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Recent graduates reflect on their study abroad experiences


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If foreign cultures fascinate you, then the opportunity to study abroad may be at the top of your college search criteria. However, as study abroad is both a considerable financial and emotional undertaking, be sure to take some time to learn about the different types of international opportunities schools offer.

In addition to the study abroad information being shared by college representatives and Web sites, hearing what college graduates who studied abroad have to say about their international experiences can be very helpful. Below are some thoughts from three individuals who were more than happy to reflect on their time as students abroad.

The perks of being abroad
For David Brooke, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, the chance to live in and explore Tuscany, Italy, was a rewarding experience that surprisingly gave him a fresh perspective on his home country.

"I gained a new impression on America of all places," Brooke said. "To be separated and see another culture functioning for a length of time showed me what was good, bad and different. It gave me a fresh look at where I grew up."

During her time studying in Argentina, Salve Regina University graduate Ashley Bendiksen enjoyed so many new experiences it's hard for her to pick one that trumps the rest. However, zip-lining in the Andes, hiking Mount Aconcagua and learning how to tango are all top contenders.

Andria Tieman, a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, viewed her time in England as an "amazing adventure" and a great way to find out how adaptable she was to change.

What they wished they knew
Of course, no matter how much you prepare for your time abroad, there are sure to be unexpected curveballs.

Tieman, who had the opportunity to study abroad while in high school, believed that her past experience would inform how she planned for her trip to England as an undergraduate. Unfortunately, that meant not bringing as much money as she should have.

"Since I'm not much of a souvenir person, I expected my trip to England to be pretty cheap," Tieman said. "It was not. Plus, there were so many other adventures to be had when you're there for a long time."

Meanwhile, Bendiksen wishes she had known more about the language barriers she would encounter in Argentina. The host family the student was placed with did not speak English, which meant Bendiksen's host mother would have to draw her a map of the route to the bus stop.

"It's critical to practice phrases, even if they are written down in your pocket, to be prepared if you get stuck in certain situations," Bendiksen said.

Handling academic work abroad
You may wonder how being outside of your comfort zone will affect your ability to do your schoolwork. Every study abroad program is different, but you can typically expect a schedule that allows time for both academic courses and exploration. This was certainly the case with Brooke's experience.

"It wasn't hard to complete coursework, partly because the program was aware we wanted to experience the culture and that was a huge part of going in the first place," said Brooke. "Hence … there were no classes on Friday."

Tieman was fortunate enough to have no assigned homework while studying in England. She was also so engrossed in her classroom experience that studying after hours wasn't necessary.

"Honestly, the lectures were so interesting I didn't really feel like I needed to do outside studying," Tieman said.

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Recent graduates reflect on their study abroad experiences
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