Students share their experiences studying abroad

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Julie Sisler

On average, about 500 WKU students study abroad each year, according to the Study Abroad & Global Learning’s website.

Many students find that, despite obstacles in cost and being admitted to programs, the experience is life-changing.

“Most students say that their overseas experience helped them gain confidence in themselves, improve their cultural awareness and develop soft skills like interpersonal communication skills and adaptability [or] flexibility,” study abroad adviser Katherine Hale said. “Taking classes in another country gives a global perspective on the course content, which is especially meaningful if you take courses in your major or minor because it can help you become more globally competent in your field of study.”

Hale said she studied abroad while she was in college, traveling to Mexico and Austria. She said the experiences helped her view herself and others differently, while also learning more practical skills such as becoming more proficient in Spanish and German.

“They were the most impactful experiences I had as a college student,” Hale said. “Living overseas and adapting to different cultures completely changed the way I viewed myself, my culture and others who are from completely different backgrounds and belief systems.”  

For junior Ireland Hill, who studied abroad at Harlaxton College in England, the hardest part of studying abroad was pushing herself out of her comfort zone. Her study abroad program allowed her to visit 10 countries total throughout her semester.

“Something difficult for me was literally making the decision to get on a plane and leave familiarity,” Hill said. “Once you make that first step, once you develop the belief in yourself that you can do it, most things come naturally.”

Hill, who is double majoring in political science and corporate and organizational communication, said that there were so many rewarding parts of the experience that made everything worthwhile.

“If I had to decide what the most rewarding part of studying abroad was, I would say better understanding the human condition,” Hill said. “I got to meet people from many different cultures, and though every culture differs from one another, I discovered a commonality amongst them all: we are all searching for human connection in some form.”

For Gatton Academy junior Benjamin Clements, the most rewarding part of his study abroad trips to Costa Rica and China came from interaction and understanding of the people he encountered.

“The most rewarding part was seeing the other culture and how they live their daily lives,” Clements said.

Clements also noted the importance of learning how different life is in other countries, even if it’s not necessarily a poorer, developing country.

For senior Molli Guelde, she said her experience with Semester at Sea taught her more than anything a classroom could teach about human interaction.

“I learned to appreciate people more because that’s all we truly have,” Guelde said. “Life is short and relationships are a beautiful gift that need to be treasured.”

Guelde said the experience was so unique in the way that students didn’t have access to internet while on the boat, which helped her slow down and form better relationships with those around her.

As is the concern for many students, Clements said that the biggest difficulty in studying abroad was the cost associated with it.

All three students applied for and received scholarships in order to afford their study abroad experiences. Among other things, these students said they also covered the trip through working summer jobs, working part time during the semester and asking for donations from friends and family.

Hale said most students that study abroad apply for scholarships in order to help cover additional costs that come with studying abroad.

Both the Study Abroad & Global Learning Office and the Office of Scholar Development work closely with students to help them prepare and apply for scholarships in order to fund studying abroad. There are also specific scholarships on TopDollar that all students can apply for. In addition, there are location-specific scholarships, club-specific scholarships and scholarships through external sources that students can apply for.

“I want students to realize that studying abroad can be possible for anyone,” Hale said. “We find that many students don’t consider going on a study abroad program because they think it is either out of reach financially or it wouldn’t work for their major or other courses they need, but the truth is that there are lots of options with a range of costs and course offerings.”

Hale said WKU offers programs from a wide range of 10 days long, winter or summer terms or the more traditional full semester.

Once all the paperwork has been approved and the TopNet balance has been paid, students may agree that the experience was worth every penny.

“This journey is so much more than the stress we feel or the things we have- it’s the people and the moments,” Hill said.

When it comes to studying abroad, students are encouraged to begin planning early in order to complete applications, paperwork and scholarship applications. For more information or to plan a study abroad trip, contact the office of Study Abroad & Global Learning at [email protected]

Features reporter Julie Sisler can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow Julie on social media at @julie_sisler.