Alissa Thomas, Florence, Italy
When you get off the plane and you find yourself in a new country everything is surprising. The way they interact with one another and the way they live their lives, such as Italians spending hours at dinner, or Germans not holding open a door for you. There are cultural cues that you miss and you can quickly find yourself offending many people.
The biggest surprise I faced were these cultural differences. No matter where you travel you will have these shocks, you’ll find that the way we live is very different than the rest of the world. In reality, it wasn’t just that there were differences, but that I liked those differences. I wanted to be as loving as Italians, as blunt as Germans, as positive as the Irish and so much more.
It’s okay to leave and find there’s more to love out there than what you already know at home. By embracing new cultures you have the opportunity to grow. Everything is surprising in a new place but that’s what’s best about it. You get to know yourself outside of your norms, and you get to be the person you were always meant to be by embracing those differences.
Miranda Thompson, Chengdu, China
My study abroad experience in China has changed my outlook on life in many ways. It has shown me that people are just people, no matter where you go.
We spoke little to no Mandarin and the waiters at restaurants were very kind and patient with us as we tried to order food (we had no idea what we were eating half the time). One of my favorite experiences while abroad was going to the local park and watching some elderly Chinese practicing Tai Chi and teaching each other how to do it.
We were almost celebrities walking down the streets of Chengdu. People would pull up their phones and take pictures of us on the street; It was obvious that they haven’t seen many Americans before. Sometimes, random citizens would pull me away from my class group, pull up a chair and want to have a conversation with me. That is something that will definitely stick with me.
Many of them wanted to practice their English speaking skills just by talking to us. They were engaging and so excited when we could speak the slightest bit of Mandarin. I’ve made friends there that still communicate with me from home.
Before this trip I believed the stereotype that no one liked Americans; However, when we actually got to meet them, they were so excited. They were especially interested to learn that we’re not all obese (they seemed to be surprised about that). This experience has only made me want to travel and experience more of the world.
Sage Dye, Florence, Italy
When I left for Florence, I was 18, I had never lived on my own, had never left my large family for more than a few weeks and had spent most of the past few years struggling with an illness that left me bedridden and unable to explore the world.
Living in Florence on my own, I learned to cook, clean, organize with roommates, navigate new cities and other skills appeared that I had never expected to gain. Study abroad programs allow college students to have an opportunity of real independence — but with a safety net. The students at KSU Florence live in apartments of 4-6 in non school owned buildings scattered across the city and are given the opportunity to learn problem solving skills between roommates and vital life skills like budgeting, grocery shopping and house cleaning without having to balance a job and paying bills that one would have normally back in the U.S.
The freedom of my study abroad experience let me see the world and gave me the confidence to participate in every opportunity that presented itself. I traveled on my own, both around and outside of Italy and figured out that if you are patient and open (and have a smartphone with good service) you will be okay wherever you are in the world.
Living in Florence taught me to enjoy the small things, like a good cup of coffee or a violin player in the church square, and challenged the American style of constant movement forward and pressure to be always productive, always busy. I walk slower, I sing when I cook, and I try to enjoy every moment that I can, no matter how small and fleeting it may be.
Most importantly, I came back from Florence knowing that diversity is a vital and wonderful asset to any society, in language, ideology and culture. I could not have asked for a better opportunity to grow and change and will forever be grateful to Florence.
Matt Poe, Washington
Study abroad is one of the greatest advantages that a college can offer. It’s a way to travel and see places you never thought you would and you get to do it on university’s dime.
Well, until you graduate and those student loans come calling.
Most people use study abroad to travel, eat, drink and take classes outside of the usual classroom environment.
But if you’re searching for all that and want to get a real taste for working in a professional setting, then look no further than the Washington Program in National Issues (WPNI), the longest-running study-away program at Kent State.
Offered only during the spring semester, WPNI takes a selected group of students to Washington, for the semester where each student interns at a variety of different companies and organizations. On my program alone, we had people at Capitol Hill, CBS News, non-profit organizations and dozens of other great internship sites. Several of my classmates turned their internship sites into their first jobs after graduating Kent State, which proves the benefits this program has to offer.
You still take class, but it is structured in a way that allows you to produce legitimate work but does not impede on the time at your internship or during down time.
The program also includes exclusive tours to places like the CIA, The Supreme Court, The Pentagon, lobbyist groups, embassies and many more — places you would never have the intimate access to without this program.
During down time, there’s hundreds of world renowned restaurants, beautiful museums, thousands of bars to get down with your bad self and just about any other leisurely activity you can think of. Led by the wonderful Richard Robyn, it’s about as much fun as you can have while growing personally and professionally.
There is no program like WPNI at Kent State, and I would argue there’s none like it at any other college. It will open up possibilities and opportunities that may never have occurred to you. It opened many new career avenues and confirmed my desire to live in a big city like Washington.
At the very least, it’ll be four of the best months of your time at Kent State, and you’ll create some lifelong memories. I know I did.