November 03, 2016 11:00AM
When Pittsburg State junior Bethanne Elliott visited the Study Abroad Expo in late October, she didn’t quite know what to expect.
“I don’t know if I was looking for anything in particular,” she said. “I’ve just always been curious about the studying abroad, and I wanted to check it out. It sounds like such an interesting experience.”
Interesting and life-changing, say those who have done it.
“My first day of freshman year here at PSU, I went straight to the study abroad office to start planning my trip and never looked back,” said senior Lauren Hughes, who studied for six months in Berlin, Germany. “I didn’t care how I got overseas. I just knew I needed to go.”
Hughes, a graphic communication major from Tonganoxie, Kan., said her decision to study abroad was one of the most important she’s ever made.
“I learned more than I could have ever imagined over those six months,” she said. “My experience quickly became about more than just travel. My favorite thing about my time overseas was not the places I went, but it is hands down the people I met and the experiences I had with them. I walked away from Berlin knowing so much more about myself because of the people I spent my time with.”
During Hughes’s time overseas, she traveled to more than a dozen cities in seven countries across Europe. Much of her travel was done on her own, an experience she said opened her eyes to a new way of looking at life.
“When you are solo, I believe you are able to be the truest version of yourself,” she said. “You can go where you please and talk to who you want. The entire experience is in your hands. Traveling by yourself will lead you to some of the most interesting people and places.”
There are several types of study abroad programs, including faculty-led experiences, exchange programs and affiliate programs.
Senior computer information systems major Alex Ortiz was part of a faculty-led trip to London in March 2016. The focus of the one-week experience was various historical theatres in London, but the group also had the chance to visits areas outside of the city.
“I chose to study abroad for this short time because it's a rare and unique opportunity,” he said. “I can't say for sure if I'd be able to plan a similar trip in my future and experience all the wonderful encounters I had with this study abroad trip. I've also always wanted to visit other countries across the ocean and outside of the Americas, and study abroad was the perfect opportunity to do so.”
Ortiz, from Coffeyville, Kan., said he would encourage all students to take advantage of this opportunity while in school.
“I think other people should really consider the benefits that can come from studying abroad,” he said. “It could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some and one you could regret passing on. It also provides you with international experience that can give you an edge when applying for jobs. It can be such an eye-opener and helps remind us that there's a whole other world outside our own country.”
Hannah Pio agrees. Pio, a senior biology major from Kansas City, spent a month this past summer in Kralendijk, Bonaire, a small island in the Dutch Caribbean. Pio said she chose that location because of her career goal of being a marine biologist.
“I chose to study abroad because I've heard what a great experience it can be, and I'm very fortunate that through the Honors College I had a stipend specifically to study abroad,” she said. “But I also chose to study abroad because I want to go on to be a marine biologist after my undergraduate, and that's hard to do if I just stay in Kansas.”
Along with attaining valuable experience and information that will help in her future career, Pio said the experience also taught her lessons that will benefit her overall life.
“I learned so much during my time in Bonaire,” she said. “I learned to not be afraid to do things completely on my own, because the experiences you end up having are so worth it. It was really eye-opening to experience a different culture and to feel like an outsider. I feel like it really made me appreciate my home a lot more.”
Pio urges all students to consider studying abroad at least once.
“Others should study abroad because it really will be the best experience of your life,” she said. “You'll have so many opportunities that you wouldn't have by staying at home. Another really neat thing is all the people you'll meet and the connections you can make. I loved learning about a new culture and just stepping out of my comfort zone.”
Hughes said she understands why some students are nervous or hesitant about studying abroad. There are risks, to be sure. But, she said, the rewards far outweigh the costs.
“If you even have the slightest desire to go, you should,” she said. “Just pick a place, save up, buy the ticket, and go. It is worth every long shift at work. It’s worth all the time planning. It’s worth it because once you are there it is the most absolutely freeing feeling in the world.”
To read more stories from students who have studied abroad, visit http://www.pittstate.edu/office/study_abroad/stories.dot.