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Guest Blogger: David Silberberg, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Study abroad is an opportunity not only to learn in foreign institutions, but also to learn outside the classroom. Taking a step outside your comfort zone into a place unlike anywhere you have been can be a learning experience that cannot be replicated in any school, at home or abroad. When I studied and interned in Senegal for a semester, I realized that while my classes were certainly great, what made the experience invaluable was the time I spent in places that where far different from anything I was accustomed to in the US. The most profound of these experiences was the time I spent with my internship or host family in rural areas–villages that often lacked electricity or running water and usually had no more than a few hundred residents. Coming from suburban Los Angeles and the University of Illinois, this was something I had never encountered. Even for many Senegalese people, this lifestyle is foreign. The World Bank estimates that 43% of the population is urban, with that number becoming larger each year.
For Americans, hearing or seeing pictures of these villages may evoke feelings of disbelief or pity. For some, this is the quintessential image of sub-Saharan poverty–the small village with simple huts and no utilities. However, being able to visit some of these villages and those who live there reveals a far different reality, showing that these conceptions are deeply misguided.
Village life for many is a exactly as they would like it. Everyone works together: farming, raising animals, building houses, taking care of children. Everyone knows their neighbors, and lives are free of the distractions that have come to define our lifestyles. Without television, cell phones, lights to keep us awake all night, car exhaust, noise, and more, life becomes much simpler, but also much more relaxing and, for many, more rewarding.
Several of my host family’s relatives would live in town to go to school and then return to the villages whenever they had a break. My host father would often go spend time (sometimes taking me along) in the village where he was born and where his mother and brother still live. My host brothers often talked about how after they worked in the city and made enough money, they would like to retire and live in a village.
This is not to say that rural life is better than city life. Of course, there are many challenges and issues facing those who live in villages. But what makes life in villages enjoyable is the lack of the things that we cannot imagine living without in our daily lives–TVs, cars, smartphones, computers, etc. Even more, however, is the lack of rent, boring corporate office jobs, mortgages, loans, debt, bills, and the list goes on forever. To sum it all up in one word, rural life is relaxing. Which is something that I think everyone could appreciate, even if it means no iPhones.
Guest Blogger: Cristina Valdez, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
Throughout my time at the University of Illinois, I have encountered a few well-known rumors that relate to the study abroad process. I have heard people often say, “Well, studying abroad is just too expensive,” or the ever-popular, “Study abroad is a blow-off semester,” and my personal favorite, “I just don’t have time to study abroad.” Those that believe these fallacies do not know of the multitude of resources regarding study abroad that are offered on the Illinois campus. Now, it’s time to shed some light on these topics and put these rumors to rest. I’m here to debunk these popular myths and reassure you that not only is study abroad a unique experience, but also a worthwhile and fruitful investment for your life and your future.
Myth #1: Studying Abroad Is Too Expensive
It’s no secret that attending a four-year university is an expensive period in a person’s life. Tuition costs are on the rise, and many of us get buried under the pile of student loans after graduation, however studying abroad doesn’t add to this cost — it can actually reduce it. That’s right! Studying abroad can actually SAVE you tuition money. Who would have thought? The Illinois Study Abroad Office offers a myriad of programs that are either comparable or less than a semester or year’s tuition at U of I and similar in academic standards. During my study abroad semester in Uppsala, Sweden, I saved my parents $15,000 in the six months that I was there. These savings were not due to the fact that I was “living frugally,” because trust me, I went all out, but they were simply because I had found a suitable program for my budget. Overall, my study abroad experience was less than $8,000. You too, can save this much while studying abroad. In addition, not only does the Study Abroad Office offer low-cost programs but they award more than $850,000 in scholarships every year. One in four students gets the I4I scholarship to study abroad. What if you receive financial aid? No problem! in most cases, your financial aid can cover the costs of your study abroad experience. To find out more, visit the financial aid office to discuss, stop by the Resource Room (112 International Studies Building) to get a list of our low-cost program options and to find out about scholarships and financial aid click here.
Myth #2: Studying Abroad Is Just A Blow-Off Semester
Exciting adventures? Check. Exposure to a different and exciting culture? Check. Major/minor, gen-ed credit? Check. The study abroad programs that the University of Illinois offers have not only been vetted by an academic committee for rigor, but offer courses across all majors and academic disciplines. So not only can you take courses in your major for academic credit, but also electives and general education requirements. Some of the programs are so convenient, that I have known friends and acquaintances who have taken courses abroad and finished an entire minor! There are an array of opportunities which allow you the academic freedom to take the courses that suit your needs. Academics are the most important part of STUDYing abroad, so take advantage of the opportunities offered. Interested in seeing what other students have taken and the type of Illinois credit they’ve received? Check out our Course Approval Database here for more information.
Myth #3: I Don’t Have Time To Study Abroad
The most popular myth by far, is that of not having enough time to engage in a study abroad experience. As students, we are all busy. From studying for classes, preparing for future careers or internships, working and staying involved on campus some may think that time to go abroad is nonexistent. However, when considering studying abroad, it’s important to note that there are specific programs that can fit your tight schedule. Whether your schedule is extremely constricted, such as that of education majors, or if you have strict on-campus course requirements, there are still opportunities out there for you! The study abroad office offers programs with varying lengths of time. From our Faculty-Led Winter Break and Summer Break options (2-4 weeks), to regular summer programs (4-6 weeks), fall and spring semester options, and academic year programs, rest assured that you can fit studying abroad into your college curriculum. All of these programs offer enriching experiences to help you discover a whole new world (literally!).
So, before you write off studying abroad as an experience you can’t afford, an experience you will not receive academic credit for, or as an experience you won’t have time for, come speak to one of our Program Assistants at the Resource Room (112 International Studies Building). Not only are PAs equipped to provide you with all of the information regarding study abroad programs but also in assisting you in during your search to find one that will most adequately fit your needs. Consider the benefits that studying abroad can offer you! An experience like this is one which you will not find after exiting academia, so take advantage of the future doors it may open and the people you could meet while exploring a new culture or learning a new language. Remember, Illini Go Places! Visit studyabroad.illinois.edu for more information.
Guest Blogger: Alicia Daniels, Program Assistant at the Illinois Study Abroad Office
“We should come home from adventures, perils, and discoveries every day with new experience and character.” –Henry David Thoreau
Before I stepped a toe into any airport to fly solo to the United Kingdom, I spent months combing over blogs, government sites, and even Pinterest – I’m ashamed to reveal that last source – in failed attempts to piece together clues about what my study abroad experience may look like. Although I have lived in several countries in Europe before I never visited the city my program was being held. I was finally bursting out of the “campus-life” bubble and, even though that feeling was invigorating, the idea of not being around familiar surroundings was terrifying!
However…I made it sixth months “across the pond” and returned home –for the most part- unscathed (sorry for those impromptu ear piercings in France, Mom and Dad)! The most rewarding moments I had abroad were the times that I traveled off the beaten path and explored the cities I was so fortunate enough to be in. Here are three tips that helped me make the most of my time outside of the classroom:
Talk to the locals. “But what if they realize I’m a foreigner?” Well you are, so embrace it! Don’t worry if you think a native will judge you; chances are they will find you to be a novelty and will want to know more about you too. Plus, you may even pick up a few new friends along the way. Locals are a great resource to understand a city’s public transportation system, the best eateries, and the coolest places to blow off steam after long nights of studying.
Don’t be afraid to look like a tourist. Grab a map, your camera, and just go! Your study abroad program will go by much quicker than you think. Before school starts and things really pick up try to map out some tourist locations you would love to visit around town. You may think you’ll have 4-6 months to see it all but between finals, making friends, and traveling you may miss out on some hidden gems located in the city of your host university.
Travel light on the weekends. If you study in Europe, you’ll soon find out that historic towns with cobblestone streets – although completely gorgeous – are not great for rolling around luggage. If you are taking weekend trips to a neighboring city try limiting yourself to a backpack. You really only need the essentials and it will be much easier to carry if you have to wait for a train or need to pass time outdoors until your hostel room is ready.
Fear of the unknown is absolutely normal but don’t let that deter you from exploring something new! Let’s be honest, you’re most likely going to get lost at one point during your journey but you’re also going to come back with memorable experiences and tons of pictures that will make all of your Instagram followers terribly jealous.
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!
Excerpt from the Blog of: Lindsey Watts
Studied Abroad: Swansea, Wales
This past weekend I explored the other famous part of this city called the Gower Peninsula. It has just been rated the 10th best beach in the world and number 1 in the UK. Naturally, I was going to have to go check it out. I got a few of my friends together and went for a Saturday afternoon. We were lucky because there was 0% chance of rain
and though there were some cloudy skies and it was very cold, it was still a great day for an adventure. We got on the bus for free(!) and went to Rhossili which is a very small village in the Gower. The village is comprised of a church, a hotel, a few shops and that is it. The village is very cutewith all of the buildings made of stone. However, the village only takes about 10 min to look at. The real attraction is what surrounds it. Looking around for miles, as far as you can see, is beautiful landscape. A view that words can simply not express. I was standing on a piece of land that stopped at the ocean before me, creating stony cliffs, covered in bright green grass and topped with hundreds of sheep. Yes, I said it. There were hundreds of sheep both wild and owned living on the same land. They would be about 6ft away from us and then run away.
The Gower is composed of many cliffs and an island called Worm’s Head. There is a rocky sea floor tureen that bridges the cliffs’ main land to the island. Many people go across and hike on the island and then come back. However, you must be careful because when the tide comes in the water goes over the rocky bridge and you can be stranded on the island until the tide goes back out. The good news is that there is a small building at the end of the main land where some cute old men volunteer as a coast guard and watch out for those who go over. By the time we made it to the edge of the main land we only had an hour until the tide would be there. Most of us thought that we did not have time to go across and come back, though my friend, Paul, decided to go for it and ended up having to half run there and back. He said he had a great time though and would love to go back and do it when he had more time. I also would like to do that when my parents come and I take them there.
After adventuring around (me climbing down a little bit off the cliff) and Paul finding some caves, we went to the small hotel and had a nice small meal. I had a nice lentil and vegetable soup with some bread and a side of chips (steak fries). We then looked in a couple of the gift stores they have and then hopped on the bus back by 2:30pm. Before we left we also got a glimpse of a very old church that had graves from the 1800s and some that were from just 20 years ago. I am sure it would be super spooky during Halloween, but it was pretty cool just to see.