Expertise You Cannot Learn in a Book
STUDY ABROAD ALUMNI STORY
Why did you decide to study abroad?
I decided to study abroad because I’ve always been fascinated with traveling, embracing and exploring cultures that were different from my own ( Afro-Haitian American), and I also had been learning Italian for two semesters so it was only appropriate to go abroad to practice the language.
Tell us about the program you went on
The program was affordable, the staff were helpful, and knowledgeable. The program consisted of housing, excursions, and they were always there to help us with any of our concerns. Plus all together it cost less for me to study abroad than it did for my out of state tuition at my home UNI. Ain't that cray?!
How did you pay for your study abroad experience?
The exchange program made arrangements with my host university for payments, all together the exchange program was cheaper than my in state tuition (insane right?). Yet the experience abroad was by far more gratifying, increased my sense of self, and left me with lifelong knowledge. I took out loans to pay for the program and the reminder I paid in cash.
What is one thing you wish you would have known about studying abroad before you left?
I wished I had known of more of the local tips, (i.e. places to shop while on a budget) though I took advantage of the tips I learned while living in Italy, I still feel like I could of saved more money and had more bang for my bucks had I had more insider tips.
Did you experience any discrimination abroad because of your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or a physical disability? If so, what did you learn from the experience?
No, none at all it was the complete opposite. One, I wasn't viewed as black while I was in Italy, I was seen as "donna" or " ragazza" (woman/ girl) which is completely different from how I am viewed in the the American context, because of the racial history... This was interesting. The men and women that lived in the neighborhood and throughout Rome had not seen many or any Afro-Americans/ Afro-Haitians so they were really curious about me, many of them admired me (they expressed this ALL THE TIME by complementing my natural hair and African features and they emphasized how nice my brown skill looked). Though I've read horror stories about Persons of Color experiences from xenophobes and blatant racial/sexual discrimination while in Italy I was fortunate to not have experienced any of that during my stay.
How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?
Studying abroad was one of the most profound experiences I’ve ever experienced; I was the first person in my family to study abroad and the only individual from my host university to do so that semester. I felt compelled to be viewed as an unofficial ambassador for both identities (Afro-American and Haitian) throughout my four months abroad in Rome. Within the exchange program I was the only black student, so in a way I had to represent for us Persons of Color, because to many of the Italians I would be the first Afro-American & Haitian they would ever meet so it was only right to represent us the in the best way. My study abroad opened my knowledge to a level that I had not experienced before, I explored as much of the city as I could, I befriended plenty of the locals, we exchanged ideas, learned about each other’s cultures, dined, and danced together. As a result of my international friends, my innate curiosity, and ambition I was able to absorb and retain as much about the Italian (Roman way of life) lifestyle as possible. The experience has made me globally conscious of not only my identities, it also increased my sense of awareness being a woman, a Christian, and has made me more aware of globalization and overall has really helped me improve my adaptability, language, and diversity skills.
What was the most memorable moment of studying abroad?
One of the most memorable moments of studying abroad was me meeting my boyfriend (3 years ago, and soon to be husband ;) ) while I was there. The story of our first encounter is a real slice out of real life love story, a little corny too, however, random it may sound, but I am grateful that I was where I was on that day that we met; and that I was curious enough to hear him and his friend out (his friend was the one to approach me by the way, ladies/ men be mindful to the wingman, you might just find your next man!).
In what way do you feel your experience abroad has prepared you for your future career? (Think both tangible things like language acquisition and intangible like learning to work with people who are very different from you)
Studying abroad has helped me to an extent that is unbarred to anything else. I’ve improved my Italian comprehension while I was there (I still speak and comprehend it today), I also was taken out of my comfort zone throughout the entire four months that I lived there however there was NEVER a dull moment or a period where I felt insecure or unsafe; the experienced increased my knowledge on the mechanisms of international politics, the importance of daily interactions, and my understanding of how significant ethnicity and cultural identities are in a global sense.
Would you recommend the program you went on, if so why?
Yes I would, API is affordable, credible, and the staff are polite and knowledgeable. Before I selected them I did my due diligence and checked out other exchange programs but many of the ones I saw seemed to be out for students’ money, or were complete hawks, I was happy throughout my entire time abroad. The exchange program provided us with excursions, housing options, and provided a strong network for any of our concerns (health, transitioning to life abroad, etc.) all of which was very beneficial.
What advice do you have for students thinking about study abroad?
DO IT! Especially if you are a student of color; the experiences you will learn abroad CANNOT be learned in books or from watching BBC or international films/series, take the first step to learning about a foreign culture, you might be surprised at how affordable many of those programs can be and trust me- you will feel much more confident in yourself post your study abroad experience.
Author: Belinda Nerceron