In initially considering studying abroad, I was drawn to the semester-long programs as compared to the two week or month-long programs my school offered. I loved the idea of getting a more in-depth look into a culture and a worldview. In preparing for four months away from home, however, I was constantly weighing the pros and cons of the upcoming experience.
Could I find my way in a new area with new people, some who did not even speak English? Was I actually cut out for this?
Despite any doubts that might have arisen, the potential benefits captured me every time. I was enthralled with the opportunity to make friends from around the U.S. and the world, to explore, to learn, and to grow like never before.
As I reflect on these past four months, I can say without a doubt that the benefits far outweigh the costs. I look back on this experience as a highlight of my college experience. The setbacks did come, but none dissuaded me from continuing to pursue this endeavor. When I think of the highlights of this semester, I think of moments and events, yes, but I also think of the lessons that I have learned.
- From watching friends like Caleb, I have come to better appreciate the joy that can be found in simplicity. In life, Caleb is not merely focusing his goals on having an impressive house and a nice sportscar. Instead, he wants to gain meaningful experiences. If this takes the form of him living out of a backpack, he’s ready to go.
- While on a weekend trip to Croatia, a few friends and I were busy seeing sights and enjoying the relaxing coastal city of Split. Amidst the craziness of mid-term exams, we were each rather overwhelmed. So, as we overlooked the waterfalls in Krka National Park, we each stretched out in the shade, with our backpacks serving as our pillows. All afternoon, we thought, we rested, we ate, we disconnected. I think we all stand to benefit from taking a moment to detach from the concerns that flood our minds and to pause.
- To know me, you must understand that I am a social being. I love environments in which I can talk and enjoy the friends and family around me. While traveling in Poland; however, I decided to do something a little different. Instead of staying with groups of people, I chose to go off on my own. Without any great plans or vision, I wandered the streets of Warsaw, meeting people and marveling at the rich history of the area. From this, I learned that in many cases, the best way to experience an area is not in the group tours or the top tourist attractions, but through the people. The people each carry with them a small portion of the character, the value, the unique qualities of a region and state.
- For the culmination of our European Union program, the IES Abroad faculty and staff hosted a “Model EU” event in which students can showcase the information in which they have learned throughout the semester in preparing and hopefully agreeing on legislative efforts. Each student is given a country and tasked with studying their respective state’s views on an issue or topic area. With states such as Hungary, the UK, Poland, Italy, and others, one soon realizes that the EU is composed of many diverse national interests. While acting out the roles of our heads of state or government representatives, many were pointed in their rhetoric while others sought compromise. Some denounced the role that the EU plays while others praised further efforts of European integration. While many issues divided us, we also realized that compromise is possible. Instead of discrediting one’s character because of their beliefs, we gained a greater appreciation for the art of listening and empathizing with others. This is vital for necessary progress in our current political system.
- Cam has found joy in comedy, and you can see his face light up when he does stand-up or goofs off with friends. As we planned to travel to Munich one Saturday, Cam missed his bus. he eventually made it there hours later, but his phone died right as he tried to connect up with others. So, Cam was left to spend the majority of his day alone, traveling and trying to find his friends. Instead of bickering over the many negative aspects of his situation, he likes to joke about it. His contagious humor brings joy to many people. Like Cam, may we smile laugh, and make the most of each moment regardless of our circumstances.
As a result of this semester, we have gained invaluable experiences in new cultures and environments. We have tasted unique cuisines and questioned quirky practices. Most importantly, we have developed relationships, relationships with professors who care, our peers from the program, and friends native to Germany.
Looking back, I almost chuckle when thinking about my doubts. I am thankful for the process, the people, and the lessons learned. I would not change a minute of it.
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<p>As a child, I watched my mom document our family's experiences through photography. Since the time when a camera would fit in my hands, storytelling through media has been my passion. Currently, as a junior at Wofford College, I combine this interest with study of the American and international political systems. I find special interest in where I believe these fields converge in broadcast journalism. I hold that everyone has a story, a story that needs to be shared.</p>