Wetravel has the stories and tips you need when deciding on a study abroad program.
Students flock to Shannon Krahn who is a program advisor for an Education Abroad Program. She specializes in places such as Barbados, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Multi-City: Rome/Madrid). She’s not just any advisor, however, because she got her start as one of fifty UCEAP students to win the Gilman scholarship to use for her semester in Egypt during her undergrad in 2013. After studying abroad for a year in Italy, Spain and Egypt she returned her third year a changed person: cultured and compassionate. She plans on pursuing a Ph.D in cultural psychology and ultimately has a goal of using her degree to aid people in Middle Eastern countries. For now, she helps students find the right program fitting their ambitions, just like how her experience abroad had driven her own passions.
Top questions to make sure you are picking a program/country that is right for you and your goals.
- Is your main priority to practice a language you’ve been studying?
- Do you want to go abroad for a year, a semester, or maybe just a summer?
- Do you need to fulfill major or GE requirements?
She admits these are not necessarily the most exciting bits about planning your education abroad, but these are essential to making sure you get the most out of the program.
“The key word is you are STUDYING abroad, and you gotta think of that too.”
Once you have weeded through the logistics, Shannon had some advice that stemmed from her experience.
Before you pack your bags:
“Familiarize yourself with the country and the culture as much as you can before you go. Different countries pose different challenges. For example, I experienced small cultural differences in Italy that were sometimes frustrating, but mostly funny or educational. Egypt on the other hand was very challenging, but because of that it was also very rewarding.”
What were some of the best things about being in Egypt and some of the worst?
“The best was probably centered around that aspect of being fully immersed in a Middle Eastern Culture. I instantly knew it was right where I wanted to be when I stepped off the plane; it didn’t even matter that my throat was scratchy from the pollution and cigarette smoke, or that I sat in traffic for two hours after an impossibly long trip. I felt right at home.”
That feeling was a bit overshadowed when she realized she was a bit unprepared for the culture shock in Cairo, as a woman. She learned that she needed to be a bit more careful covering up with her clothing and always have a friend nearby when wandering the city. It’s a different culture over there and while she was reminded to be extra careful, she quickly adapted.
“I had the time of my life and I generally felt safe. Egyptians can be incredibly hospitable, and I know I learned so much more about myself and the world (as cliche as that is to say) by stepping so far out of my comfort zone. It was by far a way more transformative experience than anything else I’ve done yet in my life.”
If you could go back in time to when you were doing your year abroad, what would you change?
“I would definitely have loved to get more immersed in both cultures, primarily in regards to language acquisition. I have to admit that my embarrassment at my language level was a huge factor. DON’T BE EMBARRASSED! People were almost always so helpful and encouraging of my attempts to speak Italian, Arabic, and even Spanish when I visited Spain. I definitely wish I could have let go of a lot of that and just had fun practicing!”
What made studying abroad such a top-priority for you when you were starting your college career?
“The main thing that initially drew me to study abroad was the fact that I had never even left the country. I saw this as my first real opportunity to finally travel, something I had really longed for. As I started taking my language studies more seriously during college that also is another factor that had a huge influence in my choice.
While Italy was a bit of an after-thought for me, I was set on Egypt ever since my second quarter of Freshman Year. I started taking Arabic classes and Middle East Studies classes and honestly it was the first time I felt deep connections to that aspect of my heritage. I really wanted to be fully immersed in that.
What was the most essential thing you’ve taken from this experience?
I was forced to get out of my own comfort zone. Everything I knew about social norms and ways of life was thrown right out of the window and rebuilt from scratch. At 20 years old I flew across the country by myself and stepped foot in a country where I hardly spoke the language and just had to figure it out. I knew that if I could take that on, especially a country like Egypt, I could figure my way through a lot of other situations in life, especially those times when I didn’t have someone to turn to for help. That confidence is probably the biggest thing that I took away from this experience.
We thank Shannon for sharing her advice and her experience studying abroad. Reach out to your school’s resources for more information on how you can make your traveling dreams come true. If you missed your chance to travel in college, check out the trips Wetravel is currently hosting. You can really get to the places that tourists miss out on by travelling with one of our local trip organizers, as well as other perks.
Photos by Shannon Krahn, Emlyn Bottomley, and Aamina Shaikh. If you have any inquiries please reach blog editor, Christina Nguyen, firstname.lastname@example.org