Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, AC Study Abroad programs were held virtually during Summer 2020.
Studying abroad at first glance is both an incredibly inspiring and terrifying experience. For some it brings to mind a chance to be independent – similar to when you first began studying in college. Yet for others the idea of being in a foreign country, surrounded by a foreign language, and living with a foreign family seems extremely daunting. Yet the reality is that studying abroad is perhaps the most important step that you can do not only for the benefit of your language skills, but also in developing and expanding your worldview. Every student should work toward having the opportunity to study abroad. Of course, the process is not easy, and very rarely are most college students in a position to drop everything and go abroad, or have the financial means to do so. But in speaking with your college’s study abroad office and asking relevant departments and offices for funding/assistance, there’s a surprisingly large amount of funding available that can help turn a dream of studying abroad into reality (without having to delve into loans!) Many programs also offer their own financial aid, and you can easily apply for that as well. Always ask and apply for scholarships and aid, the worst result is that you’re ineligible, yet you might end up receiving some money or learn of a different source of funding.
But now let’s jump forward: you’ve talked to study abroad, you’ve gotten funding from grants, scholarships etc., and you’ve been accepted into your program. You’ve landed in your target country, but now what. What is a student supposed to do when studying abroad? The ultimate recommendation would be to not be a tourist the entire duration of the program. Of course everyone needs a period to visit the sights and attractions of their target country and city. But beyond that I would always recommend trying to live like a local. Gather a group of friends or go alone, and explore the lesser known areas of cities. Going to local restaurants, markets, stores and squares allows you not only to understand a culture in its fullest without the rose-tinted glasses of being a tourist, but importantly lets you meet locals in their preferred environment. People won’t expect international students so far away from stereotypical tourist hot spots, and the conversations and connections you’ll make are the ones you will remember well beyond the end of your program. When I was in Moscow, Russia this past spring I ended up befriending a lot of the locals in my neighborhood far from the center of the city, and one even tried to get me to join their Sunday soccer league! There’s a greater depth of understanding that comes from trying to immerse yourself as authentically as possible in another culture; and that requires of you to step away from the highs of being a tourist. The kinds of stories people bring from back from abroad that they cherish the most are the personal, authentic and genuine relationships that come from seeing new country in its most basic and everyday form. Going to stereotypical social media hotspots won’t teach you a new language, or demonstrate what daily life is in another country; to do that, you need to leave the selfie stick at home, and simply explore.
By: Keenan Overa
Term: Summer 2020