Rachel studied abroad in Birmingham, England and now works as an Admissions Counselor at CEA Global Education.
Where did you go to school?
University of Minnesota-Duluth
When and where did you study abroad?
2007-2008 Academic Year in Birmingham, England
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
The feeling that you get when you realize that you are actually living there and not just visiting. We all have that “ah-ha” moment while abroad when it hits you and you realize what you are actually doing. It is usually after a month or so of being in your host city when things that used to be a struggle (i.e. figuring out how to count out change in the local currency or struggling to figure out how the bus system works) becomes second nature that you stop, look around and realize that you are becoming part of this world. This is usually when a giant smile crosses your face and the lady sitting next to you on the bus gives you a strange look as to why you are uncontrollably smiling for no apparent reason. Becoming part of the city instead of a foreigner is the absolute best feeling and was my favorite part about studying abroad.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
I learned how much we all can learn about each other and other cultures. You do not have to think that their way is right or wrong, but just learning about other ways of life is so valuable. I also learned how capable I am and gained so much confidence in myself. When I was there I could not call my parents anytime something went wrong. I had to figure out how to deal with it on my own. I learned that I could figure things out and that if you missed a train/plane/boat there was no reason to worry, there is always another.
What was your BIGGEST challenge when studying abroad?
I showed up in my host country thinking that I was going to travel every weekend and go out every night. And then I realized that I still had to go to school and attendance was mandatory and strict! WHAT!? I had to learn how to get my school work done, socialize, work, explore, travel and still have time to breathe. It was hard, but I had great teachers and a director that helped me when I was struggling. I learned how to study and get school work done every open chance I had. My favorite place was on the bus with my headphones on. That pesky 30 minute commute ended up being a blessing instead of a burden. Just make sure you don’t miss your stop!
How did studying abroad change your life? How did it help you personally and professionally?
Personally, the friends that I made during my study abroad are on an entirely different level than any other friends I have. There is something to be said about friends who stick with you after traveling together. They see you when you wake up, after hours on buses, wearing the same 2 outfits, dealing with your grouchy side and still wanting to talk to you the next day. They were there when I was homesick and the people that I celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with too. They became my family and I am still very close with many of them even though most are thousands of miles away.
Professionally, I have always enjoyed the counseling and advising aspect of education. After I studied abroad I realized what an amazing and fun area of education I could be a part of and decided that this is what I wanted to do. I was able to get a job in my study abroad office while I finished up my degree and now work in the industry!
What have you been doing post studying abroad?
I am now working as an Admissions Counselor for CEA Global Education. I work with students over the phone to help them find the right program so that they have the best trip possible. In the future I hope to get my masters and work creating and planning study abroad programs.
What’s your BEST piece of advice for a student who is thinking about studying abroad?
Go for as long as you can. If you are able to go for an academic year then do it! No matter how long you go it will never be long enough!
Also, more and more students are studying abroad every year and it is becoming more important to show what you DID while studying abroad and less about the fact that you went. Figure out how to make yourself stand out and plump up that resume. Volunteer weekly, join a language club or see if your program has an internship option. Employers want to see that you learned more than the location of your favorite pub and who knows what these opportunities will lead you to! Your experience abroad could be the difference between your resume being chosen or thrown in the shredder!