Justine attended the University of Arkansas and studied abroad in Cannes, France through AIFS, and also volunteered in Quito, Ecuador with International Volunteer Headquarters. Justine is currently a Program Advisor for SPI Study Abroad.
Where did you go to school?
The University of Arkansas
When and where did you study abroad?
I studied abroad in Cannes, France with AIFS during the fall & spring of my sophomore year of college. In addition, I volunteered abroad for a summer in Ecuador with International Volunteer Headquarters.
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
The best part about studying abroad is how much it challenges you, stimulates you, and ultimately changes you for the better.
Learning a new language and culture is a little bit like being a baby all over again – initially, you’ll lack simple vocabulary and knowledge of cultural nuances, and it will be difficult to communicate. This will undoubtedly render you frustrated, and you’ll probably want to kick and scream (and more than likely will, at some point).
This is a *huge* challenge, which of course means that the payoff is huge – the amount of positive growth that I experienced while studying abroad is unparalleled. Whether it was learning how to have a conversation in another language, increasing my knowledge of French culture, or simply learning how to be independent, I was continually gaining confidence in myself and fostering a really special period of self-growth.
Plus, studying abroad is way, way, way, way fun. Like maybe the most fun thing you’ll ever do.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
I attended an international school in France, so other than learning the ins and outs of French culture and heritage, I ended up learning so much about other cultures, as well. I could practically *feel* my entire worldview begin to shift and expand, as my knowledge of the way other people live increased. I am a better person today because of this.
Coming from a tiny town in Oklahoma (where no one studies abroad, much less crosses the border into Texas), I was incredibly nervous to live on my own in a brand-new country. In fact, looking back, I can’t believe I even got on the plane. But I did, and I learned so much about myself in the process – namely that I can be on my own and be fine, and that using public transit isn’t so scary, after all! :)
What was your BIGGEST challenge when studying abroad?
For a person who loves to travel as much as I do, I can get pretty darn homesick. This was probably my biggest challenge while studying abroad, and I just had to learn how to handle my homesickness effectively. For me, this meant cultivating deep friendships with my fellow students, exploring my new city to the fullest, and becoming better acquainted with French customs and culture.
It was also important for me to realize that I wasn’t alone in my homesickness, and I wasn’t somehow “uncool” or less worldly because of this. Opening up to my new friends about my feelings made me remember that nearly *everyone* was going through the same emotions that I was – knowing this made me feel so much better.
After a while, I became super comfortable in my surroundings. It simply takes time to become really well-acquainted with a new place and language, and there’ll inevitably be some growing pains. Of course, now I’m homesick for France!
How did studying abroad change your life?
On a professional note, I learned how much I truly care about intercultural education and communication, which brought me to where I am now! My appreciation and curiosity for other cultures continues to grow every day, and I feel like my study abroad experience was definitely the catalyst for this :)
Personally, I learned that my thirst to see the world will probably never be quenched – and that’s okay, because I always want to keep traveling, and keep growing in my knowledge of other cultures and languages.
What have you been doing post studying abroad?
Today, I’m a Program Advisor for SPI Study Abroad – we offer language immersion and global leadership programs for college credit, exclusively for high school students. Our programs are really focused on the immersion aspect of studying abroad — our students stay with local families, and get to learn the language through interactive classes and cultural excursions.
It’s so rewarding to help guide others through the process of studying abroad, and to know that our students are going to experience the same positive transformation that I did. I’m so happy to work for such an amazing organization, and to be in the exciting field of study abroad and international education!
What’s your BEST piece of advice for a student who is thinking about studying abroad?
Studying abroad will change your life, for the better. You’ll grow in ways you never thought possible, you’ll open up lines of communication with a whole other section of the planet, you’ll eat way too much amazing cheese, the friends you make will be the best you ever had, and you’ll ultimately become an even better version of yourself.
So, what are you waiting for?