Study Abroad Testimonials

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Marissa Camilon
Marine Biology and Terrestrial Ecology Program, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
Fall: 2005
Major: Biological Sciences  

 

I came into college as just a typical UCI student. Originally from San Diego, I would go home on the weekends, then hang out and study with my friends during the week. Yet by the end of my freshman year, I knew that I wanted to go abroad. For me, going abroad meant making the absolute most of my undergraduate education and really doing something that distinguishes me from everybody else. Most of all, it meant that, for the first time in my life, I could be on my own and really be independent.

When I arrived at LAX to catch my flight to Brisbane, Australia, it still hadn’t hit me that I was going to spend a quarter away from home and everything else that is familiar to me. I remember holding back tears as I walked through security and waved back to my family. Arriving in Brisbane, I was so in awe at how different everything looked and everyone sounded. I felt like I was all by myself in a foreign country.

But I wasn’t all alone. As soon as I got to my homestay, my homestay mom immediately welcomed me into her home. My roommate and I immediately began to bond over our favorite TV shows and how excited we were to be there. On my first day of class, my professors were very friendly. One of them even gave my roommate and me a ride home after our welcome dinner! Any hesitations I had were immediately dispelled. I was amazed at how friendly everyone in my program was and how welcoming the Australians were.

The rest of the program seemed to be a blur of incredible experiences and fun times. I was participating in the Marine Biology and Human and Terrestrial Ecology at University of Queensland, of which field research was a requirement. Every couple of weeks, I would be able to travel to research stations all over the Eastern coast to design and execute independent research projects and then write scientific papers on them. The workload may have been more intense than I was used to in Irvine, but everything was so much more engaging. As soon as we would learn about the different fish that occupy a specific bay, we would all go out for a beach walk and actually see them.

My favorite research station was the station on Heron Island, in the Great Barrier Reef. I just couldn’t believe that anyone could consider going snorkeling everyday “school work.” It was just amazing. I was able to swim with puffer fish, sharks, and sting rays. On the island I also got to see a loggerhead turtle laying eggs and then covering it up with sand. We even got to go snorkeling at night! For the Ecology portion, we would go on long hikes, identifying plants and even looking for native Australian animals. We got to walk through the rainforest, next to cliffs and stinging trees. We also got to go horse riding and off-roading in the Outback, where we got to see some wild Kangaroos. When we were at our “home base” in Brisbane, we only had three hours of class for three days a week, which also allowed for any extra traveling that you wanted to do. Exploring Brisbane was an experience on its own, but we were also able to take the train to other cities along the coast. I got to go to the Australia Zoo on a trip planned by my entire program, which consisted of other University of California students. As a group, we were able to experience everything Australia has to offer together, and become very close friends.

Three months was not long enough for me to really experience everything I wanted to, and I definitely wish I had stayed longer. As daunting as the program was in the beginning, it honestly flew by in what feels like a blink of an eye. And I would never take back my experience. Not only did I experience things in Australia that I never could here at UCI, I developed personally and academically through my program. While I do miss Brisbane, it also helped me appreciate my family and home here in Irvine.

When I applied to medical schools last summer, I knew I had something worthwhile to write about in my applications and personal statement. I asked both of my Australian professors for letters of recommendation because we had gotten to know each other so well throughout the program. Even on interviews, my interviewer would ask me about my experience abroad, and I would talk about how amazing it was. Not only did it give me something to bond over with my interviewer, it is something that I genuinely love talking about, so I would immediately feel less nervous.

As I leave UCI for medical school in June, I know that I have my made my time as an undergraduate worthwhile. I may have entered as just another face in the crowd, but by studying abroad, I now graduate as a distinguished and accomplished Anteater.

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Lisa Armstrong
American University of Paris , France
Fall: 2002
Australia National University , Australia
Year: 2004
AEON, Japan
Year: 2005-2006
Major: Anthropology

Bonjour, G’day and Konichiwa

Ok, so the topic is what your study abroad experience meant to you and how it contributed to what you are currently doing. Well then, lets get started, shall we? I knew I wanted to study abroad before I started at beautiful UC Irvine (yes, I had to plug the alma mater). I made my appointment for the Friday of Welcome Week to see what I could do! I discovered an ideal program for someone like myself (no language ability).

So off to Paris I went for fall of my sophomore year! I remember not being able to sleep the night before – kept awake by nerves. It was beautiful. I can’t express how amazing it was to live in a city with such an immense sense of history. Just imagine passing the Eiffel Tower everyday on your way to class! The UC kids formed a friendly base and since we were in the heart of Europe we made several short trips to other places and countries. As I was not about to wait for others to finally come around to go on that trip to Such-and-such, I took a few trips by myself as well. The feeling of independence that comes with traveling to a foreign country with foreign speakers is AMAZING. You can do anything after something like that.

Sadly Paris was only for a semester. It was hard to leave. But then, when I went to the returnee meeting, they told us we could go abroad again. The possibility of another exciting adventure abroad, I was beside myself! I called my mom that night to let her know she shouldn’t get too used to having me around. She accepted this defeat most graciously. After all, you can’t keep a good traveler down! In any case, this time, I decided to go for one year – 4 months just isn’t long enough.

Barely a year after I had returned from Paris , I was off again. Some nerves did attack while I awaited my flight to Australia , but they were far less severe than the Paris nerves. That year ‘down under’ was possibly the best year of my life! I made lifelong friends from all over Australia while studying in the capitol of Canberra . There is hardly a city in Australia that I didn’t visit or pass through in my travels. IN fact, I backpacked around Australia for so long after the last semester ended that I actually missed the first day of classes back at UCI, having just arrived at LAX that morning. I have already made plans for a return visit.

So now you probably want to know how this contributed to what I’m currently doing. One day it occurred to me that (YIKES!) I was graduating in a year and had no idea what I wanted to do! I had never had a dream job or goal, but soon I wouldn’t be able to hide behind being a fulltime student. Now, please follow me through my ever so complicated thought process:

I like living abroad. (I think its far better to get to know a country gradually than try to discover it in one whirlwind week of tourism.) So what can I do abroad?

Lets look at my favorite resource: the CIE website for non- EAP programs.

Oh, look, I can teach English!

Oh this program looks good! I’ll do that!

Ok, maybe it took a bit longer than that and I looked at more than one program, but you get the idea. Fast-forward 10 months through the interview and visa processes and here I am sitting on my futon (on the floor) in Japan . No nerves for this trip, just excitement! And tomorrow I’m going to teach a special end-of-the-year karaoke lesson to my students: the lyrics to an entire Beatles song in English. I plan to be here for at least a few years. And who knows, maybe long enough to move up the ranks. I hear there is a recruiting office in Australia .

Ok, lets face it. Studying abroad isn’t just about the studying. It’s about the international experience you get while you learn. Of course it’s important to study your chosen field from a different perspective. But its more important to be able to have such an exceptional experience meeting new people and visiting new places and one day looking at yourself and seeing how much you’ve grown in such a short time, how much you can do, what amazing things the world has to offer and how little old you can get to them .

Bon chance (good luck) filling out your applications, mate (friend). Gambatte! (You can do it!)

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Thao Bui
UC Center Paris, France
Spring: 2005
Major: Sociology

 

My semester abroad in Paris was the best time I have ever had during my college experience. Due to my time abroad, I can never look at the French the same way again. To be honest, I was a little intimidated by the French before I left for Paris because I have heard that they hated Americans. However, I have come to find out that the French are one of the nicest people. Even though they are the worst at giving directions, they still tried to help me navigate the best way possible. Some of them even walked with me to make sure that I found what I was looking for. One time, a French lady not only walked me to the nearest metro station, but she gave me one of her metro passes. I have come to love French culture, music, literature and language because of the four months I spent in Paris.

Being a person with limited travel experience, Paris and Europe in general opened my eyes to a whole new horizon. It surprises me that the Europeans are very well informed on what is going with the United States but it is not so vice versa. Our news does not cover enough current events in Europe. Moreover, most of the stereotypes I have heard about the French were not true at all. They are not as rude and arrogant as some Americans may think. They are quite friendly and helpful as long as you attempt to speak their language and know a little about their culture. For instance, the French always say “Bonjour Monsieur or Madame” when they enter a store. Likewise, they always say “Merci Monsieur or Madame, au revoir!” when they leave even if they did not purchase anything. Living in Paris for four months allowed me to learn things that a typical tourist would not have known. It did take me a couple of weeks to get used to the cheek-kissing thing though. At first, I found it strange that people I met for the first time would lean over and kiss me. I remember the first time someone leaned over to kiss me, I leaned back fast instantly and I was like, “What are you doing?” Nevertheless, after a while, it became my custom as well.

In addition, I have never traveled to so many places during such a short amount of time. Most of the students in the program do not have school on Friday’s so the three-day weekend allowed us to travel. Most of the professors are more lenient abroad and they understood that you are there to travel as well as to study. The program also planned optional excursions around France for us. In France, I have been to St. Malo, St. Denis, Dinan, Normandy, Brittany, and the chateaus in the Loire Valley. Most of the towns I have visited are old towns made up of cobblestone roads and cottages. They look almost like a painting. Even talking about it gives me a nostalgic feeling. I also traveled to different cities around Europe such as Brussels, Amsterdam, Rome, Venice, and Barcelona. There are numerous magnificent sites in every city. I especially loved Venice for its calm, romantic canals and Barcelona for its wonderful architecture. I also got a chance to visit my relatives in Brussels. I did not even know that these relatives existed until my dad told me right before I left for the program.

As a result, I wish more people would grasp the opportunity and study abroad when they have the chance. It is true that one can always travel at their leisure; however, being a tourist and being a student abroad are two different things. I was able to learn so much about myself during my time abroad. I never knew I could navigate on my own using a map. I could not use a map when I was in the states. I also realized that I was able to step out of my comfort zone and do what I have always wanted to do. As soon as I got into UCI, I knew I wanted to study in Paris. I started taking French even though I was already finished with my language requirement. Moreover, studying abroad was not as scary as I thought it would be. Some people think that a semester is too long to spend in a foreign country. Believe me, time passes by when you are having fun. Even though I spent four months in Paris and was able to visit many monuments, museums, and gardens, there are still places that I wish I had the chance to visit. In Paris, one never runs out of things to do and places to see.

I miss Paris everyday. Sometimes, I look at one of those giant steel electrical stands and I see the Eiffel Tower. When I returned to UCI, learning French was never the same again. Since our French course was about Paris, I can visualize every monument and building that we talk about. I had an advantage because I had taken a course called histories of Paris when I was abroad so I was able to answer most of the questions regarding the monuments in our French class. We also did an exercise on one of the quartier in Paris called Le Marais which I frequented. Our French instructor often show us picture slides of Paris and every slides that she’s shown on the projector, I thought to myself, “Hey, I’ve been there. Aww how I wish I was there again.” Furthermore, when I went to take the Cbest, a required standardized test for future teachers, I wrote about a French novel I read in my literature class in Paris. I just can’t stop thinking about my time abroad. I talked about Paris so much that none of my friends want to hear my stories anymore. I guess that’s what studying abroad will do to you, it will give you an unforgettable experience that you’ll talk about for years to come.

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Bonnie Scott
University of Pau, France
Year: 1990-91
Major: French

I studied in Pau , France during my junior year at UC-Irvine. I was a young 18 and a half years old when I left the U.S. – naïve and uncultured. I was originally in the Pau/Paris program (5 months in Pau and the rest in Paris) but ultimately requested to stay the full year in Pau as the place had such charm to it. I couldn’t imagine leaving it after such a short period. I had the most fabulous French literature and art history teachers – never mind that at the beginning of the year, I only understood about 5% of what my professors were saying. At the end of my stay, I was flattered when my host family proclaimed that I was “fluent”. This year abroad changed the rest of my life. Not only did I become fluent in French and pick up a bad case of the travel bug, but my life, all of a sudden, was abound with new opportunities. I was in tears when I left the following June, promising myself that this was only the beginning of my adventures.

After EAP, I became involved with the Study Abroad Center. This time, I became part of a pilot program and was lucky enough to be selected as an Peer Advisor. The most thrilling part about the job was being able to relive my experience in Pau over and over again; I was actually paid to talk to other students about my year abroad in order to recruit EAP and IOP program candidates. I ended up graduating with honors in French from UC-Irvine, a huge feat considering that the year prior to my EAP program the Director of the French Department had recommended that I try another field due to my ailing grades. I actually learned something while I was abroad! I accepted my diploma with pride.

The following year, I went on to graduate school in an American school in Paris- Boston University . There, I studied international relations and worked full time cleaning houses, giving English lessons, and working as an intern in the graduate school administration offices to earn my room, board, and tuition. My goal, at the time, was to become a diplomat. I studied hard, became more proficient in French, met fabulous people from diverse cultures, and was presented with more opportunities. None of this could have happened if I hadn’t taken the step to go abroad just a few years prior. I graduated with an M.A. and honors from Boston University ’s Paris Graduate Program in 1994 and then went into the U.S. Peace Corps in 1995.

The fact that I had studied abroad and already had some language skills was a huge benefit in enabling me to adjust to the Cameroonian culture. Ok, so nothing really could have prepared me for the pit latrines, bush taxis, malaria and rats! I spent two years working as a secondary school English teacher in a French Colonialized town in the bush called Bandjoun in Cameroon , South Africa . In order to adjust, I drew upon many of my earlier EAP experiences, like recognizing culture shock (and knowing how to deal with it the second time around) and grappling with a new language (and realizing that there would be a steep learning curve to understanding and speaking a dialect called Ghom a la).

When I came back stateside, for many different reasons, I actually decided that diplomacy was not the career course that I would take. But what would I do? I couldn’t travel forever! I couldn’t very well study forever! Was I prepared for the business world? I didn’t even know how to use the internet yet, I had been away so long. I ended up doing temp work at an ad agency for a little while. One day, one of our clients came in to the office speaking with a thick French accent. He appeared to be struggling to communicate with his account manager. I began speaking to him in French to make him feel at ease, and mentioned that I had been to Pau . He replied that his wife was from there, so we blabbed on and on. A couple days later, he called me back to ask me if I was interested in interviewing for a position at his company. I interviewed for and landed the job as an international liaison in marketing for a video gaming company called Infogrames. It was the start of my career in marketing- all because of a little town called Pau, my EAP experience, and a little bit of assertiveness.

Three years later, I left Infogrames and am working as the worldwide retail product marketing manager for a company that makes flash memory cards- very hi-tech for a decidedly non hi-tech person. I never would have pictured myself in a global hi-tech company when I was 18. If you follow back closely in my past, it all seems to make sense…or maybe not. Nevertheless, I became what I’ve become due in part to the opportunities that presented themselves and that I took. My EAP year abroad is the major opportunity that I seized and will never regret as it helped shape the course of my life so far. It was an all-empowering experience that I continually draw from.

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Sheetal Gandhi
University of Legon, Ghana
Year: 1993-94
Major: Dance

The experience was magic. The minute that I arrived, I felt a sense of belonging. It could have been the familiarity of 3 rd World Culture, which my Indian heritage gives me, but besides the crowded markets, dirt roads and high humidity, there was something – some power in the earth…

The first three months were some of the most difficult in my life. Our university was on strike, and I was itching to begin my learning of Traditional African music and dance. I hated “sticking out”. I hated being called “white”. But I’m not white! I’m brown, ethnic, South East Asian, anything but white in America ! But in Ghana , if you’re not black, you’re white.

I instinctively realized that the best way to quell my anxiety about “sticking out,” as well as the boredom of nothing happening, was to completely immerse myself in the culture. Instead of passively waiting for the strike to end, I actively went into the community looking for a way to begin my learning of traditional music and dance.

One door opened after the other. I came into contact with a dance group called “Novisi Cultural Troupe”. I met with their leader and choreographer. He began private classes with me, and within two months he said I was ready to join the group. This had never happened before in Ghana – an “oburuni” (foreigner) joining a traditional cultural troupe! From this point on, I was part of Novisi and performed at all venues with them, from a village Chief’s funeral to the American Embassy. I was amazed at what was happening, as was my teacher and the rest of the group. I was no longer considered “oburuni”. There was a magical connection here – a written destiny that none of us could deny.

Once the university started, I involved myself in my courses, as well as cultural activities on campus. This never pulled me away from Novisi. I continued rehearsing and performing with them, throughout my year in Ghana . Halfway through the year, I even moved off campus and took a little room in the small town of Madina , outside Legon (the university town). Life was harder, and conditions were worse, but I wanted to be closer to my group and live how they lived. Having friends from the university, and working with Novisi revealed to be the marked difference between the few and privileged Ghanians who complete university education, and the vast majority who don’t even complete primary education. Of course, it was much easier to relate to the university students, but my goal was to at least partially understand the real Ghana . Some of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had were in Ghana . The experiences I had and the knowledge I gained continue to open doors for me today. I cannot begin to describe the events and feelings. Go see for yourself.

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Edlin Lopez
University of Legon, Ghana
Fall: 2004
Major: Anthropology

 

I arrived at Ghana in August 2004. At the beginning it was both hard and exciting. As a Latina I felt excited to be able to go to a place that had influenced my culture so much. However, when I got there, people knew very little of Latin America aside from what they saw in Spanish soup operas. What was even more frustrating, was being called “obruni”, or white. My color isn’t white I thought, I’m brown! But in the end you become use to it. It was also very overwhelming because of all the extra attention you get, I felt like a movie star. Sometimes I just wanted to be left alone, but later on you kind of just laugh about it because it’s part of the experience. I realized how living in California has exposed me to multiple cultures, and how Ghana is not like California .

Once all the culture shock was over, I became more involved and felt more part of Ghanaian culture. I loved to eat Banku (corn and cassava dough) with my groundnut soup (soup made with peanuts). I interacted with the students in my class, and I made some really close Ghanaian friends. I sang and enjoyed listing to hip life. And I loved washing my clothes in my balcony.

During my studies at the University of Legon , I conducted research on a musical group in a nearby town named Madina. The name of the group was New Generation Bobobo Troup, and they played Bobobo from the Ewe tribe. I enjoyed doing my research because I got to make friends outside of school. I also was fortunate enough to create a strong relationship with my advisor, Dr. Asiama.

Aside from the academic life, Ghana is a beautiful country, and my weekend traveling adventures were breathtaking. I traveled to many places and it was such a nice escape from city life. Ghana definitely taught me to take life at a slower pace. In the United States we are so caught up with our busy lives, we don’t get a chance to enjoy anything.

I can honestly say that my stay in Ghana was one of the best times of my life. I will always think back and remember how I used to wake up every morning to such a positive atmosphere. I miss it, I really do, I find myself getting nostalgic many times, but I will return one day.

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Shatina Williams
University of Ghana
Fall: 2005
Major: Sociology

August 1, 2005
I have arrived. Well, my first flight was horrible - ten full hours of cramped space and half the time a baby was crying. I went from Los Angeles right to London where people drive on the opposite side of the road. There were no huge SUV’s and the buses were environmentally friendly. The walk from one terminal to the next felt like miles. My flight from London to Accra was beautiful. I felt like I was in first class. People boarding the plane seemed to know each other. The man sitting next to me was born in Ghana but lives in New York . The Ghanaians are truly friendly. They want to stress that family is first and that is what we will be for the next few months.

When I got off my last flight the heat was intense at eight at night. It is a kind of wet heat, but I guess that is what they call humidity. They say that it will get even hotter. The student counselors from the school met us with signs and smiles.

Well, it is a lot like America here. It is greener and the ground is redder and the people are black. Their accents are amazingly graceful. The food is wonderful and fresh. Did you know that oranges aren't orange? They are green at first, and then they turn a light yellow. We color them in America . They also make a lot of spicy food and eat a lot of beans, but they make the best fried plantains I have ever had and the fruit is so fresh that the colors are even different and taste even sweeter.

The style of dress and hair here is amazing also. I see the most intricate braids, dreadlocks, afros and presses. They even have a hair salon on campus.

The showers are cold and we hang dry our laundry. I found my first cockroach last night. It seems as if they put hormones in the bugs here because they are huge. A bug crawled into my blankets and I went to get Adisa to get it out for me. His roommate is Ghanaian and thought I was joking at first. He laughed when he saw that I was serious. I always expected it but when it happens you just don't know how to react.

The drivers around here don't play like they do in America . If you are in the road they will drive right up to your heels and honk you off the road.

Well, my time is leaving and I am in a rush, but I had to tell everyone how everything is going. I love it here. I see why people come to Ghana and don't go home. I met a guy who came out here after school. He has been here for five months. I know that I am going to have a great time.

August 8, 2005
Today we met an Asante Hene which is like the king of the Ashante people. There is a king as well as the president. The king takes great care of preserving the culture. I really love how rich the culture is out here, but there are a lot of poor people everywhere we go. Our lecturer told us that 40% of the country lives at or below the poverty line and the poverty line is $1 a day. It really puts things into perspective. There are a lot of small business owners and they make a lot of things by hand. It is amazing. If they were to come to America and do what they do, they would be rich. You could even watch them make it sometimes. People everywhere try to sell me something. They all start off with “hey, my sista, you been here before. I give you good price. Come see my shop. Something for a beautiful girl like you.” Then they introduce me to their family. I am getting used to bargaining. I try not to go too low because nothing out here is too expensive, but our counselors tell us that they always start off too high and they just want the seller to be fair.

I went to the King's Palace museum in Kumasi , and visited the bead village where they make beads out of bottles and fire. Then I went to the wood carving village and saw some great art made by the art students at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. A lot of the art is for sale. I bought a really beautiful piece for only about 12 dollars which is about $110,000 cedis. There is so much art here. Yesterday we went to the Kente village where they sell a lot of Kente cloths (we watched them sew them together) and to the Museum of Culture . Life in Ghana is so rich and beautiful. Everyone takes care of everyone.

August 17, 2005
Today I visited the slave castles in Cape Coast . A lecturer said that 10-12% of all slaves of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade were from Ghana . We visited the castle at Elmina and at Cape Coast . It was a truly emotional experience.

 

I was standing in front of the castle at Elmina looking at the ocean thinking that our ancestors prayed day and night to one day see that very land again. To have their children see their land again. Here I am, generations later, standing in the midst of an answered prayer.

Then I turn around to see that slavery has not ended but has taken a different form as Ghana remains in bondage to the children of those who took our ancestors. It is amazing to see a place with so much history still not able to hold its head up high, because all that they once had in wealth belongs to someone else (a foreigner). And to think that it is all out of greed.

It was emotional looking at the slave experience from the other side of the ocean. To be able to stand in the very spot that our ancestors cried for freedom was an ambivalent experience in the sense that you felt so hurt by what people can do to other people. At the same time you felt liberated to be able to walk through the “door of no return” from the opposite end; to see the myth of the "door of no return" broken.

We walked through the dungeons, heard the stories and the history, and ended with a prayer. I don’t mean this as a downer. I left feeling very liberated.

On a lighter note, I had my home-stay this weekend. I didn’t get to meet the Parliamentarian but I got to hang out with his son and nephew over the weekend. What I learned was that there are definite roles in the African family. Family is first and the man of the family is THE MAN of the family. He has the last word in everything. I also got to go to church. Half of it was in English and half was in Twi. Everyone dances in church.

August 30, 2005
Well, school has officially begun. I have never seen so many black men in one place at one time doing something so positive. I am still in awe. I went to church this Sunday on campus. It was held by the Baptist Student Union, so everything besides the sermon was done by the students. And listen to this: the guys outnumbered the girls! At the end of service everyone had meetings, so they sat the guys on one side and the girls on the other. The guys were definitely making their presence known.

 

Religion is something of interest also. In three of my classes the professors have been late, and when that happens, anyone can walk to the front of the class and say whatever they want. So, every time someone gets up in front of the classroom, they say a prayer for the professor and the semester and then they preach. I’ve been told that this is a common thing. This is unheard of at home. It was like church in the classroom. It never fails that someone will get up and preach before the professor comes in to teach.

Another thing that was funny to me is the lecture content. So, I am taking clinical psychology and the professor talks about the biopsychosocial and how it affects our health. Then he extends this term to read "biopsychosocial spiritual". The spiritual part is that your faith in God can remove you from your situation. So, verbatim "prayer works". This is unheard of in the states.

It amazes me that people always think of Africa as this demon possessed land when in reality they talk about God in every aspect of their life, in every social and educational realm possible. Wherever God can be included in a conversation, he is.

So, today I was having a conversation with this girl about reasons for coming to Ghana . She said that she has a lot of black friends but no matter what, you can never step inside of their shoes and know what it feels like to be the minority, to be marginalized. She wanted to see the world from another view point. Now she says she understands how black people must feel when a white person walks up to them and starts talking about Snoop Dogg's new CD. She said that people walk up to her, ask her where she is from then start talking about random stuff like George Bush and surfing. She said that the black people always complain about not seeing enough people at school with their same skin color and now she understands how it feels for a black person to find another black person on campus. She gets excited to see another white person. They find something in common. The black people on this trip are having a completely different experience than the non-blacks.

 

I remember freshman year in Afrikan Student Union when we were talking about the politically correct term for black people in America . I have changed my opinion. We are African American. I remember that one of the reasons why we didn't consider ourselves African Americans was because we don't feel a connection to Africa . Well, that is false. The food we eat, the way we dance, our family structure, beauty complex, church and so much more is so connected. For example, they have something called re-red. When I saw it I thought to myself, "These are black-eyed peas.” Also, the Ewe have a traditional dance that looks like a dance that black people do in the states (it would take too long to explain). When thinking about beauty, I think of the different ways black people look at beauty and the ways white people look at beauty. A lot of times in black culture, a person could be too skinny. It is the same out here. Black men like their women thick, whether they are in Africa or in America . And don't get me started on church. A lot of the white students were so shocked about church out here. “There is so much dancing and singing.” I was thinking to myself, "This is every Sunday for us.” It amazes me how many similarities that we have; and this is only one country. We still have 85 to 90% of black culture unaccounted for. A lot of times we use southern culture as being black culture, but southern culture originated from somewhere. They have a counter right outside of my dorm rooms that sells fried chicken. And to think, these are only the beginning of the similarities I have found. I’d be writing forever if I talked about all of the comparisons.

September 27, 2005
I went to Togo this past weekend. Togo is the country directly east of Ghana . They speak Ewe and French there, so that was problem number one. They also don’t use Cedi so doing the conversions confused us more than once. It was super hot, very expensive, and everyone tried to cheat us. For example, we wanted to go to Pelima so we asked the hotel where we could catch the bus. The man at the desk told us, but then later the hotel driver stopped by to see if we wanted him to take us. He wanted to charge the six of us 40,000 CFA ($80) to go two hours away. When we got to the bus station they charged us 1,500 CFA per person ($3). Talk about getting cheated.

When first arriving in Togo it looks just like Ghana , except most of the signs were in French. They have motorcycle taxis as well as more traditional ones. We read in our guidebook that motorcycle accidents are one of the highest causes of death for foreigners, so we opted for the regular taxi. The first night we stayed in Lome and ate burgers, sandwiches and Danishes (which are rare in Ghana ). The next day we went to Pelima and found a wonderful hotel. Pelima is more rural, so it was a lot less expensive. They even had a swimming pool at our hotel. It was the highlight of my trip considering how hot it was. People can always tell who the foreigners are by how much they sweat. The next day we all went on a nature hike. We got to see pineapple, papaya, coffee bean, cassava and a lot more in their natural forms. It was so funny to us because in America we only see the finished product. Who knew that coffee beans had this sticky, sweet gunk around it? Later, we passed through this village where women were washing their clothes in the river. It was interesting because when you see these images on television you think to yourself about the tragedy of poverty, but it isn’t poverty - it’s just a different, simpler way of life. It may not be by choice, but right there in the mountains they have absolutely everything they need in their own backyards.

On another note, I have an independent study project that I have to do while I am out here. I decided to do it on ethnic rivalries (the term “tribalism” has a negative connotation). I went to meet my adviser for the first time on Tuesday. While I was waiting to be called into her office, I heard her inside talking to one of her students. She was talking fast, so the only words I picked out were lazy, stupid and work. I don’t think the conversation was very pleasant because the girl walked out crying. I was scared. She didn’t smile during our conversation and she asked me a lot of questions that I hadn’t thought of yet. But I like her, and I know that I will get my research done perfectly as long as she is my adviser.

I met a guy from South Africa the other day. He reminded me so much of home. In Ghana , they don’t really understand sarcasm, so we foreigners offend a lot of people with our sarcasm. For example, Kwaku (the guy for South Africa ) told my friend Megan that he cried himself to sleep the other night because she didn’t call him. Emmanuel (who is Ghanaian) was confused about why he would cry just because a friend didn’t call him.  Kwaku was completely hilarious and I learned a lot about South Africa from him. It was great to meet someone from another country in Africa.

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Emily Wong
University of Hong Kong
Spring: 2003
Major: Economics

Choosing to study abroad is like walking through a door to the other side instead of peering through a window. I chose to go to Hong Kong (HK) because I was interested in learning more about the place where my parents were raised. Though I was relatively fluent in Cantonese, I felt that living in HK for a period of time would improve my speaking skills. By the time I left, I had achieved those goals and much much more. Since this was my first time taking part in an international experience, I was also looking forward to the friends I would meet from other countries.

Though it was fun to hang out with other foreigners, I really wanted to meet HK college students. I had a great roommate, and through her and the other girls on my dorm floor, I had a glimpse of the lifestyle and mindset of HK girls. I decided that in coming to HK, I didn’t want to do things that I could do back at home, so I rarely went out with other foreign students. Instead, I “partied” HK style through bbqs at the beach, late night dessert runs, sitting in the TV room with other girls to catch the latest TV dramas, and my favorite: karaoke. Despite the fun stuff, I naturally was there to study as well. I had the opportunity to take classes about the history of Hong Kong and HK Pop Culture. Again, it was another chance for me to interact with the native students especially during discussion classes.

Halfway into my term, an unfortunate event took place in HK. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) broke out and though I lived through the “birth and death” of SARS, at the time, it was very hard for me. HK was a relatively small, but densely populated area. By subway, I was about 45 minutes away from the most seriously hit area. I watched the news and saw the number of SARS cases go up by the fifties everyday. All the foreign students were given a chance to return home, and a big decision lay ahead of me. Many of my friends had chosen to leave and I still wondered if it was worth staying. Had I left, I would have wasted a whole semester of classes as well as my first chance being abroad. My parents, though they were worried sick, understood my situation and gave me the option to stay. In the end, I stayed, and my lifestyle changed. The biggest change being the necessity (though not a requirement) to wear a face mask. Honestly, I felt like I was suffocating at first, but oddly enough, I got used to it.

However, it was this tragic event that seemed to bring the HK people together, or maybe, it showed the strengths of HK people. Everyone developed a great respect for the doctors and nurses who were willing to take care of the sick patients. Doctors and nurses who contracted SARS had to undergo treatment, but as soon as they were well enough, they went back to work. I had the privilege of hearing the testimony of one of the first doctors to be infected with SARS. He saw the need to continue helping the patients and didn’t turn away. People like him became heroes to many HK people. Talk about unexpected things happening on my first experience!

In June, towards the end of my stay, I attended a huge charity event wherethey announced that it was the first day with zero SARS cases. I cheered along with the other 40,000 HK people in that stadium and felt truly happy that I was in HK at that moment to experience the joy with the people around me. Even though I was a foreigner, I felt as though I was a part of HK because I lived through this time with them.

Each person’s international experience is unique and life changing. My experience has taught me to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. By stepping out, I allowed things to happen in my life, things that I couldn’t imagine until I saw it for myself. The world is a huge place, and I obviously can’t go everywhere all at once, but a bit at a time is a good start. I am currently in Japan doing the JET program: a new country for me and a new culture to discover. Going out of America has become a new addiction, but at least many years from now, maybe when I am old, I can look back and be satisfied that I did what I did. I have many memories to bring back and share, but most importantly, if I take my abroad experience to the max, I will come back a different and more cultured person.

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Christy Egbert
Bocconi University, Italy
Spring: 2000
Major: International Studies

Even in high school I knew I wanted to study abroad. When I got to UCI, choosing where to go was the part I found difficult: so many options, so little time. I decided on the EAP program at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy to get in touch with my half-Italian roots, learn the language and take advantage of the International Business courses offered. Of course, I wanted to live “la dolce vita” for six months, and live it I did!

Upon arriving, I got set up in the dorms (right across the street from the Cerruti fashion house) and took care of basic logistics, such as finding the grocery store, the laundromat, etc. I took courses such as “Management in the Fashion Industry”, “International Logistics”, and “Comparitive Politics”- two of them in Italian. The Italian perspective was very different from the American one, and thus very interesting. In less than a month I made friends from all over the world. I still keep in touch – almost six years later – with the friends I made. Some of our travel highlights were going to Venice for Carnevale, hiking Cinque Terre, going to Florence for Easter, and driving from Milan all the way to Sicily and back again.

After returning from Italy, I was restless to see more. My desire to travel was the major driving force behind my career decision to go into management consulting so I could keep seeing new places and meeting new people. During the behavioral interview for the firm to which I was applying, I drew upon my experiences in Italy many times. I know studying abroad helped differentiate me from other candidates by showing I could set a goal, realize it, and succeed outside of my comfort zone. As a consultant, I work with people from different cultures and people here from abroad as a result of globalization’s impact on the way businesses are run. Having been abroad and knowing what it feels like to be in a different country helps me relate to them and better understand their view. Studying abroad also strengthened my independence and confidence, making the many business trips I’ve taken much easier.

I can’t emphasize enough how rewarding my experience was and can safely say it was the most defining experience of my life. Not having studied abroad is one of my friends’ biggest life regrets. When else can you live in another country so seamlessly for an extended period of time? They tell me I’m “lucky” to have gone. Indeed, I’m fortunate that UCI had such experiences available, but I pursued the opportunity and made it happen by planning and saving money. As with anything worth having in life, you have to exert some effort to reap the benefits. Looking back, I can only say that I wish I’d gone twice.

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Preston Shopbell
UC Center Siena, Italy
Winter: 2005
Major: Civil Engineering

 

I had the amazing opportunity to travel abroad to Siena, Italy for my final quarter of college. Being finished with my whole engineering curriculum, I felt it was time to get some real "culture" that you just don't learn in your Fluid Mechanics course.  I had a mission in college to complete some major goals, and after hearing all of the excitement and enthusiasm of friends and other students that I didn't even know who had returned from abroad, I knew that I'd be passing up a great opportunity if I graduated without leaving UCI.   

I don't regret a minute of it. I don't regret not knowing any Italian before I stepped on a plane bound for Rome. I don't regret sweating it out for three hours wondering if I was on the right train bound North for Siena, or if I was headed south for Naples instead.  I don't regret many embarrassing moments in front of the teacher or my host family, pretending to know what they're saying but not really having a clue sometimes. I don't regret being away from my family, my longtime girlfriend, my life here in the US when I could have taken one silly course to complete the same requirement. I don't regret taking off for a trip to Milan, driving 5 hours north in a rental car the size of my day pack with a friend of a friend I barely knew. All to see AC Milan beat Manchester United in person along with 65,000 other crazed Italians, ultimately getting back to my house 2 hours before class was to begin the next day. I don't regret almost missing my flight home to see my loved ones to wait for a friend at security screening (leave no man behind!) I don't regret having my head hurt at the end of almost every day from trying to process this new language and have to struggle just to tell my host family my plans for the weekend, or ask for directions.

Why? Because this trip gave me a confidence that I never knew I had. It made me grab life and stop being so conservative about the little things. It put things into perspective of what matters, and how my life really should be lived. It showed me that I can do so much more than I thought I was capable of, and in a situation where even the simplest tasks are very arduous. Coming back home I realized, how hard life can be? At least I can ask for directions and understand what the person is saying! It showed me how awesome and essential public transportation is, and that there really is a better way to get around than sitting in traffic. I learned that once you get the necessities of food and shelter figured out, wherever you are in the world, it will be fine. The experience you get is so unique from being a tourist, it's unquestionable. I got to the point that I wanted to blend into the culture that I would get annoyed if a local Italian merchant would start talking to me in English, as if I didn't know any Italian.  Most would say it would be a relief that someone was finally speaking English, but my first question would be, “what gave me away?” 

Now I'm a year out of school and in the workforce, I will be returning to Italy with my girlfriend, to show her all the great places I had been and explore new ones. The most exciting part is the fact that I kept in touch with my host family, and they invited us to their house for lunch when we are in Siena . The people I have come to know there are very genuine and it still astounds me to tell people that I have friends in other countries, opening their doors for me if I tell them I'm coming, as I would do for them if they ever come here.  As nice as Aldrich park is, it doesn't come close to the life in Il Campo!

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Craig Raynsford
University of Nairobi, Kenya
Year: 1975-76

I was fortunate to have participated in the EAP program in 1975-76, studying at the University of Nairobi in Kenya . This experience did have a profound effect on my life. I have remained close friends with one of the other EAP students for 30 years, the experience solidified my interest in pursuing a career in the area of international law, and my wife and I recently took our daughters to Kenya to retrace my earlier safaris in East Africa. It is fair to say that none of these events would have transpired had it not been for my participation in EAP.

While the EAP study center has closed at the University of Nairobi due to frequent disruptions in the academic schedule, it is my hope that it can be reopened in the future. The year that I participated, student rioting resulted in the university being closed and occupied by government troops on several occasions. Far from being a disadvantage, these events gave us more time to explore the culture and landscape of this most unusual corner of the world.

Traveling throughout East Africa in 1975-76, we were permitted an unparalleled opportunity to observe the unspoiled countryside and the animals that are present in this region of Africa . Our travels and the academic setting of the university also allowed us to participate in a variety of cultures, several of which were evolving from the most primitive type of lifestyle to the most modern within a single generation. In a university Land Rover, our EAP group explored a great portion of East Africa . One trip took us to the Western Province of Kenya, where we visited Lake Victoria on the Ugandan border and watched the fisherman and stone carvers in Kisumu and Kisii. We also traveled through the Masai Mara game preserve, observing the herds of wildebeest, gazelle, giraffe, cape buffalo, elephant, lion, hyena, rhino, and cheetah.

On another trip we crossed over into Tanzania and traveled to Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara , the Olduvia Gorge site explored by Louis and Mary Leakey, and on to the Serengeti. This trip also led us down to the Dodoma , which was then occupied by the liberation troops preparing to fight the former Rhodesia . We eventually traveled on to Dar Es Salaam on the Indian Ocean . Shorter trips during that year lead us up Mt. Kenya and Kilimanjaro, to numerous archaeological sites explored by the Leakeys, diving off Mombasa and Malindi on the Kenyan coast, to the villages of the Masai and Samburu tribes in Northern Kenya , and to the United Nations conference in Nairobi . While the academics were interesting, this EAP experience arguably offered us more of an education outside of the classroom than within.

In today’s world most students and their parents are keenly aware of the opportunities that await them as undergraduates. They often look upon overseas study and evaluate it in relationship to what a year away from campus will mean toward graduation and how it will reflect on their resume when applying for post-graduate studies. I think that many more students would participate in the program if they were able to hear from former alumni who have established careers and are looking back on their experience and how it has contributed to their personal and professional lives.

In my present position, I annually supervise a very competitive recruitment program for first year attorneys. In reviewing 700 top level resumes each year, one of the factors that often distinguishes one applicant from the other is participation in an overseas study program. Indeed most students I have known who have participated in these programs have achieved a maturity and a sense of understanding that actually contributes to their post-graduate endeavors . While we are all rushing forward as fast as we can academically, I fear that too often we forget the overseas study programs and the intangible rewards they can give us without compromising our academic achievements.

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Brandon Brown
National University of Singapore
Year: 2002-2003
Major: Mathematics

 

Traveling to Singapore was the best experience of my life. There was fear among my classmates of traveling since September 11 th, but I took the chance at something great and traveled across the world to another country. I was given the chance to study for a single academic year and take a number of courses outside my mathematics major in another country, known by some as the hub of Southeast-Asia. Singapore offered me an awesome educational opportunity, and a full academic scholarship under the Freeman Asia Award, which paid for food, housing, travel fees and my tuition fees.

In the beginning of my journey, I experienced somewhat of a culture shock. I knew little of cultures outside of the US , and it took some major adjusting upon my arrival, including opening up my mind to other norms. But before long, local friends were made, and I soon felt at home in Singapore . My free time was spent writing, eating the wonderful food, lifting weights and personal training, as well as traveling. I took full advantage of being in Asia by visiting the neighboring countries of Malaysia , Thailand , Vietnam , and China . Learning a little about the cultures of these countries and experiencing the culture itself while interacting with the local peoples was definitely something more than could be diffused from a textbook.

In coming to Singapore , my biggest fear was being in a plane crash or a victim of terrorist attacks on Americans living abroad. When I arrived, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) infections began in the country and my dormitory was quarantined for some time. Although I was afraid, I still chose to stay in the country when given the chance to leave . Looking back on my doubts years later, I realize life is too short to live in fear . My experiences traveling to developing countries while stationed in Singapore made me feel very thankful for my health and the opportunities/resources available to me.

Since my abroad experience in Singapore , I have graduated from UC Irvine with a B.S. in applied mathematics, and am currently studying for my MPH degree in epidemiology at UCLA. My research experience in Singapore inspired me to do HIV behavioral work at the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa , HTLV genetic analysis at the US National Cancer Institute, and an investigation of health and possible HIV intervention locations among sex workers in Peru . The study abroad experience truly paved the way for my international career in health. There are a myriad of international employment opportunities available for individuals with experience in other countries, and my trip to Singapore helped put this experience under my belt. Currently I am doing research at UCLA in collaboration with a health organization concerning HIV infection among men who have sex with men in Peru .

I am currently in communication with the Ministry of Health in Singapore , and following my graduation, I hope to work on a surveillance survey of high risk behavior in the gay population there. I am looking into a future career with the World Health Organization, an also Doctors Without Borders. Due to the fact that there are a number of opportunities in international health, I feel confident that I will attain a worthwhile career and make a difference, and it all started in Singapore . The opportunity to study abroad is one of the great magnitude in anybody’s life, as it helps you discover what you are really made of. My advice is, don’t miss out!

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Steven Gin
National University of Singapore, Singapore
Fall: 2005
Major: Biological Sciences  

Studying abroad has, by far, been the most rewarding experience of my entire college career. It was not only a growing experience in terms of academics, but I also grew on a personal level as well. I learned more about myself over my 5-month stay in Singapore than I ever thought I could. I am so grateful that I actually took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to
see the world, learn about other cultures, and immerse myself in a completely foreign environment.

First of all, studying abroad, to me, meant embracing another culture, becoming a part of it, and learning from it. I believe I achieved that from my host country of Singapore , as well as from all of the other parts of the world that I visited. Since it was my first time leaving the United States , I really got to experience first hand another part of the world and how it differed from life here in the States.

Since it was the first time leaving home for an extended period of time, I definitely become more independent and learned what my capabilities are. Being away from home allowed me to deal with various obstacles outside of my normal comfort zone. It taught me the things that I am capable of on my own and how I am able to handle new situations, like living in a completely new place.

Becoming a part of Singapore allowed me to grow as a person by becoming more culturally aware and by developing a better sense of cultural understanding. Sometimes being constrained within our nation’s borders, we tend to forget that there are other parts of the world that have so much to offer through its culture and its people. Studying abroad helped me realize just that. Since my goal is to someday become a doctor, I believe that this feature has proved very useful because it has taught me more about the world around me so that I can better understand my patients.

Without a doubt, the best part of studying abroad was meeting new people and making lifelong friends who shared this great experience with me. I made new friends with both local Singaporeans as well as friends from California . These aspects, my friends and memories, are what I cherish the most about studying abroad and are what will remain with me for the rest of my life.

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Sarah Platts:
Complutense University
Madrid, Spain
Year: 2004-2005
Major: Political Science

My year abroad in Madrid, Spain was priceless. It was, hands down, the best year of my life. It is an impossible task to sum up in words what my time abroad meant to me and how it has contributed to my life. What I write does no justice to what I experienced. However, I do still remember the day I arrived in Madrid —I was exhausted, a little scared, but more excited than anything. I can’t say my emotions were the same the day that I left Madrid. Maybe that is because by the time I left I was a different person. My year abroad changed me, as will any profound and significant period of time in one’s life. I cannot help but think of Plato’s allegory of the cave from The Republic when I think about what going abroad does for a person. It truly is enlightening.

In Madrid, I lived in an apartment right in the heart of the city with seven other Spaniards. I was the only one in my program to get so lucky as to live with all Spaniards. Because of this I received the best training in pronouncing bad words in Spanish, cooking Spanish food, celebrating Spanish holidays, and everything else in between that was Spanish. I in turn got to share my own American culture with my seven roommates. This cultural exchange not only taught me bad words and good food, but also the importance and benefits of a mutual understanding between two cultures. I now know that each country (and each region of a country for that matter) had its own way of doing things—a way no better or worse than my own, but just different. I will admit that it was frustrating at times trying to adjust to other people’s ways of doing things, but it taught me patience—a virtue in which I have not always been well endowed. Having patience with a culture and its way of functioning taught me how to have patience with people. People, like countries, have their own way of doing things.

My year abroad allowed me to travel to seven different countries and a countless number of cities. I always tell everyone that my best lecture in history was when I went to Berlin, and that the best and most profound cultural experience was my time in Marrakech, Morocco . It is one thing to read about Berlin and its legacies of the Holocaust and the Cold War, but to actually touch the remains of the Berlin Wall and to stand in the middle of a concentration camp in the blistering cold is another thing. The same holds true for the magic of Marrakech, Morocco with its souqs, snake charmers, acrobats, musicians, and all the other enchantments of the Jma al-Fnaa Square. All the cities in between Marrakech and Berlin—Lisbon, London, Paris, Rome, Tuscany, etc, etc. —left their own impressions on me and allowed me to experience what is between the lines of written history. Traveling was a significant part of my experience abroad, especially given the fact that I traveled somewhere new at least once a month. The world became my classroom, and it is no wonder that I was not the same person when I left Madrid to return to California.

As a political science major, my time abroad contributed significantly to my studies. Much more than that, however, is the contribution it has had on my way of thinking about the world. What once seemed black and white, I now see in color. I am much more interested in world affairs and I no longer want to follow the immediate path to law school that I had set out for myself before going abroad. I read the paper everyday (something they all do in Spain ) and take an active interest in America ’s relations with other regions of the world. After I graduate I am going to Washington D.C. to participate in the UCDC program. I am hoping to land an internship doing anything that has to do with National Security and working with foreign diplomats. I can honestly say that had I not gone abroad for a year I would not be doing any of these things. My time in Spain had contributed immensely to the way I now think about my future, my life, and our world.

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Cari Turley
University of Kent,
United Kingdom/Ireland
Year: 2004 - 2005
Major: Drama

When I studied at the University of Kent in Canterbury , England , I found a freedom I'd never experienced before. I had the opportunity to develop my own performance projects and travel extensively throughout Europe in my leisure time. As a drama major, I was thrilled to perform in the first-ever soap opera recorded for podcast, and with a member of the BBC! I performed my favorite play alongside an otherwise all-English cast, took my first course in performance art, and volunteered at the on-campus art house cinema. When I came back to UCI, the change in me was noticeable. I was cast more often and in more diverse roles, and instructors commented on my sophistication. Studying abroad was invaluable to me, both personally and creatively.

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Bart King
University of Leeds,
United Kingdom/Ireland
Year: 1989-90
Major: Engineering

I went to the University of Leeds in England for my year abroad in the 1989-90 year, studying engineering. It’s been over ten years, and I still often think back on the many rich experiences from that special time in my life. I grew far more that year than any single year since then. Having been working now for over ten years and being busy with life’s responsibilities, I am so thankful that I took the time and went to England . It would be “impossible” for me to make that commitment now. However, while one’s at university it is such a small commitment in the big scheme of life, and the rewards far outweigh any reservations one might have.

When I first arrived on campus after the orientation in England I felt as if I had truly entered another world. I had never been out of the U.S. before and had no close family for thousands of miles. I realized at that moment that it was truly up to me to make my experience memorable. As a result, I made many friends, was challenged academically, saw many places as I traveled throughout England and Europe , and made many lasting memories. For example, I was in England during the year that the Berlin Wall fell and the Eastern bloc countries began melting into a united Europe . I witnessed History first-hand. I traveled all over Europe including Hungary , Yugoslavia , Czechoslovakia , and Turkey .

I highly recommend anyone that is seriously considering going abroad for the right reasons, to go for it! The experience is for those people, who want to challenge themselves, grow personally, and who welcome discovery of another country’s culture. Indeed it’s a tremendous opportunity for you and an honor to be selected. Embrace your experience… it will never let you go!

Read MORE Testimonials: UCEAP Student Spotlights, UCI Student Spotlights, and UCI Alumni Spotlights!

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