Monday, October 31, 2016

A Year in the Life of a Study Abroad Applicant - Part V: Debriefing after the Study Abroad Fair

Hey everyone! 

I hope that you all enjoyed this past weekend as much as I did! Having Homecoming, Parents Weekend and Halloween all at the same time is a lot to take in, but I had a great time. In between all of the concerts and other events taking place last week, I found some time to think about my experience at the Study Abroad Fair, and figure out how to go forward with what I’ll plan to do my junior year. I know it seems early, since the deadlines aren’t until the spring, but with registration for classes next semester coming up, I want to make sure I meet any program prerequisites! Here are some of my thoughts:

I had the opportunity to see the fair from both sides – as a student worker, manning the Summer in Senegal table, and as an interested student. Although I did spend a lot of time working at the fair, I was also able to walk around and talk to all of the program representatives about the places that I was interested in. It was such a great opportunity to ask questions to people who know these programs better than anyone else! I was curious to learn more about studying abroad in all South American countries, as well as looking for programs with a Spanish language-immersion focus, since becoming fluent in Spanish is one of my main goals.

My first stop was the CIEE table! CIEE is one of the biggest study abroad providers in the world, offering programs on almost every continent. They offer many great programs in different locations in South America, like Buenos Aires, Santiago and Valparaiso, and they also offer programs with a focus on Environmental Studies (my major). Unfortunately, though, they don’t offer those programs in the same place! It was still cool to talk to the CIEE representative about some opportunities they offer, like internships or research programs. They also assist students in finding homestay families that will help teach the language, so we have another place to practice!

Another university-based option, like CIEE, that is great for language-immersion is Middlebury. They require you to sign a language pledge, promising that you will only speak in that chosen language during your entire experience. But just like with CIEE, I wasn’t quite able to find exactly what I was looking for in terms of what I could study in the right location.

After talking to the CIEE and Middlebury representatives about their programs, I made my way over to the SIT table. SIT, the School for International Training, offers very interesting programs. They are designed around a theme – such as their program in Managua, Nicaragua, “Youth, Culture, Literacy and Media,” or the one in Dakar, Senegal, “National Identity and the Arts.” Students intensively study their program’s theme by having a mix of class lectures, site visits, guest speakers and then pursuing an independent research project. SIT is awesome if you want to study a particular topic. For example, if you are a Public Health major, you can definitely find an SIT program – like the one in Durban, South Africa – that focuses on Public Health in that location. Then, you could use your research project to help inform your senior thesis or even apply for a Fulbright. (I know, that’s way in the future! I am probably getting ahead of myself a bit!) The one major drawback, for me, is that SIT does not offer year-long experiences. The programs are only semester-based. So, I could potentially spend one semester on one SIT program and then switch to another. But I’m not sure if that’s something I want to do. I was really hoping to spend my whole year in the same place so that I could make really deep connections while I’m there. Am I willing to spend a semester in one place, and transfer to another? That is definitely something I have to consider.

The most important thing that I realized by walking around the fair is that the aspects of a study abroad experience that I value most, when paired together, significantly narrow down my options. I am confident that I want to study abroad for an entire year in a Spanish speaking country. Because I have decided to go for a year, I need a program where I can take upper-level courses for my major (Environmental Studies) so that I can graduate on time. Really identifying my goals and what is most important is actually really great. Even though it narrows my options, it means that I can take an in-depth look at the programs that will work so that I can make the best decision. 

On the other hand, while I was working my own table, I realized that not everyone has the same constraints or goals that I do. Your options may be totally different if you only want to go abroad for one semester. Or, depending on your major, if you want to just focus on your minor or even become fluent in another language, you may have totally different options than I do. By figuring out what your goals are for your study abroad semester or year, you can come up with your very own, personalized list of study abroad options! 

I’m still considering my options, but my current dream is to directly enroll at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. We will see what happens after some more research! I got some contact information of representatives at the fair, so I’ll make sure to reach out to them to learn more.

Until next time!