Students Study Abroad to See Other Settings

Lana Giles, Staff Writer

Over the summer, many students participate in study abroad programs which provide them with the opportunity to travel to overseas destinations such as Denmark, France, Germany, and Japan. Students get to choose between bustling urban centers, calm wilderness, sandy beaches, and much more. The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) is a nonprofit organization through which students can go abroad. CIEE has as many as 2,200 students per year who get involved in study abroad programs. 

Tania Huitron is an international studies advisor at CIEE. Huitron says that she believes there are many reasons why studying abroad can have a significant impact on students. 

“With our programs, students can also discover new opportunities for their future careers and earn college credits,” Huitron said. “At CIEE, we help our students develop skills to live in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world where they can be responsible global citizens.”

Senior Rebecca Harshman traveled to Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic in 2019. Harshman says her program was about Spanish Language and Culture through CIEE. 

“I was mostly motivated by practicing Spanish,” Harshman said. “I wanted to immerse myself in Spanish and we weren’t really having conversational Spanish classes that I wanted to take to improve my speaking skills.” 

LASA alumni Paris Nix, who graduated in 2020, went to Perth, Australia for a three-week program about wildlife conservation through CIEE. Nix says she wanted to study abroad because of her love for traveling and exploring new places. 

“Australia seemed like the most different and far away place out of any of the options,” Nix said. “I wanted to go somewhere that I wouldn’t necessarily go to or be able to visit without it being a study abroad. It’s somewhere I had always wanted to visit because of all the wildlife and how beautiful it is.”

CIEE offers summer abroad programs, trimester, semester, and academic year-long programs for high school students and graduates. Huitron says that there are Global Navigator Summer Abroad programs which include three program types: Language and Culture, Service and Leadership, and Global Discovery. 

“In the Service and Leadership program, our students participate with a local nonprofit where they complete 50 hours of service-learning,” Huitron said. “On the Global Discovery program, students get involved in specific topics related to STEM.”

Harshman participated in CIEE’s Language and Culture program, through which she felt she learned about culture and history beyond just learning and speaking Spanish. She says they took morning classes, went to their homes to eat lunch, then spent the afternoon doing activities. 

“In the evening, after the day’s activities, all of the people on the trip would do something all together,” Harshman said. “We did dance classes, food activities, we ate out and we kind of just went out and explored the place around us even more, but for fun purposes rather than to apply it to our classes.”

Since studying abroad, Nix has kept in touch with the people she was with on her trip. The experience enabled her to make lifelong friendships and memories, according to Nix. 

“My favorite part, besides constantly being surrounded by beautiful landscapes and getting to see and interact with animals that we certainly don’t get to see in Austin, was definitely the people,” Nix said. “I’m still best friends with multiple of my friends from my study abroad trip.”

For Harshman, the only negative aspect of her trip was her homesickness. She says she believes she got lucky with the time frame as it was the summer before COVID-19. 

“I think [the trip] went really smoothly,” Harshman said. “And I was happy I did it before COVID because I definitely would not have enjoyed it. I would have been more paranoid if I did during the pandemic, as a few of the students have so far.” 

However, Harshman also thinks that being away from home can be beneficial. Harshman says that seeing a different side of nature beyond what’s available to her in Texas was eye-opening.

“I really enjoyed just seeing a different kind of nature like the jungle and the beaches that we don’t have in Texas,” Harshman said. “Then also, of course learning the history, going to museums, and like the cultural aspect of it, especially food.”

According to Harshman, studying abroad was an all-around great experience. In the Dominican Republic, the inevitability of the history of colorism and the dictatorship shifted her learning perspective.

“I’d say that my experience was really eye-opening because I was young.” Harshman said. “I know a lot more now because I’ve taken a lot of history courses and more Spanish courses, but I feel like early exposure to that, for me, was really important.”

Nix says the content she learned about wildlife conservation and the importance of biodiversity is still really influential in the courses she takes and how she views the world today. While the experience was amazing, Nix values what she gained from it. 

“When I talk to my friends about what I took away from my experience, I mostly talk about the confidence I gained in myself.” Nix said. “Going to a very new place with a set of very new people teaches you a lot about yourself, and I came out of it so much happier.”

According to Huitron, studying abroad opens opportunities for students to have a unique and meaningful experience. She strongly recommends studying abroad as she believes the adventure is unmatched. 

“From my own experience as an exchange student and my years as an instructor, I know first-hand what a life-changing experience studying abroad can be,” Huitron said. “On site, they experience hands-on research, workshops, and real-world application of skills.”

Harshman says she definitely wants to study abroad again. However, this time around, she wants to explore her options in college. 

“I’m thinking about studying abroad a lot, recently with college applications and choosing colleges,” Harshman said. “I want to go back at some point, but probably if I study abroad, my next place will be a different Spanish-speaking country.”

According to Nix, studying abroad was one of the best experiences of her life. She says she would absolutely recommend taking the opportunity to go if it’s available. 

“It was super influential in making me who I am today, and I will always hold the memories and the people I met very dear to my heart,” Nix said. “I honestly can’t think of a part of my three weeks there that I didn’t love.”