One of the things that I love most about the Global Engagement Fellowship is how unique and personalized each Fellow’s experience abroad is. For some people, the goal is to see as much of the world as possible, for others it is to be immersed in a culture, to improve in language skills, or just experience something new. Today, as part of Global Engagement Day, I had the opportunity to listen to a panel of students share their stories and tips for studying abroad. Jacob studied for a month in Spain for cultural immersion and a language minor. Robert studied for two semesters in Taiwan and Germany to increase his language skills and a general study abroad experience. Linda studied in Estonia to experience a new culture and get the most experience for her money. Ben studied in Germany for the cultural experience.
Much of what the fellows shared were practical tips that will be important to note as I prepare to study abroad. Regardless of the time spent abroad, it is important to research everything from plane tickets, and visas to cellular service and the weather. They recommended sites like goeuro.com and maps.me for planning travel within Europe. They also mentioned the importance of getting course equivalencies planned ahead of time, which sometimes requires extra effort. Each one recommended ways of combating homesickness. I appreciated their advice, but most especially their acknowledgement that despite the best planning, some things will not go as planned. It is important to be prepared for the worst and, above all, enjoy the journey.
Each of the fellows stressed their need for some form of network. In Europe, family and friends in the US will be asleep for most of the daylight hours. From their experiences, I gathered the importance of keeping in contact with people back home when possible. At the same time, it will be important to build friendships within the country. All of the fellows admitted that the cultural and language barriers were challenges to overcome and should be expected but made the experience all the more rewarding.
My family hosted a foreign exchange student my senior year of high school. She seemed to transition into life in America with perfect ease. When we asked her how she did it, she attributed it to preparation. She understood that she would miss her family, culture, and language, and prepared accordingly. For these reasons, I find it especially helpful to listed to the experiences of these fellows. Their challenges and advice help me to build an idea of how to prepare for my own experience abroad.