being put into new situations while travelling through countries on a train.
At the end of the school year, I remember everyday climbing part of the way up Le Salève (the mountain behind the school in France). Each night, a group of us would go and look over the Geneva Valley. It was beautiful. We talked each night about our favorite parts of the year, we played music, we drank tea or we just sat in silence. The friendship between that group of people was the reason it was so great. Those were some of the greatest moments of my year because of the friendship.
So, I've been thinking again about my study abroad experience. I know, I know, some of you are probably tired of hearing about it, but I really want to emphasize how valuable it is in my life and how valuable it can be to you.
A few years ago I went to Spain for a year to study Spanish. I thought I would just be going there to learn the Spanish language and possibly also flamenco dancing. When I left Spain, however, I had gained so much more than that. At the school I attended, there were students from all over the U.S., Europe, and even South America. I learned about aspects of their culture that before I would have thought silly had anyone told me. I learned how silly some people thought that our customs and cultures are. An example would be with Peanut Butter; I did not realize until going abroad how "American" peanut butter was. While peanuts are used in many dishes around the world, many people would never consider putting them of bread and making a sandwich. A friend I made who was from Africa really thought this concept was strange. There is a peanut sauce on a traditional dish from her country, but to her, putting it on a sandwich was just not doable. Though this may seem like a trivial difference, there are many more differences that could be much more confusing and could hinder your ability to effectively communicate with other cultures.
Well that's all for this letter. Until next time!!
Studying abroad. The phrase conjures up so many feelings and so many experiences. Which one to choose? Well the first feeling that comes to mind is the feeling of waking up in the morning to a nice carton of French yogurt and the smell of hot cocoa. I would eat my yogurt and my delicious French muesli while observing the sun rise over the beautiful valley of Geneva. The snow-capped mountains of the Jura sparkled in the distance, and were tinted with the colors of the rising sun. A feeling of excitement, and newness was awakened in me every morning. I had a day laid out before me, and it was mine to learn as much as I possibly could. I would then begin to study my homework, after which I would read a book in French. I had gone to a book sale and had acquired many books for free. Since I love to read, I spent much time pored over the books, while looking up all the words I didn’t understand. Then I would go to class, eat lunch, and come back to my room. If it was sunny out, I would take a blanket and go to my favorite spot in France. I would climb a hill, the highest perch I could find, in the middle of a large field full of wildflowers. From my spot on the hill, I could see the entire valley, as well as the Salève, which stood right behind me with its looming, awe-inspiring face of sheer rock. I would spend hours there on the blanket, reading and soaking in the fresh air. If I think about France hard enough, I just might be able to catch a whiff of the clean mountain air.
When I filled out the application for my year abroad, I did so with childlike glee. Every completed line was a step closer to my wondrous year in Europe. Visions of scrumptious Swiss chocolate, bewitching beaches in Barcelona, and language fluency faster than I could say “schnell” danced in my head. I bragged to anyone with half an ear that I was going to experience a year I would never forget. That statement was right, but not in the ways I thought. Yes, study abroad does give one the opportunity to see historic sights, sample delicious delicacies, and wiggle one’s toes in golden Barcelona sand, but it is so much more than that. Studying abroad forever changes a person by pushing them 4000 leagues outside of their comfort zone, causing them to widen their view of the world’s people, and most importantly, make them truly examine themselves and the person they want to be. Growing up in New York City, I always thought of myself as a very cosmopolitan person, open to every manner of idea and people. Then, I moved to Germany. Within the first month of being here, I dismissed the German people as unaffectionate and time-dotty. Just the slightest amount of difference with schedule-keeping and physical affection and I pushed them aside. Thankfully, as I learned more of the language, I also started getting to know the local students. I asked them about their families and their hobbies and actually learned about the German people. I discovered that time was not something carefully monitored, but highly valued, in order to arrive at a place ready to get as much as they can out of the experience. As for thinking that Germans were unaffectionate, recently, I learned that there are different ways of showing affection. I was sitting in my dorm room, feeling pretty lonely. I had posted a Facebook status about wanting some chocolate to soothe my melancholy. I went to go take my trash out, and when I opened the door there were five Kit-Kat bars arranged in a smiley face. My conversation partner, Nele had left them for me. When I came back from the trash, I saw that now, my floor was dotted with a chocolate smile; this time left by another chocolate fairy, Christian. No, a German person is not likely to run up to me and cover me in kisses and hugs, but it does not make them unaffectionate; it just makes them different in the way they show affection. Delving deeper than first impressions-- this is something I would not have learned to do without this year abroad. Studying in Europe this past year abroad has made me examine myself in a new way. I came to Germany thinking I was going to see the world and do things people had only dreamed of. When I landed in Berlin, I was quickly whisked away to the campus, gorgeous forest and beautiful architecture greeted my hungry eyes. However, as soon as I stepped outside the car doors my extended-vacation bubble popped irrevocably. The cafeteria food was unrecognizable; even the yogurt labels were in a language I could not understand! Even worse, I was told I had to wait a week for an internet connection. Even my shower resembled an autobot from Transformers. Suddenly, my world adventure seemed like a season of Survivor. That night I spent twenty minutes in the shower crying over my horrible decision to come abroad. And I learned something about myself. I learned that I was a silver-spoon-fed American, who liked change as much as she liked the scene in Titanic where Jack dies. I was very comfortable at home with my technology, my familiar friends, and my own language. However, I no longer wanted to be that person. No, I wanted to change into someone who could be happy with a toothbrush, the clothes on her back, and the open sky. And that desire has grown through this entire year. Each time I visit a different country, meet new people, or am introduced to a seemingly strange way of doing things, I am propelled a little further out of my comfort zone. I am taking steps towards the person I want to be. Studying abroad is an experience that will change a student in ways they never planned. It is not just about battling the intricacies of their language’s grammar, or feeling that good ache in their legs from climbing all the stairs in Notre Dame. Studying abroad is something way more significant than an extended vacation. This year has caused me to really learn about myself and others. If the student comes away from a year abroad with nothing but monument photos and left over croissant crumbs, they have missed the point. The importance lies in the way your ideas bend. It’s in the way your mind travels. You had it right, Dr. Seuss “Oh, the places you’ll go.”
Living in Spain for an entire school year was definitely an adjustment. As time went by, I found myself becoming a true Spaniard. I had adapted to the lifestyle- siesta, walking into town, the “don’t worry about it” (no pasa nada) attitude, etc. I’m so glad I got to experience a different culture from that of my own. It was an eye-opening experience. It was interesting to compare and contrast my hometown to Spain- from work, holidays, food, and the people.
Studying abroad is way more than having fun. It’s more than academics and learning a language. It’s more than traveling and making new friends. Studying abroad is all of that and more; it’s an opportunity that many never get to experience. It’s a shortcut to your future. It’s something your mind can’t fathom, you can sit, plan, and pry on what your experience abroad could be, but until you go out and do it, you’ll never know. I could share story after story, and I can give advice until my tongue falls out. I can cringe at every negative moment, and I can smile at every good one, but that still won’t paint the picture on what studying abroad is or does for you as an individual. Growth comes from studying abroad, a new perspective comes from studying abroad, memories you’ll never forget come from studying abroad, change comes from studying abroad, a sense of direction comes from studying abroad, knowledge comes from studying abroad, and appreciation comes from studying abroad.
I remember one particular day in France like it was yesterday. The other IFLE's and I had just finished visiting the castle at Versailles and were taking a bus tour around Paris. My new friend Carlo and I were looking at the sights when he leaned over and said "You know, Paris is the perfect city for writing stories." I agreed, and as we drove past the magnificent Seine River we made one up as we rode along. That was in October 2011. Since then, I have learned to speak French a lot better, took and passed the DELF exam, moved in with a French family and worked as an au pair, and returned to the United States. But that one statement continues to resonate with me: "Paris is the perfect city for writing stories."
I am a Mass Communications: Writing and Editing major, and when I went to France I had no idea how to use my new gift of the French language and my major together. Of course, for a writing major, learning another language is helpful because it opens the door to more variety in your writing career. I kept a journal while in France and documented as many memories as I possibly could. For a writer, any new adventure is an opportunity to share your memories with the world. If you study abroad, you can be the doorway that leads those who cannot study abroad into a world of mystery and opportunity. You become their eyes, their feet, their heart, because through your words and your experience they can be where you once were. Think about the apostle Paul, who traveled to different parts of the world and wrote about those travels. Those experiences made it into the Bible, and I can understand Damascus, Corinth, Thessalonica, and other places, although I have never been myself. So, if you are a writing major and you think to yourself: "Going abroad won't do anything for me", think again. You already have the gift of words, and with an experience like studying abroad to help bring those words to life through experiences, the writing possibilities are endless.
Oh, and the croissants are good, too.
Have you ever felt insignificant against something grandly magnificent?
Although we can fly to the moon and talk face-to-face to China from Costa Rica, as human beings we have to still respect nature’s awesome gifts. The Waterfalls at Iguazú don’t ask for respect, but demand it.
For our third official ACA trip, we traveled to the selva, the jungle, of the northern province of Misiones in January. It’s where Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil meet, a three-nation territory. The jungle creeps up to the edges of the red dirt roads, 100% humidity hanging in the air. We visited crumbling Jesuit ruins, where priests educated the Guaraní tribes (who came voluntarily to the missions) about the good Catholic way of life and protected them from slavery. Of course, the Guaranís ended up working anyway. Funny how that always seems to happen…
The trip centered around the Parque Nacional Iguazú, and visiting the spectacular Iguazú Falls inside. The park didn’t disappoint. All kinds of exotic animals popped up, offering perfect photo opportunities: anteaters, iguanas, spiders, monkeys, caimans, jungle birds, and capybaras. The walks were hot and sticky, but a smooth river raft ride provided a welcome break.
But everyone really comes for the falls. The river just drops off into over 275 waterfalls and is so big and wide, you have to fly with a helicopter to take a picture in its entirety. My group took two days to see all of it. The first day we visited The Devil’s throat, the most powerful waterfall. I oohed and awed with the rest of the group, but nothing could’ve prepared me for day two.
San Martin Falls is probably something like heaven. This is the screensaver shot, from where Avatar and Jurassic Park stole their ideas. Falling over a blanket of green water plants, the beautiful cascades are framed by palm trees and mist.
Then we saw the boats.
“Are we going to do that?” I asked our guide, pointing at the orange boats zooming through the gorge toward the waterfalls, soaking its passengers. “Yes, we will be doing the Grand Adventure today,” he replied. OH, YEAH! GRAND ADVENTURE TIME!
Everyone was stoked. The water was a bit lower that day, so we got up closer than usual, our little toy of a boat dunking us beneath the sprays of water. I felt so small underneath the waterfall, everyone screaming and laughing with sheer delight while getting pounded in the face with water. You want to see a happy human being? Dunk them under a world-class waterfall. We sped down the river for a bit afterwards, still on the natural high.
Now that is why I chose South America, I thought to myself.
I really enjoyed hanging out with all of the ACA students on this trip. There wasn’t much to do but swim in the campground pool after our jaunts into the national parks. After four months, we were forced to visit with each other and finally got to know our fellow classmates better. Right before the trip, one of the ACA students lost his father a few weeks ago, and it shocked everyone. We prayed together, cried together, started weekly prayer groups. I realized even though I don’t know every one of my classmates intimately, when one of us suffers a loss, we hurt too. I think that was a turning point. What was everyone going through? We actually cared now. That week I helped organize a week of prayer. We now knew how much we needed each other. This one trip will always have a special place in my heart, whether I’m remembering playing tag in the pool, deep conversations with friends, or the sheer glee of actually seeing, hearing, touching, tasting the most amazing waterfall in the world.
When I was sophomore at Union College, I had no desire to continue with my then current major, which was Biology, Pre-Dentistry. I was also feeling burnt-out with my college experience. I felt like I needed to do something exciting and worth doing. I then decided that I would go abroad for the year. I had three big goals that I wanted to achieve, 1) I wanted to use the year to make up my mind as to what I wanted to do with my career. 2) I wanted to learn French. 3) I wanted to travel a lot. At first, it seemed like I would only accomplish one of the three goals that I had set, because learning French was way harder than I had anticipated, and I kind of forgot about what I wanted to change my major to because I was having a fun time in Europe.
During my spring break. I realized that I had accomplished all of the goals that I had set for myself. I had been constantly traveling for well over 3 weeks, and I was tired of it. I seemed to catch myself actually speaking French every time I would go to Geneva. Having commented to my friends that I wanted to change my major they all gave me some advice and they pointed me in the right direction. It had all worked out nicely and but I wasn't quite ready to go back home.
I would like to say that if any student is feeling like they are lost and they don't know what they want to major in or if they don't like what they are majoring in that they take a year off and that will help them decide what to do. That year abroad works wonders because you learn a new language and you gain a lot of different experiences that help you view the world in a different way. Those experiences that you gain could be helpful to you in the future when you're dealing with people of different backgrounds.
I can still remember the first day of arrival to Italy. After a whole day of traveling, I was ready to lie down and sleep. I arrived in Italy around 11 pm, their time, which was 5pm back home, so I was definitely jet lagged. The first impression I got when I stepped off the plane was how lit the place was for it to be late at night. Then, I met up with the people from Villa who were there waiting to pick me up, and I was like "wow, they don't look Italian". They weren't in fact. It was a guy from Peru and a guy from Nigeria, who were theology students at Villa.
While riding to the school, I saw a lot of similarities to Colombia, my home country, and it was relieving and nostalgic at the same time. I knew then that I would be okay, and I would enjoy my year in Italy, which I did. I also remember thinking how narrow and disorganized the streets were, but now that I'm back in the U.S., I do miss the rustics of the place. At the very end of the year, I took a stroll around the campus, and I realized how a strange place became a familiar place filled with memories. I came to understand that an experience is what you make it to be; it's your choice how you want your experience to be remembered as.
For me, traveling abroad through the ACA program was a dream come true. The dream started small: I just wanted to learn German fluently. I also wanted to travel Europe, but this was more of a side note for me, until I actually arrived. It was unbelievable, the vast amount of cultural diversity, just miles away from border to border. If this does not want to make you explore, nothing will.
The vast amounts of people with completely different mindsets you will meet, if you get out of your shell, will prove to be one of the best experiences of your life. This is all icing on the cake. Sometimes it will be rough, and then you will have to rely on God more. Some people have to experience hardships before they turn to God. That doesn't have to be you. Either way, Europe will be one of the best experiences in your life. I can promise you this.