Jennifer studied abroad in Doha, Qatar and is about to complete her BA in International Security and Conflict Resolution from San Diego State University.
Where do you go to school?
San Diego State University
When and where did you study abroad?
2011-2012 – Doha, Qatar at Qatar University (through Academic Programs International)
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
If I had to pick something, I’d say it was the way my new friends, professors, and acquaintances opened my eyes to different perspectives and world views. They made me question my beliefs and ideals, made me modify some and solidify others. I listened more and spoke less because I was so busy trying to learn from them. I have realized that the people you should value are the ones who make an effort for you–whether it’s to patiently listen as you fumble with their native language or point you in the right direction to your first class or simply send you a message on Facebook a year after you’ve left the country. There is always, always something to learn from other people and you should cherish the ones who take the time to teach you without judgment.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
The world is a big, big place, it’s true. But down at the most basic level, people are the same everywhere. Most things are not “American” or “Qatari” or “British” or “Chinese”…they’re “human”. And really, the ugly parts of the world are completely overshadowed by all the beautiful parts. For myself, I’ve learned that I’m very adaptable and a lot more willing to “try anything once”.
What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?
I think my biggest challenge was one that I struggled with the entire time I was abroad and is kind of hard to express in a few sentences, since it is a bit abstract. It had to do with being an American and the mindset, prejudices, and misconceptions that go along with it. I did my best to look at everything objectively and not take anything personally. It is difficult to separate yourself from that perspective, especially when the people around you already expect you to be biased or act in a certain way, simply because of what your passport says. Changing my thought process and views was not nearly as hard as trying to change the thoughts and views of those around me.
How did studying abroad change your life?
Studying abroad absolutely changed my life, without a doubt. I still catch myself saying, “Oh yeah, that one time in Doha, so-and-so and I went this place and did that and it relates to this particular moment because of x, y, and z.” I’m much more open at times and much more closed at others. I’m more mature about some things and more childlike about others. My Arabic language skills certainly benefited. I have a much bigger network of people to go to for advice, job opportunities, etc.
What are your future plans?
I’ve have one more semester to finish up my undergrad degree in international security and conflict resolution (minor in Arabic and Islamic studies). Studying abroad for a whole year (and budget cuts) set me back a bit, but every second was worth it. Eventually, I’d like to work in an educational nonprofit that benefits children and young adults, preferably overseas. But if someone will pay me to travel and write, I’ll gladly do that too! Someday I’ll go back to school and get my masters and become fluent in at least three languages.
What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?
Just do it. If you’re worried about the cost, don’t stress too much, there is a ton of money out there no one is touching, just waiting for you to find it and apply for it (scholarships, grants, etc.). If you’re nervous about leaving home, remember that the initial struggle will be worth it. The world is beautiful and strange and challenging and wonderful and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t at least see a bit of it. Don’t be afraid to ask all your questions, even if they seem silly or inconsequential. Believe me, it’s one of best decisions you’ll ever make.