Katia Nickel

Freshman, Health Science major

College is often regarded as the best four years of an individual’s life.

But how can you spend your time to ensure that you too will look back on your college years with fondness? Although it can be overwhelming to think of all of the things you want to do, experiences you want to have and memories you want to make, sometimes you just have to be decisive and try new things.

source: clas.ufl.edu
source: clas.ufl.edu

You’ve probably heard of study abroad, but have you ever reexamined it under a truly critical microscope?

We first zoom in on Emily Iler, a junior at UF who is currently pursuing a double major in Linguistics and Spanish as well as minoring in Russian, TESL and communication sciences and disorders.

Iler has participated in three, 6-week, UF sponsored summer programs in Moscow, Russia, Prague, Czech Republic and Valencia, Spain.

Studying abroad allowed Iler to combine all of her interests in travel, culture and language in a way that was both personally fulfilling and academically enriching.

Every trip she has taken has been a learning experience.

“I love experiencing something totally different from my norm, and experiencing all the sights, smells, tastes that set one place apart from another,” says Iler.

Reading about a place and its way of life is no match for actually living it.

In addition, the opportunity allowed Iler to not only improve her language skills, but also “fulfill a lot of school credits and achieve more than I would’ve been able to without studying abroad.”

Who said you can’t have your pie and eat it too? Iler is just one example of someone who took advantage of an opportunity to develop her skills and well of knowledge in a way that made her happiest: traveling.

Similarly, Brandi Applebaum, an advertising senior, initially looked into studying abroad to build up her confidence in a language. She participated in a UF-sponsored trip to Madrid for 10 weeks in the summer of 2013.

Applebaum gained more than she had previously anticipated. She pushed past boundaries and came out with a new sense of independence.

“It’s one thing to go to Publix by yourself here, but it’s another thing to find the supermarket (which for me in Madrid was in the basement of a department store) and translate basic items,” recalls Applebaum.

One of her fondest memories from the trip was one in which she participated in a tour of a royal palace in Madrid and shared some amusing commentary with her roommates along the way.

The next summer she decided to sign up for the UF in Beijing, Commerce and Culture trip (no longer offered)  to gain valuable working experience in China. During her time teaching English at a summer camp, she helped make costumes for her class’s singing competition.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. You just need to give yourself time and your new and unfamiliar environment a chance. Experiences on this University are just as diverse and varied as the population that attends it.

Abigail Hummel, a Biology junior, is one of the few that can say they have traveled to 11 different cities in 10 different countries in 66 days. The Semester at Sea program, sponsored by the University of Virginia, allowed Hummel to visit London, England, Lisbon, Portugal, Bilbao, Spain, Glasgow, Scotland, Dublin, Ireland, Bergen and Oslo, Norway, Saint Petersburg, Russia, Stockholm, Sweden, Helsinki, Finland and Gdansk, Poland.

To say this opportunity is like no other would be an understatement. This is especially appealing to those who want the chance to see many different countries simultaneously or just simply cannot decide on just one country to visit.

According to Hummel, the Semester at Sea Program runs as a full scale university situated on a ship, something students called their “floating campus.”

In this regard the ship functions as not only a means of transportation but also as a classroom.

“Only about a third of my days were spent in class–the other 2/3 were spent out and about in port, exploring the cities and the countries we were visiting that week. It’s a great balance between school and adventure,” explains Hummel.

Hummel’s travels impacted her by exposing her to greater diversity in cultures in a shorter amount of time, allowing her to better understand the history and the politics of each place, and as a result, helping her become a more global citizen.

“Visiting 10 different countries exposed me to 10 different ways of solving problems that most countries face, and I now feel that I am better equipped to help solve these same problems in my own country,” reflects Hummel.

When looking back at her most memorable experiences, Hummel mentioned her trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp complex in Poland, watching a play in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, trying haggis in Glasgow, sampling minke whale meat at a fish market in Bergen, seeing two original Leonardo da Vinci paintings in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and serving on the selections and coaching committee for her TEDxSemesteratSea conference in Helsinki.

There is much to be gained, learned and experienced in studying abroad, but it doesn’t have to end when you return. You can take a person out of the country, but the influences of that country will always be felt.

In the words of Applebaum, “Regardless of where you go, I believe that everyone should be able to experience study abroad.”

Do not let finances, lack of time and other fears deter your mind. Whether it is talking with a financial advisor about scholarships (e.g. Learning without Borders Study Abroad Scholarship, UFIC Summer Merit Scholarship), planning a long-term schedule with an academic advisor or finding post-travel abroad students and listening to their experiences, there are resources available to you.

Even if you don’t receive the program’s scholarships, you should not stop there. If you start thinking about finances early on (maybe start looking for a part-time job), you can have back-up plans that you can fall back on. You can ask friends and family to sponsor your travels. You can even send sponsorship letters to local businesses and companies detailing your situation, goals, and financial obstacles. Check out the website www.gofundme.com , a free, fundraising website that helps you raise money online all by yourself. Also, depending on your destination country, you might be able to work part-time while you’re studying abroad. If you need further assistance, look to loans for coverage of the remainder of the expenses.

Like the saying goes, “If there is a will, there is way.”

So what are you waiting for? Go buy your plane ticket!