"Even if you aren't sure if you can go abroad because of academic or financial reasons, there are people available to help you figure that out. Studying abroad, or just being abroad, is an eye-opening experience, and one I recommend for everyone. You learn a lot more about the world once you leave the United States bubble."
I've wanted to go abroad since I first started college. I'd had the opportunity to visit family in Poland, and really appreciated experiencing a different culture. Because of this, I decided I wanted to explore more of what other countries represent and learn about their history. I choose the Netherlands and Belgium because the course not only satisfied breadth requirements I still had, but also was located in the political, economic, and social hub of Europe.
By far the most interesting experience I had was a dinner I attended hosted by a Flemish family in Belgium. We were randomly paired off with families, and had the chance to visit their homes and eat a delicious three course meal of traditional Flemish foods. Throughout the dinner, we discussed politics (both American and Belgian), school, and learned more about the complex divisions in Belgium based on language and heritage.
The biggest challenge of my study abroad experience was financially supporting the time I was going to be overseas. With the help of scholarships, saving up money I made through being a security monitor, and participating in studies on campus, I made it possible!
Normally I would wake up, eat a quick breakfast, and then join my classmates for a day of visiting museums, monuments, and political buildings. There would sometimes be a short lecture on the history, culture, or language of the Netherlands and Belgium. Lunches were free for us to explore the area, and usually after 5 or 6 pm, we'd have the evening free as well. During that time, we could go out on our own, or stay in and write our online journals.
I took Dutch 177: The Amsterdam-Brussels Connection: History, Art, and Identity in the Heart of Europe. It's a 6 unit course based almost solely on just exploring and learning, not out of a textbook, but in museums and throughout the city streets. We had daily journal entries and an essay style final exam.
Some of my favorite moments while abroad involved just aimless wandering through Amsterdam with the friends I made during the program. I went on canal tours, visited traditional Dutch windmills, tried Indonesian food for the first time, and nearly was run over by bikers numerous times. All of this made me feel at truly at home.
Since studying abroad, my travel bug has only gotten greater! I visited Spain and Portugal right before my course started, visited Paris during my winter break, and am planning on working in Poland over the summer, and traveling to different countries throughout my time there. I'm hoping to visit China and Thailand within the year as well! Travel has become a priority for me, and I've learned that I'm more than able of making my goals come true through hard work and being financially responsible with the money I make while working.
First of all--apply! Even if you aren't sure if you can go abroad because of academic or financial reasons, there are people available to help you figure that out. Studying abroad, or just being abroad, is an eye-opening experience, and one I recommend for everyone. You learn a lot more about the world once you leave the United States bubble. I HIGHLY recommend the program I participated in. If you want to truly learn about the heritage of the country you'll be living in, this program does exactly that.