Studying abroad helps break comfort zones

Paige Bailey

At the study abroad panel entitled “Powerful Engagements with Difference,” the three participants agreed that embracing the uncomfortable leads to life changing experiences. The event, which took place on Nov. 12, was part of International Education Week to give students a glimpse of the life-changing aspects of international education. The panel featured three seniors who traveled to different parts of the globe, pursuing academic interests, exploring new cultures and discovering who they are.

Alex Bird ’13 first talked about her time in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Bird was in part drawn to Russia because of familial ties but ended up learning a great deal about herself and her capabilities throughout the semester. Initially, she felt behind in her Russian skills, but after becoming more comfortable there she said that her progress in the language was “addicting.” Bird implored potential study abroad participants to go alone to a new place since it was “eye opening” because of the personal growth she underwent while in a foreign land.

Lindsey McLeod ’13 said that studying abroad in Argentina was the “ultimate social experiment.” McLeod said she did not know what she would find in Buenos Aires but left the country feeling like a local. She said that she “learned how to adapt” from being placed in new situations each day. She also said that she learned that the uncomfortable eventually becomes quite familiar. Overall, McLeod said the confidence she gained traveling around Central America will always be a part of her.

The last speaker was Andy Watts ’13 who travelled to Rabat, Morocco in order to expand his knowledge of Middle Eastern politics, culture and language. In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Watts was inspired to investigate the degree of liberalism within Moroccan society. He traveled to many “isolated villages” throughout his semester in order to connect with “average” Moroccans. In these personal interviews, Watts was able to connect his formalized education with the realities of everyday people. Watts said he “got to know himself” through isolated travel during his time abroad. He said that his time in a new culture has made him “prepared and confident” in pursuing a career in the Foreign Service.

In response to the personal stories the panelists shared, Mariah Midyette ’16 felt excited at the chance to explore a new country alone. She also said she would “benefit in the long run” by feeling temporarily uncomfortable in a new place.

Stephen Appiah-Padi, director of the Office of International Education, hopes that first- and second-year students look to his office for resources about studying abroad. He also suggested that students look to Facebook and Twitter for continuing updates on study abroad options and application deadlines.

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