‘Go for it’


A few weeks ago, I sent a couple dozen e-mails and Facebook messages to complete strangers.

I was trying to get in touch with undergraduates, grad students and alumni who had studied abroad, and was hoping a few would respond.

Within days, I received replies from almost all of them — and they were more than willing to share their study abroad experiences with me: They were eager to.

“I would be more than happy to share photos and comment on my experiences with you for the paper,” wrote Natasha Kaluby, now an alumna. And every other response I got was a variation of that sentence.

Twenty interviews later, I realized that students and alumni who’ve studied abroad feel exactly the same way about it as I do: that regardless of your major or your career path, everyone will benefit from the study abroad experience.

That conclusion, plus knowing too many students simply assume that study abroad is beyond their reach, is exactly why I wanted to produce this special issue. And in it, you’ll find everything you need to know to start exploring your own study abroad options plus advice from students and alumni who’ve already done it.

I also contacted the Career Development Center.

“Gaining experience in a country or culture unlike your own will help set you apart from other candidates in the job market,” director Sandra Jakubow said by e-mail. “As graduates enter the labor market and initiate their job search prior to graduating, developing an international component to their resume or CV gives them a competitive edge.”

The CDC even co-hosts a workshop called “Marketing Your International Experience” every fall. Of course, more convincing than hearing it from an administrator is hearing it from recent alumni.

Jessica Sanchez-Dopazo and Beiqi Darren In are currently working in architecture after studying abroad on architecture programs. Luciano Araujo was hired by a software company after studying abroad on an engineering program.

Madison McShane got a job with the Office of International Programs when she graduated. She earned her degree in communication but decided to go into international education after she studied abroad.

“Once you go abroad, you realize how important it is,” she said. “I just fell in love with helping other students have that experience.”

But study abroad offers a lot more than academic credits and a resume perk. As Sanchez-Dopazo put it, study abroad also “broadens [your] horizons in a way no credit or internship can.” See the “Little to lose” article to read why students who’ve studied abroad consider it culturally eye-opening and an opportunity for personal growth.

That’s not to say it’s not a challenge, though. Studying abroad can be rough.

For me, coming home was the hard part. As much as I missed sleeping in my own bed and showering under some semblance of water pressure, I missed South America even more once I got home, which made it difficult to adjust.

David Saginor, who just returned from Spain in December and is still adjusting, even admitted that he’s “pretty unhappy right now.”

For others, culture shock and homesickness take their toll while abroad.

“People tend to get very lonely during the middle of the semester because they’re not with their family, they’re not with their friends. It’s definitely hard,” explained Shulu Potter, who spent a year in Costa Rica. “Some people left during the middle of the semester because they were just so sad because the culture was so different that they just wanted to leave.”

But the challenges of study abroad are also what make it a unique opportunity for growth.

As Luciano Araujo put it, “Exploring a city by yourself or taking a weekend trip alone is a good opportunity for self-discovery and to build confidence.”

Trevor Raborn added, “Being away from home, after a few weeks, it can get to you, but that’s part of growing up.”

The best piece of advice I heard, though, came from Amalia Mermingas, who pointed out that there’s really no other time in life but now, during college, to take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad.

“Go for it,” she said. “This is the only time in your life that you really have the freedom to do something like this.”




At the end of each interview, I asked students and alumni who have studied abroad the same question: Is there anything else you would want to tell a student who is considering study abroad?

I didn’t expect much of a reply but wanted to be thorough in my reporting. The answers I did receive were some of the most convincing, however:

  • “Don’t consider studying abroad, just do it!  It is honestly an experience you will remember for the rest of your life.” —Cristine Busser, France, summer 2009
  • “They should definitely make it happen.” —Beiqi Darren In, Western Europe, summer 2009
  • “Go for it. This is the only time in your life that you really have the freedom to do something like this. A lot of other times when you would travel later on in life, you may not be able to get the opportunities that you as a student. It really changes you as a person, and I think that’s an important thing to have the opportunity to do as a student.” —Amalia Mermingas, Semester at Sea, fall 2009
  • “It’s everything and nothing you thought it would be at the same time. Also, it really allows you to see beyond yourself and really be an outsider and make some realizations about yourself and where you come from.” —David Saginor, Spain, spring 2010 and fall 2010



There’s more: This article is part of a special issue about study abroad. To read more articles from the issue, see the “Related Articles” box beneath the photos.