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Student panel shares pleasures and struggles of study abroad

Abby Everidge

Staff Writer

On Nov. 8, there was a panel on off-campus study organized by Monét Davis ’19 titled “Real World Study Abroad: A Panel Discussion Reflecting on Identities Beyond Wooster.” Davis was joined by fellow students who have also studied off-campus, including: Monét Davis, who studied abroad in Rabat, Morocco; D’Khorvillyn Tyus ’19 who studied abroad in Buenos Aires; Argentina, Mylo Parker-Emerson ’19 who studied abroad in Tuscany, Italy on a Wooster Trek; Tongtong Wu ’21 who studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Julia Cavallo ’19 who studied in Madagascar. 

The panel covered such topics as why the students chose to study abroad, what surprised them about their study abroad experience, what they wish they would have known before they went abroad and what kind of preparation or support their programs provided them with. The panelists also reflected on how their personal identity affected their experience, how they implemented self-care while abroad, their most positive and negative experiences while abroad and how their experience changed them or their perspective on the world.

Many of the students gave advice on what they believe students should do before studying abroad, such as making sure you are comfortable enough with the language and doing research on the history and culture of the country prior to traveling there. “It’s good to have a context of what [country] you are going into,” Cavallo stated.

Parker-Emerson suggested that students not call home too often, stating that “there was an experience that was happening right in front of me that I was missing out on because I was afraid of missing out on everything else that was happening at home. It took me too long to be more present in the experience.” 

Davis advised future study abroad students: “Don’t expect your entire time abroad to be perfect. Be ready for challenges and upsets. You will learn so much about yourself and the world from these experiences.”

In terms of personal identity and preparation, Tyus stated that she “had a talk about what it means to be an American in Argentina and also what it means to be a black person and a woman in Argentina” with her program coordinator. 

Students of color on the panel described how they sometimes felt like the rest of their group didn’t understand what they were going through being a minority in another country. As the only Chinese international student in her study abroad group in Argentina, Wu stated, “To be honest, I felt like nobody could even understand me.” She felt that she had to “deal with all the interpersonal problems and cultural differences” all by herself but encourages students to face these challenges head-on because, according to her, “you shouldn’t take those challenges as a bad experience; they are valuable lessons.”

A lot of the students also expressed a desire to have received more advice and resources from their program before and during their off-campus experience. 

“I think it’s definitely important to look at the sort of resources and support that you will receive while you’re abroad,” Davis said in regard to choosing a program.

Studying abroad is definitely a challenge, but this experience, while difficult, can produce some beautiful memories. Davis, recalling her favorite moments in Morocco, said, “My best experience was watching the sunset while laying on sand dunes with friends in the Sahara desert. It was definitely one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen and extremely peaceful.” 

On the other side of the experience, students studying abroad in the near future also have ruminated on how they will tackle their upcoming trips abroad, thinking about their goals and plans during their special semester. Alyxandra Claycomb ’21 is spending next semester in Valparaiso, Chile and states that, “The people are definitely the main reason I’m going. I want to find out what needs they have that aren’t being met, what programs are offered to help support them, and what systems of inequality affect them most.”

Mikael Rae ’20 is participating in an International Honors Program on Human Rights that begins in Atlanta and continues to Nepal, Jordan and Chile. One thing Rae intends to do while abroad is to write daily in a travel journal. “Journaling will be a great opportunity to unwind while traveling, but it will also produce something that I can revert back to in the future to recall the details of my thoughts, emotions and experiences during my time abroad,” he said.

Rae is hopeful that he will not only enjoy his time abroad, but also learn lifelong lessons from the experience. He said, “I am super excited to travel so extensively during my time studying abroad, and I think it will be fascinating to compare the different experiences I have in each country. From what I have heard from those who have studied abroad, being immersed in an unfamiliar culture is always daunting at first, but if you take some risks and put yourself in a position to learn about yourself and others, you will gain an incredible amount from your experience.”

If you are interested in studying abroad, make sure to attend off-campus study events and an OCS 101 session in A.P.E.X. The deadline to submit an application for off-campus study in the fall or spring of the 2019-2020 school year is Feb. 1, 2019.

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