The sentiment "the world is your oyster" could not be any more true than when college students decide to take a leap of faith and study abroad. With already well over 330,000 United States students earning college credits in a foreign country, the numbers continue to rise. So, why are college students increasingly heading overseas? We sat down with a recent college graduate who studied abroad, Kiki, to get her first-hand insight on the pros and cons of deciding whether or not to go on this exciting adventure.
When did you know that you wanted to study abroad?
I learned about studying abroad when I was in high school. It was then that I knew it was something I wanted to do. As a child I traveled to Italy and Paris and I remember how magical it was . . . the culture, the art, the wine, the pasta, and the fashion. So, back to Italy I went for five months. I had the pleasure of living in the Renaissance capital of the world just steps away form the Duomo in the center of the city.
What were some of your biggest challenges while traveling abroad?
Budgeting money. The airfare to get to your destination is much more affordable then you might imagine, but once you get to where you're going there are so many amazing things to experience that you can blow through the money you anticipated spending in no time at all. I would challenge students to go for quality over quantity. For example, instead of going out for breakfast every morning, head to the grocery store for some fresh fruit and fresh air.
Learn the native language. Knowing how to speak the language can make immersing yourself in the culture almost effortless. You won't feel so much like a stranger in a strange land.
Missing family and friends. Though this was not so much of a struggle for me, it was for many I knew. Set a plan for communication with your loved ones before you go, so that it does not become a road block while you're apart.
What classes did you take?
I took four classes: Organizational Psychology, Italian, Photography and Sketchbook. Photography and Sketchbook were my favorite as they offered me "field trip"experiences to amazing museums and hidden places that only the locals knew about. An example of this is when my Sketchbook teacher took our class to Tuscany for the day to paint the countryside. Afterwards, we drank wine and ate a homemade meal on a porch overlooking the rolling hills of this region.
Did you travel outside of Florence during your five months abroad?
Yes! In Italy I went to the Amalfi Coast, Milan and Venice. I was also able to travel to Split, Croatia; Paris, France; Interlaken, Switzerland; Munich, Germany; London, UK; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Barcelona, Spain. Many of these trips were included in my tuition.
What keepsakes did you bring back home with you?
Postcards. They are inexpensive items that can trigger great memories from your time abroad. I also was gifted a Florentine Coin Ring from the Ponte Vecchio. It is a special momento of my time in Florence and I love to wear it on special occasions.
What was your biggest "take away" from your travels?
People all over the world . . . we are all more alike than we are different.
Kiki's Advice To College Students Traveling Abroad
Compose a travel journal. I filled an entire notebook, cover to cover! I recorded and kept all the places I visited, the restaurants I ate at, hotel names and even museum tickets. Creating this journal not only helped me to save all the memories I would never want to forget, but also is a reference book of key details that I will want to pass onto others. I still enjoy looking back through it from time to time.
What's next for you?
It has been my life long dream to become a teacher. I received my Bachelors Degree in Psychology and Masters Degree in Elementary Education, so I am off to live out that dream. I am going to begin this journey by traveling to Phuket, Thailand to teach abroad. I will then return home to continue my career in the United States and work hard to make a difference in students' lives as a teacher, friend and mentor. Here is one of my favorite quotes that represents my philosophy of teaching:
"A teacher takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart."
There can be negative stigmas surrounding a teaching career like "teachers only work half the year" or "teaching is glorified babysitting". One of the hardest things I have had to do in my life is to make myself vulnerable enough to have the strength in dedicating myself as an educator. I hope more people in the world will continue to recognize teachers in the professional light that they deserve.