IES Abroad: Can you talk a little bit about your first international experiences? What did they spark in you?
NG: When people tell me about childhood trips they took abroad, I always joke that every family vacation I ever went on was to Wisconsin (and it’s pretty much true). I don’t think that’s such an uncommon experience for Chicagoans. However, I was always exposed to different cultures through my friends and their families, and I am grateful to have grown up surrounded by so many different languages, religions, and ethnic backgrounds. Before I went to college, I thought my hometown had everything and was the center of the universe, so I never really considered leaving the state, let alone going abroad. When I was in college, someone came to my classroom and pitched to us on going to Costa Rica to study sustainable tourism for five weeks over the summer. I could get credit that would count towards my degree, and it sounded like an adventure, so I signed up.
Going on the program was almost like an out of body experience. I felt like I was outside watching what was happening to me, but it was so far from my reality that it couldn’t have actually been me. I was speaking Spanish to strangers, eating fresh pineapple from my homestay family’s backyard, whitewater rafting, and journaling about sustainability. I learned so much in those short five weeks that I was hooked and craving more.