Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Here at the Illinois Study Abroad Office we get an array of questions ranging from “what schools are most similar to the University of Illinois” to “what city has the best student life?” However, one of our most frequent inquires is the age old question “how do I even get started trying to study abroad!?” Well you are in luck, from the comfort of your own couch I will tell you four ways that helped me plan my international abroad experience!
- Decide what you want out of your academic experience.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. You meet people from around the world, visit breathtaking monuments, and (depending on your location) can travel to other countries as well. However, we must remember the study in study abroad. You don’t want to end up at an institution you don’t like for 4-6 months just because it is in Italy! Figure out how studying abroad fits in with your academic goals. Ask yourself, do you want to take general education classes or fulfill major requirements? Does your college restrict you from taking certain classes away from campus? Thinking about your academic future can definitely help you narrow down your choices for which program you would like to apply to.
- Speak to your advisor.
Your home university advisor is not around to just send you pesky e-mails about class registration! Use their guidance to help you decide which classes you can take abroad and how this will affect you once you return from overseas. Here at the University of Illinois we have a specific set of advisors in each department that specialize in helping students choose classes that will keep their academic career going. Click here to see this great resource and contact your Study Abroad 299 advisor today!
- Where do you want to live?
The study abroad experience allows students to enjoy a variety of locations in over 60 different countries. So many options can provide a variety of living experiences. Think of what type of environment you want to live in abroad. Do you prefer something similar to your home university? Would you like to be in a small rural city or large city? How comfortable you are with figuring out public transportation? Would a host family or dorm life be a better fit for what you want out of your study abroad program? Questions like these helped me choose my perfect host university!
- Visit your Study Abroad Office!
It is true that the study abroad experience is a lot of independent research and decision making; however, your Study Abroad Office is always here to help you! One of the best ways to get started is visiting your local SAO advisors and staff. Sometimes talking to someone is the best way to figure out what you really want in regards to leaving the country. Program Assistants at the Illinois Study Abroad Office are students just like you who needed guidance on how to study abroad and now we look forward to helping you out in the same way! Please come visit to talk about your study abroad experience today!
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: Ruchi Tekriwal
Nested in the heart of the Rif mountains lies a tiny gem of a city called Chefchaouen. The population of the city is smaller than the student body at the University of Illinois! Despite its small size, this city is famous for its cobblestone medina, its split pea soup, but most of all, it is known as the blue city of Morocco. All the buildings in the old town, or medina, are whitewashed and decorated with bright blue accents. Doors grommeted with brass studs line the narrow alleyways. Instead of the usual French, shopkeepers approach in Spanish, selling their crafts to whoever walks by. Many call it the most beautiful town in Morocco. I had a chance to visit this charming city on a group excursion with other students from my program.
Chefchaouen is also well known for its handicrafts and artisanal workshops that sell goods not available anywhere else in Morocco. Woolen blankets, beaded tapestries, hand-woven carpets, and painted ceramic ware are visible at every turn in the winding medina. However, I was able to experience these shops in an entirely new way. The director of our program had arranged workshops with craftsmen in the city so that we could work with them in their studios to see how they made their goods. We could choose between painting, carpet weaving, brass work, and leather craft. Along with one other student, I chose to work with brass because I knew next to nothing about this art. I entered the tiny shop that was filled with plates, sculptures, and jewelry. There were small tea sets and large hands of Fatima, a symbol representing blessings and protection against the evil eye. The shopkeeper and his son greeted us both, and quickly started instructing us on making a brass medallion. I sat on a small stool and awkwardly balanced my circular piece of brass on the tiny work surface. With a hammer and a pick, the shopkeeper showed me how to make a border around the edge of the medallion. His lines were smooth, curving perfectly with the metal and mine were crooked, disconnected, and uneven.
Using different chisels and picks, I made a border and a design on my medallion, ending by clumsily engraving “Morocco” and “Chefchaouen” on the medallion in Arabic. This small feat took me about an hour and a half to complete. Other students from my program had laced bracelets out of leather, made paintings of the city, and woven a brightly patterned rug. It was amazing to see how these artisans made their products and how much work went into each piece! This experience also made me realize the uniqueness and effort behind every handcrafted item.
I treasure this memory from Morocco because it is so different from anything else I did, or even from what most students get to do. I was able to be a part of this city by working with shopkeepers and participating in the craftwork it is known for. How many other people can say they have worked in an artisan’s workshop, engraving and polishing brass? ∞
Students with disabilities now have an additional resource at their fingertips if they are considering studying abroad: http://studyabroad.illinois.edu/userfiles/pages/enabledabroad.aspx
The page, initiated by an Enabled Abroad task force at the Study Abroad Office, went live on Wednesday and introduced the Enabled Abroad initiative to campus while identifying: resources for students with disabilities, considerations for accessibility in a host country, questions students should consider before choosing a program, helpful pre-departure tips, and next steps, helping to prove that studying abroad is open to every student regardless of race, ethnicity, financial background, or disability.
Rob Kozarek, Programming Assistant for Australia/New Zealand and committee member on the Enabled Abroad task force.
Enabled Abroad is a collective effort between the Study Abroad Office and Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) to facilitate equal access for students wanting to participate on a study abroad program by providing on-site accessibility information for programs, setting up on-site support if necessary, and assisting students before, during, and after their program to ensure that the student’s experience is positive and successful.
To jumpstart this initiative, the Study Abroad Office is helping promote a FREE webinar put on by Mobility International to encourage student participation. Please see their add below.
“Go Abroad with a Disability, Find Your Career Path”
Thursday, April 25, 2013, 4-5 pm Eastern Time (1-2 pm Pacific Time)
Going abroad is an excellent opportunity to travel and explore other cultures, but have you ever wondered how it can help you stand out to future employers or launch your career?
In this free webinar, presenters with diverse disabilities describe how their experiences studying, volunteering, and working abroad made a positive impact on their career paths. Staff from Mobility International USA (MIUSA) will share tips for how young people with disabilities can take the first steps towards exploring international exchange as an option for them!
Live captioning and ASL interpreting will be provided. Other reasonable accommodations provided upon request with advance notice.
Sign up here: http://www.miusa.org/ncde/goingabroad/careerwebinar
Guest Article: Sydney Gorman
As a young woman of mixed heritage, I had the unique experience of absorbing two cultures growing up: American culture and Chinese culture. I spent a great deal of time with my Chinese family; understanding the importance of the Moon and Chinese New Year festivals, applying a certain familial structure of respect, and learning that moon cakes weren’t exactly the greatest thing to eat. However, I didn’t begin to speak Chinese until I took it as a class being offered for the first time my sophomore year of high school.
I knew that I had family that still remained in China even after both my grandparents had fled to escape Mao’s Communist regime. I also knew that there was a complex family history between both of my grandparents. My grandmother’s father had been a general under reform leader Sun Yat-Sen, who had been looking to put an end to the hierarchy of the Qing Dynasty. My grandfather’s mother had been one of the remaining descendants of that same dynasty, desperately trying to cling to power. As you can imagine, I became more intrigued by the idea of visiting China and meeting the other members of my Chinese family and hearing their perspectives on their family histories.
The opportunity to study abroad came with my acceptance to the University of Illinois as a Global Studies Major. My junior year, through the Alliance for Global Education program in Beijing, China, I spent the Fall 2011 semester experiencing a whole new side to my culture, speaking Chinese to native speakers, and interacting with the Soo and Dan families.
When I met my grandmother’s half-brother, and his wife for the first time, there was definitely a language gap—most of the time I was unable to get across what I actually wanted to say. But they were very patient with me and extremely hospitable and treated me like family. They took me out to dinner and did everything they could to make sure I was comfortable and safe in Beijing, in spite of having only met me a few times during my stay. However, each time my Chinese had improved and our conversations became more in-depth.
Similarly, I met with my grandfather’s family while my parents came to visit in China. Most of the family could not speak English, so we mostly relied on my grandfather’s brother, Soo Shao-Zhi, to translate some of the more complex dialogue. Again, the entire family took us out to dinner for Beijing roast duck and treated us like we saw them all the time. It was a wonderful experience.
I think the biggest realization that I had such a caring family was when I became sick; the moment I informed my mother’s cousin of my illness, they took me to the family doctor and purchased medicine for me to take. During the week they repeatedly checked on me to make sure that I was doing well.
I asked both Dan Gong-Pu and Soo Shao-Zhi to tell me about their lives prior to the Communist takeover; I don’t think that I could have ever come up with a story as fascinating as the one told to me firsthand by my family. One day I hope to compile all of their stories and share them with the world.
While my experience is unique to me, I believe that people can find out more about themselves in one semester abroad in China then in many years. It is important to make your own story and to be able to share it with others. I hope that if you have the opportunity to study abroad, you take it immediately! You never know what sort of adventures you might end up having when you are in a new place. I hope my journey with the Alliance for Global Education inspires you to create your own story.
MATT VANDERZALM, MANAGING EDITOR
Cage diving with Great White Sharks off the Neptune Islands in South Australia.
Photos courtesy Rob Kozarek
Robert Kozarek’s study abroad trip to Australia almost never happened.
During the summer before his senior year of high school in 2005, Kozarek, driving below the speed limit in a heavy rainstorm, had a devastating car accident. The car he was driving began hydroplaning, flipped over a guardrail, and rolled multiple times before finally coming to rest upside down at the bottom of a small ravine. Kozarek survived, but was left with a broken neck and vertebrae. He was paralyzed from the chest down, and would have to spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Jump ahead to 2010. Kozarek, now an Illinois student on his way to earning a degree in English, began revisiting the idea of studying abroad, something he’d considered prior to his accident—and something about a quarter of Illinois undergraduates will do before graduation.
“I have always loved to travel and to experience new and different cultures and people,” said the Madison, Wisconsin native. “I wanted an experience where I could live in a different city, in a different country, and meld into the culture.”
Kozarek wanted to get involved through the campus Study Abroad Office (SAO) exchange program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. To pursue this passion, there would be obstacles. He was told very few, if any, disabled students had gone abroad and participated in Illinois-led programs. The challenges facing any student with a disability going abroad are numerous, according to Susann Sears, disability specialist with Disability Resources and Educational Services at Illinois.
“One thing we discuss with students is the fact that the federal protections in this country do not follow them to other countries,” Sears said. “Things cannot necessarily be replicated as far as supports go in other countries because of that, and because there are cultural differences in how disability is interpreted.”
Things common at Illinois and in the U.S., such as curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, and automatic doors, are often missing in other countries. Also, many students stay with host families while they are abroad. “The reality is that private homes can be particularly inaccessible,” Sears said.
While Kozarek’s disability did create a number of hurdles other students may not face, the most pressing issue was indeed finding an appropriate place to live. It had to be a place that was wheelchair accessible, yet made him feel like he was, well, in Australia. Eventually, with the help of SAO Coordinator of International Programs Steven Dale, the two were able to locate a suitable flat near the university.
Read the entire article about Rob’s experiences abroad as a wheel-chair user in the Illinois International Review
Or watch his video here: Rob Kozarek in Australia