Tiffany studied abroad at the University of Stirling in Scotland. She now works for GoAbroad.com.
Where did you go to school?
California State University, Chico
When and where did you study abroad?
2008 – 2009: University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC); Stirling, Scotland; University of Stirling
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
It’s hard to pick just ONE best thing about studying abroad – this is the type of question that makes one want to write paragraph descriptions about the benefits of experiencing a new culture abroad. Out of everything, though, the best part for me was finally getting to experience firsthand all the things I’d only ever read about in textbooks. Study abroad takes your education to a whole new level: from the people you meet, to the foods you try, and new places you see. In Scotland in particular, the history does more than come alive, it affects each of your senses. You’ll smell it in the streets of Edinburgh, you’ll taste it in St. Andrew’s ocean breezes, and it’ll make you catch your breath the first time you visit the infamous Glen Coe valley in the Highlands.
Altogether, these experiences come together to make you realize how amazing the people and culture of Scotland are. My year abroad there also helped to me focus my education goals, while achieving a sense of independence I wouldn’t have found in my home country. It’s been more than a few years since my time spent in Scotland, but if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that once a study abroad student, ALWAYS a study abroad student.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
The most important lessons I learned after study abroad are that you never are too old to stop learning, and that the best experiences are often borne out of unexpected. For example, myself and a fellow traveler accidentally showed up a day early for a flight from France to Italy – leaving us stuck in a small town with limited resources and language skills. It turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my travels – and cemented my friendship with that friend. You can’t ask for more than that during a study abroad adventure. I’ll be the first to tell you that you’ll likely make more mistakes than you can count while abroad – whether it’s becoming accustomed to the local currency, the new curriculum, or something as simple as meeting people. It’s these moments, though, that truly teach you about stepping outside your comfort zone, and not being afraid to stand back up after getting knocked down.
The world is a place full of lessons to be learned. This is especially true when you decide to study abroad. The scariest part is deciding to be okay with the fact that it may not (aka will NOT) go according to plan – and if you can make that decision, you’ll have the whole world and its adventures at your feet.
What was your BIGGEST challenge while studying abroad and how did you manage to handle it?
My biggest challenge was the fact that I was far from home and my family for a full year. I was the first to travel abroad in my family, and I know it wasn’t easy for my parents for me to be so far away for such an extended amount of time. Luckily, technology makes things easier these days. I started a blog while I was in Scotland to document my travels and experiences, and it turned into a way for my parents to stay connected to me. It also allowed them to experience the same excitement I was, with every new place that I visited, or adventure had.
Getting involved with clubs/groups on your new campus is another great way to keep homesickness from getting the best of you. When you have even more stories of things you’re doing to share with family and friends, it makes that distance feel much shorter. I also can’t recommend Skype enough – it’s a lifesaver in terms of cost, as well as the fact that you can access it from a computer or a mobile device. Whatever form of communication you choose to use, though, the important thing to remember is that you’re experiencing a once in a lifetime adventure. It’s this thought alone that can turn homesickness into part of the culture shock adjustment – and trust me, you WILL get through it!
How did studying abroad change your life?
More than anything, studying abroad helped to refine my education and career goals. Before I left the United States for Scotland, I had a pretty clear idea of what I was going to do after graduating from college – I had no idea how this would change until the end of my year abroad in Scotland. Having to adjust to a completely different curriculum and teaching style which required a LOT of independent study gave me the chance to more deeply explore my future goals. Because of this experience, it became clear that a future in international education was what I wanted to focus on. If study abroad could be such an amazing experience for me, I knew it could be the same for many other students – and I realized I wanted to be a direct part of that process. So began my journey into the professional world of international education and all the adventures that come with it.
What are your future plans?
It’s been four years since my time spent as a study abroad student in Scotland, and nowadays you’ll find me working as the Outreach Manager for GoAbroad.com – the leading online directory for meaningful travel opportunities. As the Outreach Manager, I am able to combine some of my favorite things in the world: public relations, travel, and communicating with people. I was able to secure this job after meeting my boss via networking on Twitter, and it has changed my life in a similar fashion to that of studying abroad. As a sidenote for those looking to start your own career in international education, I highly recommend getting creative in your job search. I had no idea I would meet my future boss on Twitter, but crazier things in life have happened. The same could be said for your own job networking :)
Every day I wake up and get to talk about meaningful travel to people who are just as passionate as I am about seeing the new world from new locales and different perspectives. After almost two years with the company, it’s been an amazing journey, to say the least. I can only hope that I continue to get the chance to keep learning and growing as an international educator.
What’s your BEST piece of advice for someone who is thinking about studying abroad?
Be open-minded. The experiences you have abroad tend to be much different from the expectations you take with you. If you go with an open mind, this can be the best part about studying abroad. In my experience, it’s the realities of study abroad – the mistakes, the surprises, and all the unforgettable moments – that make taking your education abroad a true fairytale.
I’m not only the one to say it, nor the last I’m sure, but study abroad WILL change your life. How you choose to embrace that change is up to you.