Julie studied abroad in Wurzburg, Germany and Taizhong, Taiwan. She also taught English for two years in Shenyang, China. She now works as the Regional Director for New England at GlobaLinks Learning Abroad.
Where did you go to school?
Appalachian State University
University of Massachusetts – Amherst
When and where did you study abroad?
Summer 1996 – faculty-led program to Wurzburg, Germany (study abroad)
1999-2001 – Donghai Daxue in Shenyang, China (teaching English)
2003-2004 – Taichung University in Taizhong, Taiwan (study abroad)
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
The summer of 1996 was the first time I’d left the east coast and it opened my eyes to so much! For example, we would go into antique shops in Germany, and everything inside was older that our country! It gave me an amazing perspective both on how I viewed my own culture and how others viewed us. And most importantly, studying abroad created my intense love of and need for travel and new experiences.
My time in Taiwan was a full year as part of my graduate studies and while it was a completely different experience, it had an even larger impact on my life. By this point, I was already a seasoned traveler, so I was much more able to fully immerse myself in the culture and people. The best part of this experience was when I would set-up a phone meeting with someone (in Chinese) and when I arrived they were surprised to see that I wasn’t Taiwanese.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
Studying abroad really helped me gain perspective on just how diverse the world is, and how easy it is to use our own cultural biases to view the world. It was so interesting to me, every time I was abroad, to hear what others thought about me simply based on the fact that I was American. I also learned how students from so many other countries truly value all of their educational opportunities – something I had always taken for granted.
I learned that I knew so little compared to how much there is to know. On a smaller scale, I learned that sitting on a castle wall, watching the river flow by is an incredible experience; that not being able to speak the same language as someone doesn’t mean you cannot communicate; that life will pass you by if you are not an active participant. I also learned how to make Chinese dumplings; how to safely ride a bicycle in a city of 5+ million; how to learn a language like Chinese.
What was your BIGGEST challenge when studying abroad?
While I was in Germany, taking the very first level of German, I had a free day and decided, without a guidebook or map, to explore my city taking various buses and walking. I have a good sense of direction and I knew where I lived, so I was confident I could get home. Well, one of the buses I hopped on was a direct bus to the next town over. I didn’t realize I had gone into another town, so towards sunset, when I was walking down the hill to the river and then on to my housing, I realized that I recognized nothing. I stopped a passer-by and asked if he knew where my building was, and he said he had never heard of it. Odd, it was right off the main square and I was told everyone in the city would know. So, I asked someone else, and received the same response. After asking five people and the sun setting, I started to worry, not knowing what do to or how to get home – especially with my poor German.
I sat down to figure out a plan and this very dear, elderly woman came up to me, took me by the hand and led me to her house. I then had a lovely conversation with her grandson who spoke better English than I did German (he was 10), and we figured out I was in the wrong town. She thought I was just adorable and funny, so they kept me over for dinner, and when her son got home, they put me on the right bus back to my town with a note pinned to my shirt, so that I wouldn’t get lost again. It was fabulous!
How did studying abroad change your life? How did it help you personally and professionally?
Before going abroad, I had a very set plan of what I wanted to do with my life and who I wanted to be. After studying abroad, I knew that wasn’t the right option for me – and since that time, I’ve lived abroad twice and have pursued careers that have given me so much joy.
Personally, before going abroad the best way to describe me would have been as a shy wall flower. When I say this to people who know me now, they all laugh – but it’s true! Studying abroad gave me the confidence to speak out, to have an opinion and stand by it, and through all of this, I really learned who I am and who I want to be.
What have you been doing post studying abroad?
Since my first abroad experience, I changed my major in college from elementary education to history with a German minor; I then taught English in China for two years; came back and worked in my university’s study abroad office for a year, then moved to New England to pursue a graduate degree in Chinese, during which I spent a year in Taiwan; upon completion of my grad degree I worked for a non-profit that focused on international workers’ rights and labor conditions for about 4 years; and then into the field of international education, where I am currently the Regional Director for New England for GlobaLinks Learning Abroad.
What’s your BEST piece of advice for a student who is thinking about studying abroad?
Go for it! Find your dream and do what it takes to make it happen. The process to get into a study abroad program can be cumbersome, expensive, and lengthy – but I have never talked with a single study abroad alumni who regretted it or said it wasn’t worth it. The only regrets I have ever heard are from folks who did not take advantage of the opportunities available to them. You are making an investment in yourself and your future – so make it the best you can!