Being stranded in a foreign country where one’s only job is attending school might sound like a nightmare for any kid, but for a few Honors students, it’s one of the best summers of their lives. Following their majors, students immersed themselves in unfamiliar cultures, gaining experience that would change both their education and lives.

Merida, Mexico

Journeying to Mérida, third-year microbiology and cell science major Sanjana Bhargava explored the field of epidemiology. Bhargava’s most notable experiences in Mexico were the time she spent with its people. Bhargava’s host mom, who has hosted students from the University of Florida for about 12 years, showed Bhargava how to use the buses, where to buy groceries, and sights around the city. “By the end of it, she was calling me mija,” said Bhargava, referring to the Spanish word for “daughter.” “You could tell that we had both grown very fond of each other.”

Sanjana Bhargava studying abroad in Merida

In addition to Bhargava’s close connection with her host mom, she interacted with people whose ideas and traditions both differed from and reflected her own. “I was able to see how local health care is approached by all types of people from rural areas with heavy Mayan influence that focused on herbal remedies,” she said. “My family uses a lot of Ayurvedic remedies for coughs and colds, so it was interesting seeing how the Mayan people were using a lot of the same plants for the same uses.”

Rather than traveling with an inflexible scientific mindset, Bhargava used her empirical thought process to get the most out of her experience in Mérida. “Especially for anybody entering the medical or health field, cultural competency and appreciation are important for approaching patients from all sorts of backgrounds,” said Bhargava. “If anything, this has made me so much more open-minded and curious about other cultures, and I really hope I get the chance to travel more in the future.”

London, England

Marissa Brotz, a second-year management major, opted for a more urban destination this summer. Brotz’s trip to London through the Heavener School of Business featured a class on British business culture and an internship with creative events agency Shout About London. “I don’t know if the event industry is where I can see myself, but I love the excitement of it all,” said Brotz. “Regardless, the experience gave me transferable skills in blogging and marketing for the company, as well as a large advancing of my independence and adaptability.”

In the three months Brotz spent in London, she learned how to navigate the city’s subway system, adapt to a foreign market, and grow accustomed to the British work ethic. “They’re much more casual and indirect: they’ll curse, talk about hangovers, and make fun of each other in ways I’ve never seen before,” said Brotz. “I loved the casual environment of it all and really fit in.”

Marissa Brotz takes a trip to London through the Heavener School of Business

Working an unpaid internship from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. sounds rough on paper, but it was only part of Brotz’s summer life. It would have been easy to get overwhelmed and disheartened, but Brotz refused to let that happen. “As I got in the swing of it and became friends with my coworkers it wasn’t overwhelming anymore,” she said. “By the third exam I was used to it and less scared, and traveling through London was effortless by the end.” Most of all, Brotz’s summer abroad altered her outlook and potentially changed her future. “What the entire trip made me realize is that I am strong enough to do more than I expect from myself,” said Brotz. “I think more globally now that I’ve studied abroad, and I would move back in a heartbeat.”

Though unfamiliar with the traditions and lifestyles of the countries they visited, these gators traveled with open minds and respect for other cultures. They came out of their trips knowing firsthand how others live along with carefree memories of swimming with sharks or going up the London Eye that will impact them for the rest of their lives.