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Alumni Spotlight

Chrystal Fairbanks
Italy Spring 2007
Criminology, Law & Society major

"I saw study abroad as a moment where I could leave my comfort zone, learn something new, and explore the world. Italy seemed like the perfect location for all three of those things given it's rich language, culture, and location within Europe."

"The biggest thing I learned while abroad is that different cultures & customs are not weird or wrong, they are just different. Going abroad allows you to see that there's an entirely different way of doing things - socially, politically, economically, etc."

"I read this quote once that said, "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer." It's so true. Once you make the decision to study abroad, go all in.."

Why did you choose your particular study abroad program/location?
I chose to study abroad on a Language & Culture Program through UC's Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) in Siena, Italy because I had always been fascinated by Italian culture and really wanted the opportunity to not only learn the language, but experience "la dolce vita" firsthand. I knew that learning the language would be so much easier & more meaningful if I was immersed in the culture on a daily basis. Being an only child, identifying as caucasian, and having never left the U.S. prior to my study abroad experience made me see study abroad as the ultimate opportunity to not only experience something completely foreign, but to really challenge myself - my independence, my cultural perceptions, my identity. I saw study abroad as a moment where I could leave my comfort zone, learn something new, and explore the world. Italy seemed like the perfect location for all three of those things given it's rich language, culture, and location within Europe.  
 
What types of activities were you involved in while abroad that were meaningful for your learning?
Choosing to live in a homestay and having an Italian conversation exchange partner were the two most beneficial decisions I made while abroad. These experiences not only afforded me the opportunity to learn the language at a much greater speed, but enriched my study abroad experience ten-fold! I was able to eat authentic Italian meals, have cross-cultural conversations, and really connect with the local culture. Having no Italian language background whatsoever prior to my departure and being able to translate a conversation between my real mother and my host mother at the dinner table during my last week in Siena was just incredible. The sense of accomplishment I felt in that moment was astronomical. I highly recommend choosing to live in a homestay because it gives you an even greater peek into the local culture. Plus living in a homestay means you have an instant go-to network of sorts that can help you at times when you feel homesick or have questions about the things you are studying or the experiences you are having.
 
How have you changed or what have you learned due to studying abroad?
The biggest thing I learned while abroad is that different cultures & customs are not weird or wrong, they are just different. Going abroad allows you to see that there's an entirely different way of doing things - socially, politically, economically, etc. and some of it you will find better and some of it you will just find different. It is only once I saw and experienced these differences first-hand that I understood the importance of leaders having a global education. How can we determine the best solution for a problem if we have only one experience, one perspective, or one answer to draw from? The best leaders will be those who have had a variety of experiences and who will have had a variety of cultural interactions. Those are the individuals I want to elect as our nation's leaders. I no longer see the world in black or white, but in shades of gray. I can't pinpoint what specifically caused this change or new understanding as it was the entire myriad of experiences I had while abroad that led me to this new line of thinking.  
 
What are you doing now as a result of studying abroad?
After studying abroad, I returned to UCI on a mission to get as many of my fellow anteaters abroad as possible. I started working at the Study Abroad Center as a peer advisor and am now a full-time staff advisor. Spreading the word about the many benefits of study abroad is truly where my passion lies. Sometimes it feels like study abroad is this best kept secret. I want a global education to be an expectation, not a privilege. It not only benefits students as individuals, but our community and country as a whole. Study abroad creates independent leaders and creative problem solvers and these are the individuals who are going to make a difference and initiate change, regardless of major or field. I love being a study abroad advisor as it grants me the opportunity to let other students in on this best kept secret and I get the satisfaction of knowing I'm helping shape tomorrow's global citizens.
 
What advice would you give to a student considering studying abroad?
First and foremost I would say "just do it!" There's never going to be another time in your life where you can just uproot yourself for a semester or year and live abroad with minimal to zero responsibility. You can get credit & you can take your financial aid with you. That to me is incentive enough to travel the world. I interact with alumni all the time, both in my personal and professional life, and the regret I constantly hear is: "I wish I studied abroad or I wish I studied abroad longer." Don't let this be your regret. Just do it, it's worth it. I read this quote once that said, "Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer." It's so true. Once you make the decision to study abroad, then go all in. Go for a year, live in a homestay, put yourself out of your comfort zone. The more you embrace the experience, the more you'll get out of it.

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