When I was in university, I had the opportunity to be able to have a study exchange for the second half of my 2nd year. Obviously, I jumped at this chance, as when else would I be able to live abroad for half the year while still getting maintenance grants? Being a disabled young woman, my parents [specifically my mother!] were reluctant to let me study outside of London. They were certainly a lot less enthused about me being thousands of miles away. However, having already been bitten by the travel bug in my teens, I wasn’t about to let that stop me.
Here’s how my study abroad made my life better, and actually made me better too:
I learned to ask for help when I needed it
I enlisted the assistance of the study abroad team at Nottingham Trent University. They were very helpful in ensuring that all the requirements that I needed to make the transition from the UK to the US were in place. So many things had to be thought about: where I would live, how I would be able to get to and from university, etc. While this was a rather daunting task, I had support from both the UK office at my home university and at California State University, Long Beach.
I became more determined and driven
Having long fantasised about going to the West Coast and becoming a “California Girl”. Living not too far from the beach, making trips to other parts of the State and making new friends. I became determined and played an active role in making sure that my dream came true. For too long, I had been rather passive and just hoped that opportunities would roll my way. But with this, I knew that I couldn’t just let it pass me by without reaching out with both hands and getting what I wanted.
I learned so much
One of the things that I love about travelling somewhere new, are all the new tidbits of information I acquire. Be that through talking to locals, or people that were only there for a short while. Being able to live in one place for an extended period of time meant that my experiences gained a certain authenticity. I could also advise people which street to go down if they wanted a shortcut somewhere. I knew the places to be, and the places to avoid during the weekends. And you just find out so much about people when you get to spend time with them.
I had a lot of fun
Between regular trips to LA, and visiting other places in the US, I had an amazing time. I made lifelong friends that I am still in contact with today. I got to go to so many places that I had seen on television shows and films. I got to expand my horizon and actually went to Hollywood and casted for a short film I had to do for one of my classes. And the most important, I actually got to watch my favourite shows on their original airdate and not months [or even YEARS!] after airing.
I gained new skills
As I was taking Media for my degree, I got to have a more hands on approach than I had back I home. I worked on different sets, and assisted with different projects. I learned to direct, be a continuity editor, and an editor on various shoots. I learned about the differing roles and brought all of that knowledge together to make my own project.
I made the most of my time
When I was in classes, I learned a lot that still helps me today. However, as I was on a study abroad programme, I didn’t want all of my time being eaten up by my classes. So I managed to arrange my classes to make sure that I was always off on Mondays and Fridays. While this meant that I had to be on campus until 10pm on Tuesdays, the very long weekend was definitely worth it. After I had finished my semester, I also managed to travel through the US, Canada and Jamaica for 2 months after my last class. I didn’t know when I would be back Stateside, so I definitely made the most of the opportunity.
It prepared me for the world of work
As I was an international student studying abroad, I got to meet and get to know people from all parts of the world. From continents and countries that I had never been before, and it really opened my eyes. I was able to relate to people that had a different first language to me, and lived in completely different time zones. Once I started working, I was able to use those interpersonal skills that I had learned, and it made it easier to work in teams. Large or small.
While it has been a long time since I was an exchange student, there are many opportunities available for those still in education, one of which isthe nonprofit Institute of International Education (IIE) will launch a campaign called #GoStudyAbroad to inspire students who wouldn’t normally consider studying abroad to do so. This campaign is for residents of the United States of America. This campaign is part of IIE’s Generation Study Abroad initiative to increase and diversify U.S. students studying abroad by the end of the decade. The more than 600 higher education institutions, study abroad organizations and other partners who have joined the initiative have committed $185 million in financial support to students, faculty and programming to expand study abroad opportunities to all over the next five years.
One person who agrees with me on the importance of studying abroad is Wagaye Johannes, who is the Project Director of IIE’s Generation Study Abroad.
“Studying abroad is for everyone – the variety of programs, funding opportunities, and kinds of college students who go overseas, including students with disabilities, has rapidly expanded and evolved in recent years. If you’re a person with a disability and you’ve studied abroad in the past, we encourage you to participate in the new #GoStudyAbroad Campaign and show current students with disabilities that they, too, can study – and thrive – abroad. The #GoStudyAbroad is part of Generation Study Abroad, an initiative led by the Institute of International Education (IIE) to double the number and diversity of American students who study abroad by the end of the decade. For the #GoStudyAbroad campaign IIE has partnered with Go Overseas, AIFS Study Abroad, CET Academic Programs, IFSA-Butler, and STA Travel. Visit GoOverseas.com/GenerationStudyAbroad for resources and a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship to study anywhere in the world.”
This is such an amazing opportunity that I wish I had access to when I went on my trip! Be sure to nominate someone and help expand their horizons!