Guest Blogger: Matt Boyce, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office
One morning, at the ripe young age of eleven, I waltzed into my family’s kitchen after reading an article in National Geographic for Kids and announced to my parents that I would one day bungee jump and study red pandas in the Australian outback. My mom, in all likeliness, gave me the “oh, that’s nice” treatment, and my dad distractedly pointed out that red pandas do not live in Australia, but kangaroos and wombats do, probably while drinking his coffee and working on the Chicago Tribune crossword puzzle. But that didn’t matter. For the rest of my preteen and teenage years the idea of me going to Australia in college captivated my mind. Despite me not knowing what I wanted to study in college, let alone where I wanted to go, whatever major and school I inevitably decided on would also have to be in Sydney, Melbourne, or Perth.
Now, flash forward 8 years. I am sitting next to a crackling bonfire on a beach, s’more stick in hand. My legs are sore after swimming against the strong afternoon currents that rip through pristine coral reefs a short boat ride away. The sounds of friends laughing and waves gently washing ashore surround me, and give the salty air a certain aesthetic ambiance. Several hours later I will retire to my makeshift bed, a yoga mat with a sweatshirt as a pillow, and fall asleep on the cool sand looking up at what seems like an infinite number of stars.
But am I in the country that marsupials and Aussies call home? No. I am on South Caicos Island, the seventh largest of the Turks & Caicos Islands, an island archipelago lying southeast of the Bahamas. South Caicos, or more simply South (as the locals call it), is an island approximately 368,500 times smaller than the one that mesmerized my mind from the ages of twelve through nineteen. There are no opportunities to bungee jump, there is no outback, and there are no kangaroos. So what happened? Why did I change my mind? And more importantly, why did I “settle” for another experience?
Studying abroad anywhere is something to be regarded highly. It takes a special kind of person to say, “yes, I want to leave all my friends and family behind and spend a significant amount of time in a different culture that I may or may not know anything about.” The mere thought terrifies some. But of the courageous students who do ultimately choose to study abroad, many do so in “traditional” locations: the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, and Australia. Despite this, “non-traditional” regions like Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East present students with the chance to experience more meaningful interactions with communities and more personal growth. This was why I elected to go to South instead of Australia.
During my time on South Caicos I was able to conduct my own research, completely immerse myself in another culture, and grow immensely as an individual. When talking with friends back home who studied abroad, almost none of them can say that they bathed in the ocean due to a lack of fresh drinking water, caught sharks and turtles, or went cliff jumping. Still, even fewer can say that they explored a landing craft boat used in the Allied Forces D-Day invasion, got chased daily by wild dogs on morning runs, or accumulated 70+ mosquito bites in a single night. And none can claim to have befriended men that go by the names of “Juice” and “Baby Blue,” go out in a nightlife culture dominated by the game of dominoes, or get invited into a home to enjoy a dinner of fried conch. As a result of my decision I was able to get exactly what I wanted from my study abroad experience: something unique and meaningful.
So, without further ado, my (short list) of reasons to consider the non-traditional:
- Non-traditional destinations tend to provide unparalleled opportunities to accomplish academic, linguistic, professional goals, and encourage the development of unique skill sets.
- Students often have deeper, more comprehensive, appreciations for the local community they experience.
- Living in non-western cultures demands larger changes in attitude, perspective, and problem solving skills as a result of (generally) larger culture shock.
- There are considerable amounts of financial aid designated specifically to studying in non-traditional regions.
- Having studied abroad in a non-traditional location, students will stand out that much more in future interviews and applications as a result of their unconventional experience.
It is because of the above reasons that I don’t view my experience as “settling” at all. Honestly, I feel that had I done anything else I would have been “settling.” But then again, that is just me. I would like to emphasize that I don’t think a bad study abroad experience exists. And if you want to go backpacking through central Europe, or are majoring in Italian linguistics, then maybe a traditional experience would be better for you. But I would like to encourage you to stop and really think about what you want from your study abroad experience. I have a feeling that eleven-year-old me would be ok with replacing bungee jumping, the outback, and red pandas with cliff jumping, coral reefs, and green sea turtles.
Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office
The semester I spent studying abroad at Uppsala University in Sweden gave me the opportunity to experience the Swedish culture and many of its long lasting student traditions. Uppsala University is world renowned for its strong academics, bustling student-life and other unique characteristics which arguably make it the premier student town in all of Sweden.
One of the most important and cherished parts of the student culture at Uppsala are the “nations.” Now, let me explain. Think of a nation as a mix between a co-ed fraternity and a student union. The nations at Uppsala are named after the thirteen different regional parts of Sweden, or what us Americans would refer to as “counties.” It is entrusted upon the nations to plan a significant portion of the social activities that happen on campus. Each nation has many features, such as a pub, restaurant, a library with study rooms, a cafe with a daily discounted lunches and snacks for students, recreational clubs such as choirs, bands, sports, ski clubs, and a “dance club” night; in which usually the library of the nation building is transformed into a disco. Once you become a member of a nation, you receive a student ID card which gets you into all of the perks your nation has to offer. You might think “hm… that could be exclusive, because what if your friends are in nations different than yours?” But the great thing is, that though you might be a member of a specific nation, you are still allowed to attend any other nation’s club, pub, brunch, or other events. Membership is not mandatory for students, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t join one of these great organizations!
I joined Södermanlands-Nerikes nation (SNerikes, for short), which is the oldest of the thirteen nations and medium in size, hosting around 2,000 members. My nation was quite popular amongst international students, and offered exciting perks such as a cozy pub, a photo club and a dance club on Tuesday nights. Unlike other nations, SNerikes is the only nation at Uppsala University in which the member, if of Swedish descent or nationality, must have a direct bloodline from that region to join! SNerikes was often referred to as “The Pink Castle” — because it truly looked like a pink castle.
During my time in Sweden, SNerikes provided me with many opportunities to get involved. I was even able to work as a waitress in their restaurant, which allowed me to become acquainted with more Swedish students and helped me strengthen intercultural skills when serving patrons. Joining this nation also let me experience a wide range of Swedish traditions and let me make some long lasting friendships. Essentially, being at SNerikes, made me feel at home. No matter what study abroad program you choose, rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved with the local traditions, culture, and people of the host country. The important thing is to take advantage of those opportunities and deeply immerse yourself. I hope that discovering these qualities during your study abroad experience will also help make you feel at home.
Guest Blogger: Jenny Aguayo, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office
Prior to venturing out on my journey to Spain, I had already begun to suspect that many of the preconceptions I had made about Spanish culture would result as myths, and I was more than ready to discover what things were true and what things weren’t. However, there was one particular thing that delightedly surprised me more than I’d expected.
My all time favorite aspect of Spanish culture is the Siesta. I was rather excited to become acquainted with this practice because I was such a “pro” at this back in the States. Or so I thought. All my life I thought the Spanish Siesta was just another way to say “nap time.” To my undoubted surprise, there is a lot more to the Spanish Siesta than napping.
Siesta is when the entire city shuts down and prepares for the apocalypse.
Or, at least, it seems that way. Gates come down and stores are locked up to show that everyone’s gone home!
Siesta is a time during the day where everyone goes home for lunch aka “La Comida.” By “everyone” I really do mean everyone. Shops and businesses close down and schools arrange time for students to go home around 2pm. The purpose of the siesta is to uphold the traditional values of family togetherness. This value varies quite a bit in the States, but it’s interesting to see how family time is respected by the community as a whole throughout Spain. Siesta is a nationally respected tradition. It is more than break time; it is a time for families to come together and enjoy each others’ company.
As far as the napping portion of the siesta– that’s entirely optional. As I mentioned before, siesta is about spending time with family, but people also take the opportunity to rest before they continue their hard day’s work.
But for how much longer?
The Siesta culture is at risk of declination. As culture evolves, the practice varies across the country and is being reconsidered for continuation. For a really long time the 2-5pm allotment for siesta has been observed by businesses and for the most part is recognized by the government as part of daily function. Controversies are up in the air about whether or not Spain wants to readjust their norms of break times in the workforce. A lot of this has to do with the influence that American working culture has on the world. Americans are known for being “workaholics” who don’t take breaks and prioritize work over spending time with family. Nonetheless, it is because of these driven qualities of our working culture that we have such a strong economy. Spain’s economy, who is currently not doing so well, might be considering making some adjustments by modeling some behaviors after the United States’.
I was pretty amazed to learn about all the dynamics that go into this aspect of Spanish culture. It was one of the many ways that I discovered that there is always more than meets the eye!
Guest Blogger: Alexandra Brown
For my first study abroad experience, I participated in a 4-week faculty-led program to Havana, Cuba during the summer.The program was led by Professor Nils Jacobsen of the Department of History at the University of Illinois. After speaking with my dad and cousin about their rewarding and inspiring encounters in Cuba two years ago, I immediately signed up for the program which took place this past May – June. My study abroad program was the first time the University of Illinois ever sponsored an academic journey to the beautiful island of Cuba! My experience there was incredibly eye opening, and a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’m so glad I was able to take part in.
A special thing I got to do while in Cuba was visit the First Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Havana – or La Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada de Havana - where my cousin and dad stayed during their journey. I visited the church a total of 3 times, bringing a friend from my abroad group with me on the last visit as he’s very involved with religion and was eager to attend a Presbyterian service somewhere other than the United States. During the first visit, I was warmly welcomed by the Pastor of the church, Hector Mendez, who is now a close friend of my family. It was so comforting to know someone who had a connection with my family while I was miles away from home.
Throughout my church visits, I volunteered and gave away donations. I brought a suitcase full of items that we in the United States consider basic necessities but were in high demand at the church where so many turn for help. Items included toothbrushes, toothpaste, Tylenol, aspirin, and feminine products. Through donations and visits, I was able to give back to a community that has taught me so much. I am so grateful that the University decided to offer a trip to Cuba and would highly recommend this program to others!
Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office
Next to the return of the coveted Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks, acceptance letter season for the winter break 2014 and spring 2015 semester study abroad programs is my favorite time of year! The September 15, 2014 deadline has passed and many of our exceptional applicants have been eagerly opening their e-mails to find congratulatory messages of their acceptance to their study abroad program of choice!
But what about those of us who recently found out about the incredible opportunities at the study abroad office but missed the deadline to go abroad this year? Lucky for you the Study Abroad Office is all about making sure every interested student has the opportunity to go abroad and gain a well-rounded education. There are several exceptional programs that have extended their deadlines in faculty-led programs for Winter Break 2014-15 or Summer of 2015.
Winter Break 2014-15:
Rehabilitation 199: Rehabilitation in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Extended Application Deadline: September 29
Advertising 399/500: Advertising Across Borders – Consumerism in the Dominican Republic. Extended Application Deadline: September 29
Anthropology 445: Primate Behavior, Ecology, Ecosystem Sustainability and Conservation in Costa Rica. Extended Application Deadline: October 1
For students who prefer the summer term for study abroad, there plenty of additional options for faculty-led courses abroad:
Advertising 399: Branding Italian Cuisine: Rome. Application Deadline: October 29, 2015
English 274/African American Studies 298: Literature & Society: Slavery and Identity in Benin. (The English 274 section counts for Gen Ed credit!) Application Deadline: December 1
Programs with a February 1, 2015 Deadline:
Global Studies 298: Conflict and Post-Conflict Resolution, Cyprus
Art History 460: Introduction to Museology: Paris
Media & Cinema Studies 364: Food Networks: Media, Technology & Sustainability in Sweden
Education Policy 590 SAX: Refugees and Education in the Mediterranean, Malta & Sicily
Please check the SAO website (www.studyabroad.illinois.edu) to view more available programs and find your home away from home today!
Guest Blogger: Amanda Toledo
On the cover of a journal my mom bought me, there’s a George Bernard Shaw quote that reads “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about Creating yourself.” Cheesy as inspirational-quote journals may be, I like the sentiment, although I think that life is more a mixture of both seeking and creating. Deciding which study abroad program to go on is no less challenging for some than deciding which university to go to or what to major in. Many students enter the Resource Room knowing they want to go abroad but not knowing where in the world they’d like to go. Program Assistants work to assist these students in finding what works best for them academically as well as personally. When you’re going abroad, whether for a short-term program, a semester, or an entire year, the fact remains that wherever you go, you are creating a home away from home.
When assisting students I often use myself as an example, calling myself a city kid. Even though I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, when I moved to the actual city in high school, I found that the vibrant, swift, and busy life of a city suited me more than slower, mellower pace of suburban Illinois. When looking for study abroad options, I knew that living in a city would be integral for me. Like most students I’ve spoken with over the past two years, my first thought when it came to England was London. When investigating the programs in London, I discovered there weren’t any options in my price range at the time.
It required more research then, to look up what other English cities the study abroad office had programs in, and which offered classes in my major. I decided on Leeds, the third largest city in England. Of the city options, I chose Leeds because when looking through their class catalogue (“modules” instead of “classes” in the UK) I found a class that sounded interesting to me: an upper level course on the history of witchcraft in literature. In the end, it was a balanced decision between location and academics that landed me on a place I’d someday feel intense homesickness for.
Leeds gave me my fill of a city, but it also gave me the new experience of a walking city. In between classes and homework and day trips to different locations around the United Kingdom, I’d spend my time wandering down the cobblestoned streets of city centre; passing through the Arcades, stopping in at the (free!) museums and art galleries. As the weather grew warmer, I took the fifty minute walk from my flat to city centre instead of the ten minute bus ride, seeing rolling hills turn into the pubs, shops, and panini places that became familiar and comforting to me over the sixth months I lived there. A fifteen minute walk in the opposite direction from my flat landed me at the ruins of a monastery, towering into the sky, beautiful and stoic in its gorgeous park setting.
This is not to say that life in Leeds was without its struggles, but through those struggles and those delights, I created someone confident, someone who relished the independence of exploring a museum with only herself and the art for company. I created a home away from my family and everything I knew, and discovered the power in that.
At the end of my semester, my mom came to visit for a week. Although her flight got delayed a day, and I really ought to have met her in London (where most of our week together had been planned), I insisted she come to Leeds, even just for the first afternoon. London is my favorite place in the world, it’s thrilling and beautiful on a grander scale than you can imagine, and I would love to live there someday, but Leeds was my home.
I knew the best place to take my mom for fish and chips, I knew all the flavors at the local cupcake shop, and which ones to recommend; I knew Leeds.
I can honestly say I have only met one or two people that did not like their programs abroad. Most people feel about their cities the way I feel about Leeds, whether they picked a setting they knew they liked, or chose something that was perhaps out of their comfort zone, but an exciting challenge. I’ve heard students wax nostalgic about their host families, or excitedly recount their adventures of their host countries. Any program abroad will be a mixture of finding and creating a place for yourself in the world; but it’s a journey worth taking.
Begin your journey now! The deadline for this Winter Break programs and Spring semester programs is September 15th.
Guest Blogger: Zana Darwish
Located in the capital city of Ecuador, the SAO Exchange program at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito has a lot to offer students looking to study abroad. Known as the City of Eternal Spring, Quito is just south of the equator and located in an Andean valley surrounded by mountainous peaks. The city offers a unique blend of modern practices and old world traditions. Most notably is the historical center or ‘old town,’ that is defined by its colonial splendor and indigenous character. Similarly, Quito offers a wide range of activities that appeal to all types of students. You can grab a meal in Otavalo Market, go river rafting, hike one of the surrounding mountains, or participate on a city tour.
The program includes four excursions that are planned for the students, giving them a chance to explore the country of Ecuador while abroad. The excursions include day trips to surrounding lakes and nature areas, a trip to the Papallacta hot springs, and a weekend trip to the pristine tropical rainforest, Puerto Quito. Transportation, housing, and meals on these excursions are already covered in the program fees, so students can travel and explore in ease.
The program at Universidad San Francisco de Quito is direct enroll, meaning the students participating on this program can take any class available at the university. This gives University of Illinois students the opportunity to interact with other international and Ecuadorian students in their classes. A majority of the classes offered aretaught in Spanish, thus making this program a great fit for student looking to get credit for Spanish classes abroad. This program also offers unique opportunities for students to get involved volunteering within the Ecuadorian community. Volunteer projects students have participated on in the past include: environmental protection, women’s shelters, orphanages, public schools and hospitals.
With so many unique experiences to offer students, Universidad San Francisco de Quito may be the best place for you to live, explore, and develop via cultural immersion and stimulating academia. For more information on this program go to Quito Program Page or come in a talk to a Program Assistant at the Study Abroad Office!
Guest Blogger: Kaitlin Kuhl
As we head into the 2014-2015 academic year, the Study Abroad Office is seeing a multitude of changes. With the goal set to send more students abroad in the future, current staff have been working on ways to reinvent the study abroad message and its outlook. One of the biggest changes the office is undergoing is replacing the Peer Advisors with Program Assistants. As the Study Abroad Office looks to hire recent study abroad returnees to fill the former Peer Advisor position, the office has taken the initiative to give these students more responsibility and sponsorship for the hard work they demonstrate in the office; thus, we are changing the job title from Peer Advisor to Program Assistant.
For those who don’t know who Peer Advisors are, these students are the front line for those who want to go on a study abroad program. Although Peer Advisors facilitate outreach events and aid the office with general day-to-day operations, often times Illinois students visit the Resource Room in the Study Abroad Office in order to talk to a Peer Advisor about where they should study abroad. Peer Advisors are knowledgeable on the range of programs offered by the Study Abroad Office and can assist students with finding a program that meets their academic, personal and professional needs. When assisting students, Peer Advisors must also be sensitive to a student’s financial means, academic standing and personal limitations. As Peer Advisors, we lead the student through the process of choosing a program and aid them in applying. Peer Advisors are often the ones who help students in the post-acceptance process as well. Whether it is the course approval process or filling out the host institution application, Peer Advisors are knowledgeable on everything that must be completed in order to participate on a study abroad program.
So then, why the name change from Peer Advisor to Program Assistant? The Study Abroad Office wants to recognize the work that the Peer Advisors do and complement their knowledge. It is because of their work that students are able to go abroad. Although area advisors deal with institutions and partners abroad, broker agreements and manage student applications, Peer Advisors are the ones who are able to get students to apply when they might have thought that study abroad was out of the question. As a team within the Study Abroad Office, Peer Advisors hold and share the most knowledge on the options available and the process that needs to be followed in order to study abroad.
It is the Peer Advisors who are able to assist students to find
a program that meets their academic, financial and personal needs. Without Peer Advisors, most students wouldn’t know how to even
begin looking for a program. With that said, it is time that the office recognizes the Peer Advisors as more than just study abroad returnees who aid students with the study abroad process because it is the Peer Advisors who truly keep study abroad alive.The new Program Assistants will be distinguished for their incredible knowledge on all the programs available, their work with office operations including facilitating with applications, and will aid in joining the campus-wide goal to send twice as many students abroad in years to come.
Come meet the new Program Assistants this Fall semester to get help finding the right program for you!