Study Abroad – the Power of “Can”

 

By Gillian Gurish – API Florence Peer Mentor

Gillian is a senior at Converse College in South Carolina, and studied with API at Lorenzo de’Medici – the Italian International Institute in Florence, Italy during the spring 2010 term.

I can’t study abroad.” Those can be some pretty powerful discouraging words, whether you’ve heard them from others or spoken them yourself. And let’s be honest: hearing “yes you can!” in response is probably just going to elicit a couple eye rolls and maybe a shoulder shrug or two.

We are college students, and most people take for granted that ours is a 24 hours, 7 days a week job. There is no “clocking out” – when we go home, it’s probably in view of the buildings you spent most of the day in. Not that it matters anyway, because your head is buried in that 2000-page British Literature anthology, or in a pile of notes from today’s biology lecture. We are supposed to do all of our homework, spend time with friends, pay attention in class, suffer through those mysterious substances the dining hall calls “food,” and now we’re supposed to think about how to fit in going to another country to do all of this? And all while getting eight hours of sleep. …Yeah, right. We may be young, but we’re not superhuman!

I had all these thoughts too. But regardless of “can” or “can’t”, I still wanted to study abroad – and really, that motivation is all you need to make it happen.

Still don’t believe me? Ok. Let’s look at some of the reasons behind those “can’t.”

1. “I am a pre-med/music/education/*insert ridiculously rigorous major here* student.”

Ah, yes, with this I am very familiar. My roommate is a music therapy student – her college career was planned out from day one to the day she would graduate. And how can you go anywhere (except maybe out of your mind) when everything but your inhalations and exhalations are carefully scheduled out for the next four years?

Don’t despair, my overburdened friends! There are still some awesome options that don’t involve leaving your campus for a whole semester (and giving your major advisor a panic attack). Spend a month or two in Italy during your summer vacation, and knock off your humanities credit requirement by actually going to see Michelangelo’s David instead of reading about (and maybe eating a gelato cone or ten)! If the summer doesn’t work, how about an intensive month studying in Paris during your January break? Get that pesky language requirement out of the way by immersing yourself in the culture that speaks that language, all while paying a daily visit to the Eiffel Tower and taking window shopping to the next level. There are SO many options; all you have to have is the motivation to go for it.

But you probably still don’t totally believe me, so on to the next ‘can’t’…

2. “Going to another country is waaaay too expensive. Where am I supposed to get that kind of money?!”

This one’s easy: welcome to the wonderful world of scholarships. There is a ridiculous amount of scholarships out there, and what’s even more ridiculous is the amount of scholarship money that goes unspent every year simply because people just don’t know to look for them! Are you a 1st generation college student? One-sixty-fourth Polish? Left-handed? There is a good chance there is a scholarship out there just for you. Make friends with Google and find that scholarship for the Interior Design/Sociology double major. It’s waiting for you. Be sure to check around nearby, too – more often than not, your school and your chosen study abroad program also have their own study-travel scholarships just awaiting applications. In fact, if you already receive some kind of scholarship or financial aid from your school, there is a very good chance that you can apply to use that money to go toward studying abroad—I did exactly that and it was definitely a major help. The scholarship search is kind of like a scavenger hunt – with the best treasure ever at the end!

This is the last peep out of me you’ll hear about money – I promise. I would just like to ask you to keep in mind that if a particular program looks, well, particularly expensive, there is a good chance that there is a very good reason for that. While you are doing your research (the fun kind!) on the various study abroad programs you’re looking into, look at what their program cost entails. Use those to get an idea of what program is best for you. Do you want a program that may cost a little more, but includes everything from a safe apartment near your new campus to a couple weekend trips to Paris and Prague (hotels included)? I was attracted to the program I chose because despite having traveled a good bit, I was still pretty nervous about the idea of living in a brand new place and without any familiar person or thing around. My program fees might have been a little higher, but it was a small price to pay for the immense support I received. Maybe you want your study abroad experience to be as independent as possible, and you’d prefer to pay less, enroll directly through the university, and figure out more on your own – that’s ok too! There is a program out there for everyone. Of course, that also means that your options can sometimes seem overwhelming – so seek out some students on your campus who have done it. What did they do? Do they have any recommendations? Would they do anything differently? Your study abroad office is a great resource, too.

Bottom line: don’t let money issues stop you from having the best experience possible for YOU. At the risk of sounding cliché – where there’s a will, there’s a way! I can’t stress enough that there is always a way, and even more than that, the study abroad experience is worth it.

Money, of course, is not the only issue at hand…

3. “I can’t learn a whole other language before I go. I can barely speak English without my professors correcting me! Don’t you have to speak the language of the country to study there?”

The answer to this is a big fat resounding NO! You absolutely do not have to be even remotely fluent in a country’s language to study there. In fact, one of the most important benefits of studying abroad is that it teaches you how to communicate with people who don’t speak your language. That kind of communication is a tool that you will use for the rest of your life, and will be very valuable personally and professionally. It’s one of the many reasons why employers like seeing study-abroad on a resume! Wherever you decide to go, the program will most likely to require you to take a class in the country’s language – and that’s why they offer those beginner-level classes. So before you let your dreams of studying in Salamanca, Spain die because the only Spanish you know was learned from Ben Stiller in Dodgeball, relax. You’ll probably learn more from Spanish 101 in Spain than you would on your home campus, just because you’ll learn so much simply by walking around your new city!

4. “Honestly…studying abroad is scary. I’d be on a whole different continent, thousands of miles away from my family, friends, and everything I’ve ever known. Won’t I just be miserable within a few days? It’s probably not even worth it.”

Well, I have to be honest here: At some point during your time abroad, you will probably be miserable and spend a nice chunk of change on your cell phone bill to call home and cry to your parents/friends/pet goldfish. But the beauty of study abroad is that you are constantly learning – not just about a new language or culture, but about yourself. Studying abroad is one of the most empowering things I have ever done, and you will truly come home a new person. I told myself, “if I can move to a different country and survive for three and a half months, I can do anything!” And that kind of confidence is life-changing. Case-in-point: Before I went to Florence, I had been toying with the idea of going to culinary school. I never gave it much thought because, well, it was just too scary for me. But after a few months abroad, I realized that there was nothing to fear about pursuing my passion. Starting out alone in a new city, I had to learn how to trust myself—and with that trust came a kind of confidence I’d never had before. It’s one of the best souvenirs I could have asked for from Italy. That kind of confidence doesn’t affect one single person in the same exact way, but it always has an effect.

It’s a kind of scary but dazzling feeling of independence that you can’t get any other way. I can’t guarantee much – everyone is their own person with their own values; but I can guarantee that you will never, ever regret the choice to study abroad.

There are a million reasons why a person “can’t” do something. So why even bother trying?

Because you can. And all you have to do is want it. Stop the world—you’re ready to get on!

 

You can read more from Gillian on her blog for Converse College and her personal blog.

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Comments

  1. Jeramy Johnson says

    Be sure to check out Gillian’s other blogs – she’s a great writer and it’s worth it to those considering study abroad to “follow” her blog from the beginning to the end of the spring 2010 semester. Not only can you witness her braving through a new culture (and culture shock), but you’ll see how she embraced Italy (and it’s food 😉 ) and had an amazing experience!

  2. Great post! The pros of studying abroad definitely outweigh the cons, so get out there and just do it!

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  3. I am a great believer of global education. Being an international student is such a great opportunity to learn and to widen the horizon of every student who wished to study abroad. Going out your country doesn’t always mean that you don’t have faith with the quality of education in your own country.

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