Stonehill College in Massachusetts is ranked 18th nationally among baccalaureate institutions for sending students on semester-long abroad programs. Last year, 40 percent of Stonehill’s graduating senior class had studied abroad, and some of them were asked to share their thoughts on the experience to benefit other students who may be considering a study abroad program. The following are excerpts from interviews with three of those students.
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Hometown: Framingham, Mass.
Major: Health Care Administration, Studio Arts minor
Noah was born in Liberia and raised in the United States. He offers his insights on being an African-American college student traveling overseas:
- “It was interesting because some regions of Italy apparently have a reputation for open displays of racism and I had read articles about it before I went there, but I personally didn’t experience anything…When I was there, I experienced the least amount of discrimination I’d ever experienced in my life. The black population is not that large there, most black people in Italy are African…Even though I was black, they knew I wasn’t African. I was identified as being American. For the first time, my American identity could really shine.”
- “The cultural perspective you gain is so interesting. I was born in Africa, so I have a very cultural tradition. But some African Americans don’t have that experience, to travel outside the country. They should see what it feels like to be black in another country, to experience race and discrimination differently. Some people are going to pull away from you, some will embrace you.”
- “Overall,” Noah says, “Italy gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own identity as well as how it plays out in different countries, cultures, and systems. This nuanced sense of identity allowed me to stand out while fitting in.”
Noah’s tips for other study abroad students:
- “I planned for the semester-long trip by reading relevant travel literature and speaking with students and others who had traveled overseas. The pre-travel reading I did was very helpful and mostly turned out to be true. However, one of the most valuable lessons I learned from making the trip is that much of what you hear before going abroad might not always turn out to be accurate. Other students planning to study abroad should keep that in mind, and remember that you can always gain the best insights about a country, by far, from actually being there.”
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Hometown: Brockton, Mass.
Major: Health Care Administration, Communications minor
Cassidy shares her thoughts on what America’s health care system can learn from Ireland’s health care system:
- “I believe that the American system could use the concept of ‘tea time’ (a break during the day for tea, where you socialize with other members of your department, building a sense of community and teamwork) and being a bit more laid-back, focusing more on the care of the patient than the volume of patients seen in a day.” She says she found it interesting to see how employees valued and utilized this daily ritual to better the working environment. “This social time allowed them to learn more about one another which led them to work more effectively as a unit,” she observes. “This process led me to see how the Irish are more cohesive, relaxed and understanding in the workplace than some of their U.S. counterparts—they are, in my opinion, are approachable, friendly, and open with one another.”
Cassidy’s tip for other study abroad students:
- “My only advice for students studying abroad is to try things you would never try before. Get out of your comfort zone, travel as much as possible and keep an open mind.
[Organization is the key to a successful study abroad experience.]
Hometown: Pittsfield, Mass
Major: Marketing and Economics
McDermott discuss her experiences traveling safely alone while abroad:
- “It definitely was a mix of emotions when I boarded that plane. I knew I was going somewhere I didn’t know anyone. You’re beyond excited, but you’re partially petrified. I knew it would be the experience of a lifetime. You literally discover who you are. You have to find your own sense of confidence. Being in a crowd of people, you know no one knows you. And you can’t just pick up the phone and call your mom. Our generation, we’re so used to having our phones. We say, ‘Oh, I’ll just Google it.’” (In Croatia, she had to plan ahead, print out and learn to read maps because the Internet was not always available.) “You have to print out maps, you have to plan ahead. My mom was like, ‘Do you even know how to read a map?’”
- Abby said when you travel alone, you learn new skills that help you solve problems, and you learn to find your way, on your own. “I definitely spent a lot of time hiking and walking the town. And while you’re doing that, you can’t help but think about a lot of things. I did a lot of observing, a lot of people watching. And I journaled. It can be lonely, but most people are nice and willing to help you.”
- She did have some items stolen from her jacket during her travels in Spain. Luckily, she had left her passport in a locker at the youth hostel. She advises that traveling college kids should always pay extra for a locker and lock, when staying at a hostel, and leave their most crucial valuables there. “Thank God my passport was in the locker, otherwise I’d probably still be there,” she joked.
McDermott’s tips for other study abroad students:
- “Ask the locals ‘Where’s a good hike? Where’s a good place to go? Where’s a good place to eat?’ Ask friends for advice.”
- “Use websites for traveling college kids, read website reviews of youth hostels. I would always try to leave a review, after I stayed in a hostel. It’s kind of a give and take.”
- “When I stayed alone at a hostel, I picked one in the middle of the city, where I could easily walk to everything. I spent a little extra money to not be far out. And I made sure it offered extracurricular activities, like tours and pub crawls, so I was definitely with a group of people. Do the pub crawls through the hostels, which are pretty safe environments. And, obviously, don’t drink too much.”
- “Use your intuition. If you get a bad feeling, there’s probably a reason. Take note of it and do what you need to do to get out of that situation.”
Do you have any study abroad tips you’d like to share with our readers? Please comment below.