Lessons Learned from Abroad

Now back on campus, study abroad returnees have had a chance to reflect upon their overseas experiences. Here are some of their thoughts….

Madison Moore (Stellenbosch, South Africa, Spring 2018)

Madison Moore Picking a destination to study abroad is a daunting task - you have the entire world to chose from. My search landed me in Stellenbosch, South Africa, home to a diverse mix of people and landscapes. For me, my semester at Stellenbosch University represents a beautiful balance of what I believe a study abroad experience should be. I took a substantial leap outside of my comfort zone in going to a place that, three years ago, I knew next to nothing about. At the same time, I had the support of the AIFS program to turn to for comfort or guidance, allowing me to find a home away from home.
If I could offer a piece of advice to anyone traveling: be flexible and open-minded. Not every experience will be perfect. Be willing to soak up the every moment like a sponge, throw yourself into local culture, and don't hesitate to try something that may make you a little uncomfortable (within reason, as always). I've jumped off the highest bungee bridge in the world, navigated my way across the Namib dessert without a GPS, and come face to face with baboons in the Cederberg Mountains. Now I know I can live out of a backpack for two weeks and, after living amidst a water crisis, I can confidently take a shower in under 90 seconds. From across the U.S, up to Europe, and down to Southern Africa, there is a network of new comrades to visit in any future travels. I've developed confidence, independence, and a desire to see what the rest of the world has to offer. The gratitude I feel for being given the opportunity to have such an irreplaceable experience cannot be put into words. Go abroad!

Amanda Dombroski (Cochabamba, Bolivia, Spring 2018)

Amanda Dombroski I would not trade my experiences abroad for the world. When I applied to live in another country for four months, I had no idea the impact it would have on me and my perspective on the world. I recognized the fun that I would have: traveling to see historical Bolivian landmarks, forming relationships with Cochabambinos, sharing life histories and speaking Spanish were some of the things I assumed I might experience. I did not, however, anticipate a change in the way I thought about time.
Every afternoon between morning and evening classes, my host sisters and myself returned home to eat lunch with their parents as a family. The thirty minutes of travel to go back and forth did not matter - what mattered was sharing food and time together. Compared to the competitive, fast-paced and individualized lifestyle I was used to, it took me quite awhile to adjust. Ultimately, though, my understanding of community in Bolivia was enhanced by the imperativeness of our lunches together despite the inefficiency of travel time. Now that I have returned to the default, high-stress routine most college students in the U.S. live; I still try to make time for quality moments with friends and loved ones. It can be difficult to accomplish, but I will always be thankful for my Bolivian host family teaching me the importance of finding time to feel connected with others.
I will also always be thankful for having received scholarship from The Brain Lacey International Fellowship that made it possible for me to go abroad at all - thank you Mr. Brian Lacey for your support and commitment to social justice.

Margaret de Pont (Dakar, Senegal, Spring 2018)

Margaret de Pont I remember entering the semester ultimately knowing that I wanted to improve my French while studying abroad in Senegal. At some point, however, my nerves won over and I instead found myself silently praying for lots and lots of English. Throughout my six-month stay, I learned again and again that studying a language and using it are two very different things; especially when you have a host mom that doesn't speak any English. I soon discovered, however, that successfully getting my point across was much more important than having the perfect sentence structure or pronunciation. The more errors I made, the more I started to let go of my immense fear of failure. As a result, I opened myself up to relationships and experiences I may have never otherwise took part in. Sitting on the airplane coming home, I already felt myself missing the words, greetings and conversations in French or Wolof that had become such an integral part of my study abroad experience. In allowing myself to be vulnerable by way of language, I granted myself an opportunity to not only study in Senegal but to really live there, gaining several ‘moms,’ ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ along the way.

Gabrielle Ratte (Galway, Ireland, Spring 2018)

Gabrielle Ratte While studying abroad in Galway, Ireland there were endless little lessons and experiences that I will carry around for a long time. However, one of the biggest take-always for me was learning how to adjust and find a way to make the best out of the situation you are in. Whether it is making new friends, navigating around a completely new city, working with a language barrier, dealing with missed or delayed flights/trains, it’s so important to stay grounded and remind yourself of all the positives in life. While traveling around Europe and meeting new people, there were times when things weren’t necessarily going as planned but taking the time to take a breath and remind myself where I was and how lucky I was to have this opportunity really allowed me to make the most of my amazing experience!

Marisa Iannitto (Heredia, Costa Rica, Spring 2018)

Marisa Iannitto While I was abroad, I truly learned how to look out for myself. If I needed to buy something, I couldn’t just hop in my car and get it. I would have to ask around, explore a little, and be open to getting lost a few times along the way.
I also learned that sometimes the people we are put into situations with will not always be our instant best friends. My program was only about 8 girls, and because we were taking classes at the national university, we often did not spend time together. We were not permitted to sign up for the same classes as anyone else in the program, to ensure that we would be speaking Spanish with Costa Rican students, rather than English with other abroad students. Therefore, we did not spend much time together not because we didn’t want to, but rather because we each had our own agendas. I definitely felt lost at first, without many other abroad students to turn to, but it ended up working out to my benefit. It forced me to branch out and become friends with my classmates—some of which I am still in contact with today. It also forced me to utilize my Spanish in a completely new and immersive way. My Spanish would not be at the level it is today if I did not have such a strictly immersive program. I completely recommend IFSA for students who would like to improve their Spanish-speaking ability!

Ionela Putur (Stockholm, Sweden, Fall 2017)

Ionela Putur One of the biggest takeaways from my semester in Stockholm, Sweden is that I could handle living in a city for four months. I'm a true rural girl at heart. It was a nice change living somewhere I didn't need a car to get around, but it was also lacking that tight-knit community feel I loved so much growing up in a small town. As much as I liked being a small fish in a large pond and being anonymous and all that for my semester, I did miss the fact that in my hometown and here at Saint Michael's I see familiar faces everywhere I go. Now that it's senior year and I have to start thinking about What's Next, I can use my abroad experience to narrow down the playing field a bit, because I know from Stockholm that, for me, cities are a fun place to visit for short periods of time and it's really convenient when everything is within walking distance, but I'm probably keeping the job hunt to locations that give me that small town life I love so much. Abroad taught me that cities aren't as scary as I always thought and that I could live in one again if I had to, but my ideal will always be ending up outside city limits in those towns no one's ever heard of and those places no one ever goes to.

Sadie Kaplan (Rabat, Morocco, Spring 2018)

Sadie Kaplan I spent the spring of my junior year studying abroad in Morocco. Morocco marked the first time I had left the country, and it was a semester I can proudly say changed my life. To be honest, it was lonely at first; I was in a new country, a new culture, and with new people. This unfamiliarity with everything forced me to fully rely on myself and I came to the realization early on that this experience and what I wanted to get out of it was mostly dependent on me. I used this lesson to step out of my comfort zone. I tried engaging with the local people as much as possible, attempting to use Arabic no matter how embarrassing I sounded. I tried eating foods I have never tried, such as lamb or fish, and enjoyed them more than I thought I would. Even through smaller things, such as successfully using the taxi system or trains made me feel accomplished. I have never had to rely on myself like I had to when I went to Morocco. My experience taught me I can be independent, I can trust myself, and if I want to make something happen, I can. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to study abroad; it taught me more about myself and the world than I could have ever imagined!

Katharine O'Donoghue (Limerick, Ireland, Fall 2017)

Katharine ODonoghue When I initially decided I wanted to study abroad, it was about a year before I would actually ever be getting on a plane. I was excited and grateful when I received all of my acceptance materials. When August finally came around and it was time for me to leave, I was completely terrified and regretting my decision to go because I feared missing out at St. Mike’s. When I arrived on campus at the University of Limerick in Ireland, I found that my anxious thoughts did not go away, but I recognized right away that there were a number of people in my program who I could lean on and share my feelings with. Building these connections with the other students on my program helped me to adjust and fully embrace my study abroad experience.
Throughout my semester abroad, I learned that adjustments are imperfect. But, I also learned that I am brave and confident enough to try new things. During my semester, I was able to visit seven different countries as well as traveling all around Ireland. I made countless new friends, and I have been able to visit many of them in the United States since returning. Studying abroad allowed me to realize so much about myself, and it is an experience that I will always value and remember.

Sarah Iandoli (Perth, Australia, Spring 2018)

Sarah Iandoli While abroad, I learned that not every moment needed to be breathtaking, picture perfect, and amazing. There were messy moments of my abroad experience and there were plenty of times where I was beyond homesick. Not every moment of my time abroad was fun and crazy, but because of these highs and lows, I learned how to take care of myself both mentally and physically. I made sure to be open about my feelings with my friends, family members, and the faculty at my university. Learning to speak up and take care of myself was incredibly important for me during my time abroad.

Alexa Belanger (Grenoble, France, Spring 2018)

Alexa Belanger A lesson from abroad (that I'm sure many people will say but that I can't stress enough) is to try everything you can when travelling! Before I went to France, I was a fairly picky eater. Upon arrival, I learned that my host mother owned her own restaurant and that I would be eating there for dinner almost every night. We ended up falling into this routine where she would just bring me a plate of food and I would eat it, no matter what it was. I ate at that restaurant almost every day for five months and I only tried one dish that I didn't like. My favorite dish ended up being a pasta dish that she made with mushrooms, but before I went to France I hated mushrooms! I learned that just because I think I don't like an ingredient in a dish doesn't mean that I shouldn't try at least a bite. This lesson also extends to more than just food! There are so many things I wouldn't have been able to do if I hadn't put myself out there and tried. I didn't let myself shy away from spending time with the other students in my program, but if I had, I would have missed out on exploring the catacombs in Paris, seeing the beautiful Chateau Vizille outside of Grenoble, eating fondue in Geneva, and going snowshoeing in the Alps! It's so important to try everything you can when you're in a new country because you can't be certain when you'll be able to come back!

Anna Meusel (Oxford, England, Fall 2017)

Anna Meusel Being back on campus, I realize how self-assured and confident studying abroad has made me. Navigating foreign public transportation, time-managing a drastically different schedule, learning in a completely different educational style, making friends in a country where I have no connections, planning my own extensive travelling, and even learning to enjoy sitting alone in a café every now and then all completely changed who I am for the better. I’ve learned to be more pro-active, more assertive, and less afraid to make mistakes. Studying abroad taught me how to make the most of what’s out there. And the lesson couldn’t be more applicable—just in time for me to make the most of my senior year, enjoying every opportunity at St. Mike’s one last time!

Thane Preite (Washington D.C., USA, Fall 2017)

Thane Preite Although, I did not literally study overseas, my semester in Washington DC gave me just as indelible a lesson about life and who I was/wanted to be. I like to think of my semester in DC as a variety pack of study abroad programs located conveniently in the United States. By that I mean, I was introduced and worked side by side with individuals from a plethora of foreign cultures and nationalities, all the while learning much about my own country's political culture. That said, from my experience I learned that if you want to gain an international perspective, whether it be culturally, politically or experientially, you might be surprised at how much you can do so in our very own nation's capital. With this and many other take aways, such as my internship at the DC Office of the Attorney General and opportunities to meet key governmental figures in the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I was able to return with an honest idea of the person I wanted to be following my time here at Saint Mike's.

Natalie Jackson (Madrid, Spain, Fall 2017)

Natalie Jackson Last fall I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain and yes, it was the most amazing experience of my life and everyone should go abroad for a significant amount of time if they are able to. I learned so much about myself, Spain, and traveling in general while studying abroad. My biggest challenge was the language barrier I faced between myself and my host mom, Dolores. Dolores didn't speak a single word of English, and I had only taken two years of Spanish in my lifetime. As you can imagine, the first couple weeks were quite the struggle as I dove head first into uncomfortable situation after uncomfortable situation. The first three weeks consisted mostly of "Buenas Dias", "Gracias", and "Tengo hambre", but I found the more I put myself in those uncomfortable situations, the more my Spanish improved. By the end of the semester I was able to carry conversations with Spaniards and even translated a two hour dinner between Dolores and my parents. To anyone that is thinking about studying abroad: do it. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and embrace it. In the end you'll only regret it if you don't.

Mariah Newman (Galway, Ireland, Spring 2018)

Mariah Newman Studying abroad in Galway, Ireland quite literally changed the way I think about my life and the world around me. Irish people live in a way that is much more family and values focused. My Irish roommates lived by the motto "what's mine is yours." I noticed less competition and individualistic tendencies and more focus on spending time with loved ones. The Irish place more importance on the family and the group, putting others needs above their own. I think this is a beautiful way to live. Also, in Galway, my residence was about a half an hour walking from my university and Galway city. Therefore, I walked for upwards of 2 hours per day. At first, all this walking was a struggle but then I began to love and appreciate my time walking. It was healthy and a great way for me to reflect and spend time with friends while getting exercise. I now try to incorporate long walks into my daily life. Studying abroad was easily one of the best decisions I have ever made. It taught me so much about myself and how I want to live my life. I am endlessly grateful for my experience and I will always keep a piece of Ireland in my heart.

Katherine Martin (Cape Town, South Africa, Fall 2017)

Katherine Martin During my semester abroad, I learned how to listen well. I met and befriended students and locals from all over the world. I learned how to quiet my own urge to share my stories and instead listen to someone else’s. Studying abroad allows you the opportunity to learn everywhere, including from other people. In Cape Town, I gained the most education from the people I surrounded myself with. Don’t hesitate to have conversations—even if they appear hard to have—to ask questions, and to take the time to understand. Your realm of learning will not be limited to the classroom.

Christina Scenna (Florence, Italy, Spring 2018)

Christina Scenna Living with a host family was one of the most rewarding experiences while studying abroad in Italy. By living with a host family, I was more immersed into the Italian culture than I would have been living in an apartment with other Americans. I got to live in a typical Italian apartment, eat local and healthy Italian food every night, learn about what was going on in the country socially and politically, and speak and learn Italian more efficiently. The connections that I made with my host mom and her extended family is something I will value for the rest of my life. I definitely recommend anyone considering studying abroad to live with a host family—you won’t regret it.

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