Maria M. Silva, Special Assign. Reporter
Many UC students further the college experience by studying abroad, despite the challenges and insecurities they have about living in a different country for four months to a year.
But it is interesting to see how much study abroad students grow during their stay in other countries, explained Stacy Phelps, office manager at the Office of International Education (OIE).
“It’s a whole new experience, even for those who live on campus; it’s like starting college all over again,” said Phelps, a former study abroad student herself. “Talking to them, you can notice a difference when they come back. It’s very fun and interesting to hear their experiences and stories. Even if they become friends with other fellow Americans, they are more confident and open-minded about the world.”
Several Utica College students shared their study abroad experiences with The Tangerine. Below are their experiences, organized by he countries they lived travelled to.
Catherine Durling decided to go to Ireland in the 2018 fall semester because it is an English-speaking country, plus she would learn more about her family heritage “and discover the place where my ancestors came from.”
Some of her initial fears about studying abroad were being in a foreign country by herself and trying to figure out how to get around town.
Being abroad very often includes trying to adjust to different time zones and immersing oneself in a very different culture.
“Irish culture is so different from the American culture,” she said. “Americans are more individualistic about everything, and in Ireland everybody is willing to help each other more.”
In Europe, Durling was able to travel often.
“Every weekend, I was somewhere different,” she said. “It was so easy to travel around, and it is quite affordable.”
Reflecting on her semester abroad, Durling admitted she learned more about herself.
“I had to put my anxieties aside because I had to figure out how to move around,” she said. “I’m more independent because I traveled by myself, so I learned I can do this on my own, and I couldn’t be happier that I did it.”
History major Adam LaPorte was not afraid to study abroad in Ireland. He was confident that he would make friends relatively quickly.
Being from a small town and going to a big city such as Dublin, LaPorte wanted to “experience something different.” He also has Irish heritage, so he wanted to discover the land of his ancestors.
LaPorte, a senior, found himself in a new country and environment with no way of knowing how to move around besides asking the locals, which he said was “a little intimidating.”
However, the “vast majority of the people were super helpful, and they would ask me where I’m from and show interest,” LaPorte stated.
LaPorte had the chance of traveling to Germany, where he lost his passport and other belongings.
“It was probably the worst experience I’ve ever had, but I learned that in the future I need to keep my passport on me and to double-check everything whenever I travel,” he stated.
His experiences, good and bad, have shaped him into a new person today who is less reliant on his parents.
“I am a lot more independent,” he said. “I had to learn how to do literally everything on my own. People our age rely a lot on their parents, but especially after my experience in Germany, I learned how to be completely self-sufficient.”
Joseph Peters studied abroad in New Zealand during the 2018 fall semester. Being a Utica native, it was Peters’ first time living somewhere else.
The reasons why he chose New Zealand were because he was attracted to the beauty and landscapes of the country. Avoiding the language barrier was also an important factor that made him decide to travel to New Zealand.
After a 48-hour journey and practically no sleep, Peters said he was exhausted, yet admitted he fell in love with the landscape as soon as he got outside of the airport.
Study abroad students often experience some sort of culture shock during their stay — especially during a long period of time — but Peters said he had more of a “culture shock” when he returned to the U.S.
“There are some differences between the U.S. and New Zealand, but not a lot compared to other countries,” he said. “It was just weird to be back here. I think it was just as hard to adjust to life in the U.S. than it was me adjusting to New Zealand.”
During his stay, Peters was able to travel around the country and do many activities, such exploring the Tongariro Alpine Crossing in the Northern Island, which he admitted was his first near-death experience.
Peters reflected on his time studying abroad and said he is definitely different from the person he was before the trip.
“I had a lot of preconceived notions about the way other countries operate,” he said. “I always thought to myself that Europe, Australia and New Zealand couldn’t be that bad, but in reality, it’s a lot less insane than America; there’s a lot less going on.”
Peters said studying abroad in New Zealand opened his mind to wanting to travel even more, despite his initial insecurities.
“I had never lived away from home and it wasn’t as difficult as I expected,” he said. “I adapted really quickly and well. I’m just upset that it’s over, and I’m looking forward to doing things like that in the future.”
Before visiting Spain, sophomore Audra Williams had never flown internationally by herself, but she found that everyone was willing to help her.
Williams had taken Spanish classes in middle and high school as well as two semesters at UC, so she thought going to Spain was the perfect way to experience all of what she had learned about the language and the culture.
Even though Williams thought that her Spanish was broken, “they didn’t judge me for it, and they weren’t mean about it,” she said.
Williams, a sophomore government and politics major, stayed in the city of Córdoba, in the south of Spain.
Spain’s meal times can be very different, and having lunch at 3 p.m. and dinner at 10 p.m. is something that many American students find difficult to adjust to.
“I was tired of eating at night time and going to bed,” she said. “It was something new but I would not adapt that schedule for my life.”
She had to rely on public transportation while in Córdoba, something she was not used to before.
“I had to take a bus from my host family’s house to the city center and then to the school,” Williams said. “Scheduling my whole life around the bus schedule was very different and sometimes I had a little bit of trouble with that.”
Williams was able to travel around Spain, and she also visited Morocco and Portugal. Reflecting on her time abroad, Williams felt that she does not live in a “bubble” anymore.
Being away for four months made her more aware about other people and cultures and how she “should go about in the world to help other people and to make the world a better place.”
Back in the U.S., Williams tries to bring the knowledge and values she developed while studying abroad into the UC community. She would like to see a program that could bring international and American students together.
“It would be helpful for the international students to get an American ‘buddy’ and do activities like ice skating or picnics to help them meet and learn from each other’s cultures,” she said.
Senior Liany Jaquez also traveled to Córdoba, Spain, during the 2018 fall semester. Even though she was initially going to Japan, she changed her mind.
“I chose Spain because it’s a beautiful country, and I also speak Spanish,” she said.
Stores and other businesses in Spain close on Sundays, which was very shocking to Jaquez.
“I didn’t know what to do on Sundays, so I would usually just go on walks around the city because we didn’t need a car; we could walk everywhere,” she said.
Compared to Utica College, Jaquez found many differences at the Loyola University.
“At UC, you’re always busy and doing something,” Jaquez said. “Over there, I only got one group project and then we got the final.”
After being in touch with many different cultures, Jaquez feels that she is more open to new experiences. Despite going through some difficulties during her time abroad, she learned that there is more out there.
“Before going abroad, I was very afraid, but I still took the step,” Jaquez said. “I would tell other future study abroad students that they should not let their fears stop them.”