Studying abroad, not as scary as you think
By ESTER SALGUERO
There are students who choose the most direct path to graduation and others that feel as though the college experience is incomplete if they don’t step out of the boundaries of the campus. Xavier Griffin, a senior geography major, found himself wanting more of an adventure than the walk across campus was giving him.
Griffin’s chance to travel came in the spring semester of 2014.Through the Sol Education Abroad, a small private study abroad program, Griffin completed his language requirements in Granada, Spain. Sol offers programs in Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica and Spain. He was able to complete two courses and return to the University of Mary Washington to continue his studies on campus.
“It was good to go immerse myself in another culture while also staying on the same track for school,” Griffin said.
Exploring alternatives to another semester on campus can expand the horizons of a student’s life with a broader cultural perspective. The Center for International Education has an array of programs including approved, direct, exchange and provider programs. These programs can be taken in one semester or students can choose to study abroad for a full year.
There are also faculty-led programs held during winter, spring and summer breaks. Though the process requires a lot of planning Girard Bucello, peer advisor for the Center of International Education, says students’ college years are the best time to travel.
“It’s a lot easier to travel while you are still in school, oddly enough,” Bucello said. Most students do not have a job that restricts them from traveling for only a short period and in general the major responsibilities in life like paying a mortgage.
Whether you fly solo studying abroad or go with a group, the experience will definitely leave you standing on your toes at the end of the first day. Griffin was unaccompanied on his trip to Granada. When he arrived at Malaga, he took a bus to Granada without a clue about what to expect next.
“I was like, ‘I hope this is it,’” Griffin said on his way to Granada. Both Griffin and Bucello agree that the first day of any study abroad trip is crazy.
“First day is the hardest, every single time, First day was the hardest,” Bucello said. He has been to numerous countries like Switzerland, France, Germany and the Czech Republic.
Even just getting used to the nuanced changes in a country can take some time like finding that phones have a different dial sound, as Griffin said in an interview about how he tried using a pay phone in Spain.
Griffin’s host family welcomed him home with open arms on his first day. They provided him with three meals a day and were flexible with changes in his schedule, all he had to do was text them if there were any changes. The program also placed him in a central location where it only took him 20 minutes to walk to school.
Griffin said he got along really well with his host family and he would practice his Spanish speaking skills with them. The host family took him on a tour in the first week and he kept in communication with his cell phone while he was not at home. When he couldn’t find places to go his host family would encourage him to go out and give him tips on what to wear.
The planning process is just figuring out which program is most affordable and accommodating to your preferences. Usually study abroad programs will work with students to help them find compatible host families or housing options. Griffin said that Sol Education Abroad knew their collection of host families well.
When it comes to funding, there are many options like applying for scholarships through the Common Application, used by the Center of International Education to apply to multiple scholarships at once.
Transferring financial aid is also a possibility from FAFSA funds or scholarships apart from the study abroad program that you apply to.
Expenses are determined by location, cost of living and the currency exchange which sums up the biggest factor for costs to essentially be dependent upon the country you choose. Griffin said choosing the right programs requires students to examine where the costs are going if you want to save money. The funds could just be going to accommodations for a more comfortable experience. If you are looking for a heightened adventure you may not have to pay as much.
Though studying abroad seems like an overwhelming task to accomplish the experience outweighs the pursuit. Bucello found more opportunities through his study abroad experience.
“Study abroad opens so many opportunities, tangible and intangible,” Bucello said. Bucello said the No. 1 lesson he took from his study abroad experience is to grab a hold of opportunities when they are given to you before they escape.