See the World… And Learn Something

SGA Senator Josi Stidham discusses the importance of studying abroad.

When choosing a college, everyone should compile a list of things that they want to get out of their experience and then prioritize the list to derive three of the most important factors for their potential school. This is how I ended up studying at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise.

One of my top three priorities was the opportunity to study abroad. While some people would jump at the opportunity to travel alone or with other students, this article is not for you. This article here is to fully explain the benefits to those who may be hesitant to sign up for study abroad and for the parents who are skeptical and afraid.

Studying abroad has been the trademark of my college career. In just three semesters, I have traveled to six countries in Europe and South America while studying World War II, the humanities, and Spanish. I have been able to do this because my college offers short trips abroad (my two trips have been 16 and 18 days). The first step to studying abroad is telling yourself that you can do it, because you can.

Many colleges offer semester-long study abroad options and for many students this is definitely the way to go. If you are considering studying abroad, the first thing that you need to do is go to your study abroad office and find out what your options are. Most colleges have sister colleges in other countries that offer classes and room and board for the same cost as your tuition, meaning that any scholarships that you currently have will apply there. For me, a semester abroad is too long, so I opt for short trips.

Do not let minimal knowledge of the culture or language influence your decision to go or to stay. You don’t enroll in calculus because you’re Gottfreid Leibniz (he invented it), you enroll because you want to learn. This is the same reason why you travel abroad. You travel to learn the language, to submerse yourself in the culture, and to have an experience that you won’t get in the classroom. When I traveled to Chile for the first two weeks of January, I had never spoken Spanish to another Spanish speaker without rehearsing. I was slow and almost unintelligible. Now, I speak confidently with the vocabulary that I have and I am blown away by the amount that I learned in just two weeks. Trust me, if I can do it, then anyone can.

Money is another factor that shouldn’t matter. I couldn’t afford the trips that I took on my own. I applied for the scholarships that were encouraged by the study abroad department and I was awarded some money. Had my parents not been able to help make up the difference, I would have applied for a small loan from the college, which they would have readily given me (regardless of my FAFSA form). If you want to travel abroad, you can make it happen. Plus, these experiences make you more marketable once you enter the workforce, especially if you are learning another language. The loans would be relatively small and easy to pay off.

Remember that this is the cheapest and most efficient travel that you’ll probably ever come by. It’s cheaper because you’re getting aid to travel and even scholarships to live in another country. If you’re going with a class, you’re reaping the benefits of booking multiple hotel rooms and using school and student discounts at every museum, gallery, hotel, and travel agency that you use (a luxury that is totally underrated and not fully taken advantage of). It’s efficient because it is optimized for you to learn as much as possible and to take in as much of the culture as you can. When you’re on vacation, you do touristy things. There is nothing like going to another country, meeting students who live there, and having them show you around. You melt into the culture and really experience everything.

If you believe that you’re a global citizen, that other cultures are important, and you want to actually be able to relate to the things that you see in movies or read in books, you need to travel. I could have read volumes of books about South America and come away with less than I did after spending 15 full days in Chile. Living in another country is an invaluable experience that I find difficulty in articulating.

Traveling is about more than taking photos for social media, or being on the beach in January. Traveling is about actually experiencing what other people try to tell you about. Traveling is about being part of a culture, learning a language, and developing an appreciation for a history that you would have never been exposed to otherwise. If you have the opportunity to travel, do it.

For the people who made my experience in Chile amazing.

Thank you to my friends for the unforgettable memories, and for always encouraging me.

Thank you to my parents and my college for the opportunity to go.

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