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Choosing a Program: Finding and Creating a Home

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.

Leeds City Centre

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.

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Gigantic Chess matches in the City Centre

 

 

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.

The ruins of Kirkstall Abbey

Kirkstall Abbey Ruins

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.

The Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake at Cupackes by Charley in the city centre

The Sticky Toffee Pudding cupcake from Cupackes by Charley

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.

Reflection Before Graduation: What To Take From Study Abroad

Guest Blogger: Kenzie Pittman

With my Graduation nearing, I can’t help to think back at each semester as a student at U of I. One semester in particular that comes to mind is the Fall that I spent studying in Verona, Italy. Before my study abroad trip, I had never been out of the country. It was definitely scary, and was going to be a challenge taking, on a new language and culture in Italy.

What I wanted out of my study abroad experience, however, was a challenge. I wanted to try a new language, and expose myself to a totally new culture, and Italy was a beautiful place to do so. I remember being out in Verona practicing my Italian to the best of my ability. It was tough at times, but it made my learning experience that much better. I wanted to learn more about their culture, art, history, and that’s what the classes in my program provided me with. I took Italian, Art History, Painting, and Photography. The curriculum was a lot different than what I was used to at U of I. I hadn’t taken a painting or art class since I was in middle school, but I learned so much from my amazing instructors in all of my different classes. They were so qualified and so passionate about what they did, and it made me excited to be in class every single day. It was such a hands-on learning experience, because not only did we get to learn in the classroom, we got to learn out in the city of Verona and in other cities nearby. We would actually get to see the things we were learning about. The classes I took really opened up my eyes to the arts and my appreciation for them. There is so much history and beautiful architecture in Italy, and it was totally new information to learn and take in.


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As I look back, I cherish my time in Verona for many reasons, in addition to my classroom experiences. The challenges I faced made me stronger, and the people I met made my experience wonderful. My broader view of Italian culture and a completely new country was exhilarating, and I promised myself to cherish every day there. Since then, I stick to that motto even back on campus, and as a soon-to-be graduate. One of the greatest things I noticed while in Italy is that they live their lives with such happiness. They appreciate their friends and socialize for hours, just loving the company of their loved ones. My experience in Verona taught me to do that, and for that I am grateful. I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to live in Verona for a semester. That happiness doesn’t have to leave your study abroad experience.

It can be taken back with you and practiced in your everyday life.
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So as you think about studying abroad and what you want out of it, remember to not let it pass you by. Cherish every day, and take every day as an exciting learning experience.

Appreciate the company and the culture around you, and you will come back with the most rewarding experience of your life.