Jennifer studied abroad in Mexico, Argentina and Turkey. She received her B.S. from Purdue University, and her M.A. from the SIT Graduate Institute. Jennifer recently returned to the U.S. after working abroad in Chile for five years and is currently pursuing employment within the field of international education.
Where did you go to school?
Purdue University, BS
SIT Graduate Institute, MA
When and where did you study abroad?
Summer 2004: Mazatlán, Mexico exchange through Purdue University at Tecnología de Monterrey in Mazatlán
Summer 2006: Buenos Aires, Argentina through IFSA Butler at Universidad de Buenos Aires
January 2012: Istanbul and Yenice, Turkey, through SIT Graduate Institute
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
The BEST part about studying abroad was the international awareness and cultural understanding gained by constantly being challenged and learning new ideas and concepts. I could not have had this experience without getting out of my comfort zone and striving for full immersion in the local culture. The relationships developed with locals despite initial language barriers are what I still vividly remember about my first study abroad experience in Mexico. Traveling while studying abroad is wonderful, but to me it is those relationships and conversations with locals at the corner store to neighbors and classmates to your host family that I cherish the most. Nine years later, I am still in touch with my host family, neighbor, and a classmate.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
I learned that we as humans are more alike than unlike despite differences such as nationalities, religion, and race/ethnicity. Just like the phrase, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, the same can be said for people you encounter on your journey. When you study abroad, you leave your home country and expect learn about another part of the world, which is true. However, often when you come back you realize that you learned more about yourself and your home country than what you had set out to do. It was such an enriching experience that not only allowed me to mature as a young adult, but also boasted my self-confidence.
What was your BIGGEST challenge when studying abroad?
My biggest challenge studying abroad in Buenos Aires was the language. Although I spoke Spanish, Argentines are famous for their unique pronunciation, and Porteños (people from Buenos Aires), have arguably the thickest accent in the country. It almost sounds Italian. Considering that I had previously studied abroad in Mexico, I had a really difficult time understanding my host mother, professors, and locals in Buenos Aires. How did I handle it? Living with a host family, spending time with them, even when it was watching a telenovela (soap opera) that I did not particularly enjoy, reading the newspaper and consequently being informed about local news was a great way to start up a conversation with my elderly host mother, and in return helped me improve my understanding the local dialect. Gradually with practice and patience, I was able to get the hang of it and even caught myself pronouncing words like a true Porteño! Lesson learned: don’t give up and take full advantage of your time abroad.
How did studying abroad change your life?
Studying abroad opened a new world of ideas and opportunities to pursue; it gave me a new set of eyes and a different perspective on life, both on a personal and a professional level. My priorities changed. Studying abroad also gave me the confidence to work abroad in Chile for five years, and led me to pursue a master’s degree in International Education.
What have you been doing post studying abroad?
Currently, I am seeking employment in the field of international education as I recently relocated to the United States after working abroad in Chile for five years. During my time in Chile, I participated in an international volunteer service-learning initiative run by the Government of Chile and the United Nations Development Program, worked in tourism, conducted pre-departure orientations for students studying abroad through EducationUSA, and was an instructor at a few universities where I advised and created an online acculturation program for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing study and work opportunities in English-speaking countries. In addition, I developed and implemented a pre-departure and re-entry orientation for study abroad students and their parents at the Universidad Católica de la Santísima Concepción for my master’s thesis in International Education. Also, I have begun to share my experience abroad to youth in both local classrooms and on websites such as GoAbroad.com.
What’s your BEST piece of advice for a student who is thinking about studying abroad?
The biggest fear is the fear of the unknown. I know it is easier said than done, but don’t let that stand in your way! Get in touch with your study abroad office and make an appointment with a study abroad advisor. Think about what you really want to get out of your study abroad experience and find a program that best fits your needs. Once you get there, immerse yourself in the local culture! The best way to do this and improve your foreign language skills is by living with a host family and socializing with locals, not with other English-speaking students. It might seem difficult or awkward to initiate conversation, but that is normal in cross-cultural situations. Chances are you will not have another opportunity to do something like this so make sure that you make the most of it!