When Study Abroad Goes Wrong

BY EMMA SCHINDLER

Study abroad is an alluring opportunity for any college student. The promise of adventure and a break from muggy Gainesville sends eager students to all corners of the world. Gators will venture out with ears full of mothers’ warnings of kidnappings and stomach viruses. What you may not consider before embarking on your adventure, however, is failing your classes abroad and the subsequent loss of your scholarships. Below is a cautionary tale of a third-year mechanical engineering student who, while choosing to remain anonymous, has a great deal to teach each students about the underlying dangers of study abroad. When speaking with this student, the first thing that was apparent to me was that she did not fail two of her classes because of laziness or lack of intelligence. Constantly buzzed on caffeine and plugging away in Marston, she works hard and her grades reflect it. Her semester in Spain was no exception. Taking four classes, two under UF and two at The Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, seemed like a challenging, yet doable feat. The UF classes were trying, but still she maintained her A’s.

When it came to the Spain classes, sadly, thermodynamics and solidedge proved too difficult. Spain is a country with free college education. A lot of students are able to re-take classes multiple times because of this freedom, which is especially helpful for engineering students. Yet our Gator was struggling and burning out fast, and while her peers were not stressed over the possibility of retaking the class, she knew the detriments associated with it. The student approached her professor and asked what she could do differently to not fail the class. The professor, perplexed, explained she shouldn’t worry and that she had one of the highest, yet still failing, grades in the class! Unfortunately, failing these two classes meant her GPA would tank and she would lose her Bright Futures scholarship. After manically calculating dozens of outcomes, the student made peace with the fact that she would not pass her two Spain classes. Despite having a high grade compared to her peers and feeling confident in the information, it just was not realistic.

Equipped with this reality, she continued to just keep living her life and trying her best. She walked away from her with dozens of new passport stamps, countless wonderful memories, improved Spanish, and a major financial loss. Following the roller coaster spring abroad, the student spent her summer contacting the Bright Futures Organization and the University of Florida searching for solutions. Many times she was flat out told there was nothing at all she could do to have her scholarship reinstated. In a final attempt after fighting for multiple months, she began to make another appeal with Bright Futures. It wasn’t until a week before Thanksgiving that she finally heard back and learned that her full-tuition scholarship would be reinstated.

When asked what others should know before studying abroad, this student could not stress enough that you need to understand how the education system works in what country you are applying to. Not every study abroad will end with the same happy ending, and hers almost did not. She had received green light after green light from so many academic and study abroad advisors at UF. Every time she brought up an apprehension about studying engineering in another country, she was quickly reassured. You never know what you’re getting into until you’re there. Regardless, studying abroad is a worthwhile endeavor that this student does not regret in any way.

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