BY NICOLE FUNG CALLEJA
Studying abroad is an experience that cannot be compared to anything else. The experience of being immersed in another culture and being surrounded by different people and customs other than the ones you are used to are sure to create change in your perspective. I had the chance to chat with international and local students about their experiences while studying abroad in the hopes of motivating those who are deciding whether or not to take the plunge.
Sophomore Lauren Reeves is involved in various McKendree organizations and travelled to Spain during summer 2015. After travelling once, she realized how much she wants to keep exploring the world. She comments that, “I find new, interesting things out each time I travel to a different country. I have previously visited Spain, Belize and Mexico. Though I have not officially studied abroad with McKendree, each adventure was a real learning experience.” The learning experiences she has obtained by getting immersed in the culture has marked a difference in Reeves, who notes that “no one is the same, and you can learn something new from everyone you come in contact with.” Even more, she feels she has gained a new perspective on life. “I see the glass as half full instead of half empty.”
Similarly, junior Brady Rose travelled to Sevilla, Spain, in fall of 2015. Reflecting from his time abroad, he comments that, “I learned things about myself and my own culture by being immersed in a new one. I learned to recognize that people elsewhere think a lot differently and prioritize differently than we do.” One of these instances for Rose was noticing the pace of living. “In the south of Spain, life is a little slower, [so] I learned to be a little more relaxed and to save time for doing things I like doing instead of letting school and work take over my life.”
Rose’s time abroad caused changes in him while being back in the United States. He noticed differences around him. “Generally speaking, the servers at restaurants [in the United States] are so much more attentive than ones in Spain. Sometimes it took all I could do to get a server’s attention, so I could ask for the check.” Certainly, customer service in the United States is much more efficient and attentive, but once Rose became used to the service they had in Spain, he understood why it was different. “Social time with loved ones at meals is kind of sacred in Spain, so you call the server over; they don’t just come to you.” Rose’s reaction to eating out when he came back took him a little off-guard. “I found myself thinking servers were annoying or rude because they kept checking on us and interrupting the table’s conversation.” It’s interesting to notice how these little changes can reflect the country’s customs and values.
Senior Daniel Enriquez travelled to Barcelona, Spain, in the fall of 2015 as well. He comments that the experience “made [him] realize how big the world is.” Furthermore, the experience put to test his values and perceptions. “I’ve always tried to have an open mind, but I would say being abroad in an environment you are not accustomed to definitely encourages you to be more open to new things and experiences that otherwise you wouldn’t experience.” On the highlight of his trip, he comments, “I really enjoyed learning the costumes of the culture and learning their way of life.”
On the flip side, some international students also shared the things they have learned studying abroad here in the United States. Sophomore Maico Egbers, from the Netherlands, shared that “studying abroad really is about how to become independent.” He explains: “I came here all alone in a foreign country with a foreign language to me, and it brought me into situations where I had to adapt, and from those adaptations you learn a lot.” He definitely encourages other people to pursue studying abroad. “Studying abroad is a really good experience because you get to know a lot of different people,” he says. “They are not always nice, but those experiences really prepare you for the future.” Egbers feels more confident about approaching new situations and becoming responsible for his actions. “The thing I like most is that you get to make your own decisions,” he says. “If you make the wrong [decisions], you are the only person that can be blamed. This is the best way of getting life experiences, in my opinion: just trial and error.” Even when things might seem difficult, Egbers shares his favorite common saying: “You have to pull an arrow backwards in order to shoot it.”
Another student, sophomore Chelsea Whittaker, shared the highlights of her studying abroad experience at McKendree. “I like going to sports games. The hockey game was my favorite. It’s just such a different atmosphere to everything back home.” In her personal experience at McKendree, she only had positive things to comment on: “I love travelling and being part of a college sports team. It’s such a cool way to see everything!”
Testimonies from both international and local students may give you a better perspective about how much diversity you can really find here at McKendree. It might not seem like much, but in the end, the little changes in your everyday life are what pushes you to grow, change and open yourself to the new opportunities. Take the plunge, and remember the world is at your feet. Look forward for this new segment that will run in the next McKendree Review issues for more experiences and stories about studying abroad!