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Why Studying Abroad Matters — And How It Can Change You

Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office 

Studying abroad is considered to be one of the most important experiences a student can have in their academic career. Studying abroad provided me with three fundamental things which I wouldn’t have experienced anywhere else. During my study abroad semester in Uppsala, Sweden, I gained new perspectives and embarked on many adventures, befriended people from all over the world and upon my return, it even opened doors for me in my desired career path.

Studying Abroad Makes You A Global Citizen 

Taking on the challenge of immersing yourself in a different country and a different culture is no easy feat. Before I arrived in Sweden I researched the country’s culture and lifestyle and discovered it was significantly different from that of the United States. The divergence of societal gender roles, the importance of coffee (fika) breaks, and the relaxed yet independent academic atmosphere were just a few of the things I had to get used to. But, I welcomed this adjustment and soon enough I was living like a true Swede.

During my time in Uppsala, I engaged in thoughtful and stimulating conversations with my classmates which helped me gain new international perspectives. I discovered the importance of being knowledgable about other countries and their cultures, instead of only focusing on the United States. Of course, I  also taught my peers about my Dominican and American cultures, usually through food and pop culture. Recognizing how extraordinary the world is can help you — and others, see things in a completely different light.

Due to these new discoveries, I became excited about exploring Sweden and Europe as a whole. While in Europe, I traveled to 10 different countries and I had some of the most memorable adventures of my life. While on a trip to Swedish Lapland, which is above the Arctic Circle, I went dogsledding and snowmobiling in the frozen tundra, visited the ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, saw the Norwegian Fjords, visited a Sami reindeer farm, went for a dip in a frozen lake and saw the Northern Lights. And that was just on one excursion. These are things I would have never dreamed of doing, but because I chose to embark on the adventure that is studying abroad, I now have a myriad of stories to tell about these one-of-a-kind experiences.

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Studying Abroad Connects You with People From All Over The World 

One of my most cherished achievements from my study abroad semester are the relationships I formed with the people I studied with. Uppsala University boasts one of the most populous student exchange programs in Sweden and welcomes 300+ exchange students per semester from all over the world. In those six months, I befriended people from Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Morocco, Belgium, Singapore, Australia, Peru, the United States, Canada, France, Sweden and many other countries. Not only did these people become my friends, but they became my study abroad family. We laughed together, traveled together, cooked together and sled down snowy hills together. We got to know each other on a deeper level because we were all embarking on this international adventure together. As a group, we developed an unbreakable bond. These connections would have been unattainable to me if I hadn’t studied abroad.

Though we are unable to see each other as frequently as we used to, we Skype regularly, chat through Facebook and WhatsApp, and visit each other whenever we get the chance! It’s the people that make the experience and they have impacted me significantly because of the time we spent together in Uppsala.

Just think, of all the people you could meet while on study abroad…

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Studying Abroad Can Open New Doors In Your Desired Career 

As a political science and communication double major, culture and international relations are of special interest to me. While searching for summer internships last fall in the field of international affairs, I began to consider how I would convey my study abroad experience on my internship applications. First, I added it to the top of my resume and included a couple of bullet points about the courses I took. While writing the essays for my applications, I knew that I had to express how I had been transformed by studying abroad and how it helped shape me academically, professionally and most of all; personally. I discussed my experience in Sweden, my travels, and how learning about different cultures and their politics from my peers deepened my interest in international affairs. I firmly believe that this part of my application is what set me apart from other candidates and it’s what can set you apart when applying to your dream job or internship. Studying abroad not only demonstrates adaptability, but it shows employers that you can work successfully in a diverse environment and that you can be challenged by the unknown and still succeed.

Just like that, study abroad helped me land my DREAM internship at the United Nations in New York City.

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So, why aren’t you taking advantage of this great opportunity? Illini Go Places! The Study Abroad Office provides over 400 programs in 60+ countries, and I just know there’s one out there for you. Pay a visit to the Resource Room (112 International Studies Building) this week, chat with a Program Assistant and discover how you, too can be transformed by studying abroad in more ways than one!

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