Nicholas studied abroad in Monteverde, Costa Rica through CIEE during the Spring of 2013, and ended up staying on as an intern for the program during the Summer of 2013. He is currently finishing his degree at the University of Tennessee, and hopes to pursue a career in Tropical Ecology and Conservation.
Where do you go to school?
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
When and where did you study abroad?
Spring 2013: CIEE Tropical Ecology and Conservation in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Summer 2013: Intern for CIEE in Costa Rica
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
This is an incredibly difficult question! I loved it all. But if I had to choose, one of my favorite parts about studying abroad and spending time outside the United States was seeing how, on one hand people are extraordinarily different from myself, but at the same time are extremely similar. So many factors differentiate me from the people I have come in contact abroad. Regardless of these differences, I never had trouble connecting with anyone. It has been incredible to see how analogous everyone is, regardless of the language they speak or their origin of birth.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
I guess I kind of answered this in the previous question, but I can delve into it a little more. I think my experiences abroad have allowed me to truly see the kind of person I am. It gave me a chance to see the world from a more global perspective – I see the kind of things that actually matter in life and I feel more passionate about pursuing them than ever before. I have never felt more comfortable with myself or with the things I am doing with my life. After being in so many unfamiliar situations, I feel more confident about tackling problems that I would have been wary about in the past. I truly feel like a new person.
What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?
My least favorite part was that there was so much I felt like I would not be able to experience. When I thought about spending over half a year in a different country, I could have sworn that I would be able to do it all. As time flew by and I was busy with my studies or working, I saw that I could not do everything. While it may not seem like a terrible thing, I never knew what I was missing out on. I had to constantly push myself to do experience all that I could because I was too afraid to lose an awesome opportunity. It was easily one of the best decisions I made while abroad. Not once did I regret anything I did.
How did studying abroad change your life?
It helped me in every way possible! Not only did it fortify my love for the tropics, it gave me the hands on experience I needed to someday study tropical ecology. Looking back, my entire time abroad was one big learning experience. I was constantly taking in new information. From understanding a plant-pollinator interaction, to improving my language skills, I was incessantly preparing myself for my future. With the skill sets I now have, my resolve to study ecological systems in the tropics is so much higher than it ever would have been had I not studied abroad. For me, this is incredibly important.
What are your future plans?
I’m still at university. I’m in my senior year of studying Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. When I graduate in May, I am going to work in tropical research for a year or two in order to focus my interests in ecology. After that, I plan to pursue a PhD in tropical ecology.
What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?
There are a million reasons why it is important to study abroad. For me, it was because there are no Neotropical montane cloud forests in the United States. If I had never gone abroad, I would have never seen a Neotropical montane cloud forest. If I had not gone abroad, I would not know for certain that I will someday be a tropical ecologist. I would have never immersed myself into a new culture.
There are so many things, so many wonderful experiences, the world has to offer that one cannot experience in the United States and because of this, going abroad has changed me in so many ways. It has given me new interests, new friends, and most importantly, a drive to see new things. All these changes came about because I did something novel, saw things I could never see at home. I know it is important to study abroad so that people can do something they are unfamiliar with and see how it can positively change them, like it positively changed me.
So, my best piece of advice for who is thinking about studying abroad is to just do it. Then to go do it again.