Dear Mom, I’m Homesick

So you pull the trigger and decide to study abroad! There are a lot of feelings swirling around in your head. You’re anxious to travel, stressed for packing and maybe a little unsure of yourself, but you bury those feelings and make it on the plane. It’s all a flurry when you arrive at your final destination. After all the dust settles around unpacking and possible orientations, you lie in bed that first night and a familiar feerheeling creeps in.

NO you can’t be homesick already! Don’t worry though, everyone feels it and it’s totally unavoidable. The price of gaining an amazing experience often involves leaving your comfort zone (i.e. your room/house/town/home country). It may feel like it will be an eternity until you’re back home but nothing lasts forever. Here are some tips for treating your case of homesickness:

Keep Busy

When you’re abroad, it’s important to focus on where you are. It’s easy to dwell on not being at home when you have nothing else to do. Take as many opportunities as possible to experience the country and culture you are living in. Go on day trip outings and visit historical sites on the weekends. Get out of your comfort zone and do something you’ve never thought to do before (i.e. join the university mountaineering club which as you can see to the right, I definitely did not regret). You may never get the chance again. Plan an exciting trip and give yourself something to look forward to. The planning and execution is a great distraction and even better learning experience. You probably won’t be thinking of home when you’re looking at the Eiffel tower or the Colosseum. Live in the moment and don’t waste a chance to experience something new.

coffeeGet Back in Your Comfort Zone

I know I just stressed the fact that you should try new things, but sometimes you just really need the comforts of home. Whenever I was feeling homesick, I found that it helped if I did something that would put me at ease. My favorite thing to do in Cork, Ireland was to go to a coffee shop and just relax with a drink that reminded me of home. You always know what to expect at a coffee shop and in a new country where you’re not sure of a lot of things, I knew buying a coffee would be low stress. There was even a Starbucks if I was feeling really homesick. But it could be as simple as watching your favorite movie on your computer or listening to a familiar song. It’s okay to give in every once in a while.

facetimeKeep In Contact

You may start feeling lonesome when you’re abroad. There are a lot of new faces and people to meet but you can still feel alone. Give someone a call! You may have originally been excited to get away from your old ball and chain (aka. Mom and Dad) but you’d be surprised how nice it will be to hear their voices or see their faces as they nag you from across the globe. You may not have texting, but I’ve found that Facebook messaging is just as convenient to share a quick thought with a friend back home.


Rhee McMillen 3 Rhee McMillen
Psychology Major
University College Cork, Ireland
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Dealing with the Language Barrier


With my host mom in Meknes, Morocco.

When I chose to study abroad in Morocco, language was one of my primary considerations. After two and a half years of studying Arabic at UMW, I knew I wanted to go somewhere where I could continue studying it, and Morocco was my top choice. Though I knew communication would be a challenge, it was a challenge I was excited to meet and I could not wait to apply my intermediate level Arabic skills. Upon arriving in Morocco, I quickly learned that this was far more daunting than I had initially imagined. The Moroccan Arabic dialect is so different from classical Arabic that I could hardly understand a word, and the prospect of communicating with strangers seemed completely terrifying. Though I faced communication challenges throughout my abroad experience, I gradually learned ways to overcome my fears, make connections with Moroccan people, and feel more comfortable speaking in Arabic.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. Push yourself! Speaking in a foreign language can be scary—it is one thing to practice speaking to your classmates and instructor in America, but it is an entirely different ball game when you have to communicate important information to someone who does not speak any English. In my first few days in Morocco, I felt uncomfortable even trying to say “thank you” in Arabic. Needless to say, I very soon realized that I had no choice but to step out of my comfort zone. I talked to shopkeepers, taxi drivers, and restaurant waiters—and guess what? I didn’t die! In fact, some of my most meaningful interactions came when I pushed myself to speak to local people in their own language.
  2. Don’t be afraid to sound like a 4-year-old. The only way to really improve your speaking skills is to practice, and sounding like a little kid is part of the process. Though I had taken Arabic before, my vocabulary was extremely limited and I found that grammar was just way too much to keep up with when conversing. At first I felt stupid trying to talk with my host family and other Moroccans in Arabic, but my life in Morocco became so much easier when I stopped caring about making mistakes and just tried my best. Most of the time, they could understand me even when my pronunciation and grammar were way off. A lot of Moroccans were impressed that I knew any Arabic at all and were overall very supportive and patient when I talked to them.
  3. Prepare to be humbled. During my time abroad, I had many interactions that left me feeling frustrated and discouraged. I was once trying on clothes in a store when a friendly employee asked if everything fit okay. In a panic, I forgot what country I was in and replied, “Si.” Later, as I was checking out, the cashier was attempting to tell me the price of my purchase. Still feeling flustered, I had to have her repeat it several times, leading her to ask if I spoke any French. The previous employee quietly answered, saying in Arabic “no, she is Italian.” I resisted the desire to run frantically out the door and finished the payment. I had these kinds of embarrassing interactions quite frequently, and though they are quite humbling at the time, they make for good stories later.

Dealing with a language barrier is a huge challenge, but if you push yourself to keep trying, you will improve tremendously and gain confidence in yourself and your abilities.

Lydia Grossman 3Lydia Grossman
International Affairs Major
Environmental Sustainability Minor
IES Rabat, Morocco

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Making the Most

fullsizerender-1Ask anyone who has studied abroad, and they will tell you it was the best experience of their life. Ask me about my study abroad experience, and I won’t say any different. I was able to study in Cork, Ireland with three of my closest friends, and I was determined from the start to make it a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sometimes it’s not as easy to make expectations a reality. However, I have some tips that I believe helped to shape my study abroad experience into what it was for me (which was phenomenal).

  • Outline some goals. A week before my journey to Ireland was to start, I sat down and was thinking really hard about the upcoming semester. I was getting a bit overwhelmed by it all, because I was literally going to pack up my life into one giant suitcase. To calm my nerves and narrow my focus, I decided to jot down some major goals I had for the semester. I was able to look back and remind myself what exactly I wanted to get out of my trip. I even wrote down some general expectations. This kept my excitement up and helped to soothe some anxiety as well.
  • fullsizerender-2Keep a journal. I’ve always been the type to enjoy writing things down. Even if you aren’t, I believe keeping a journal can help to reflect on some awesome memories, and help to remember them more vividly in the future. My journal turned into a compilation of a part of my life, so I am extremely happy I kept up with it. Don’t get me wrong though, my journal wasn’t just for the good times. That’s just another reason why it was so helpful though. It allowed me to be my personal therapist, gush about this or that awesome place I got to visit, and now acts as a tangible memory of my study abroad experience.
  • Push yourself. I made a personal promise to myself which went something like, “Katelyn, you will not hold yourself back this semester.” I stuck to that. I ventured past my comfort zone. I learned to travel on public transportation like a pro. I went without cellphone service for 90% of my time abroad. I went without sleep. I have now been on too many flights to count (I still get Ryanair emails).  I even traveled from Paris to London by myself – believe me that is something I never thought I would muster up the courage to do. By doing all of this, I had a well rounded experience. I don’t regret a thing because, I learned a lot about myself and grew so much as a person.img_4544
  • Make the most of your time. Learning to balance academics, exploring my new home, and traveling was difficult and overwhelming at first. It was easy to forget that I was in Ireland for scholarly purposes. However, I realized early on that my study abroad experience was an opportunity to learn about more than what could be offered in a classroom. I took my free time in Ireland to learn about a different culture, a different way of life. I saw different forms of architecture. I met new people. I learned about different traditions. I got hip to new lingo. And I balanced all of this with my school work. On top of all of that, I traveled to 5 other countries as well.  It dawned on me that my experience as a whole, not just academics, was why I was studying in a different country.

No one’s experience will be the same, and that’s the beauty of it. You have the power to tailor your experience! You just have to make yourself available to let it happen.

Katelyn Santrock 1

Katelyn Santrock
Psychology Major
University College Cork, Ireland



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Learning How to Travel Well With Others

Tips and tricks for when you are traveling in a group.  img_2729-1International travel is one of those things that can make or break friendships. I chose to study abroad in Cork, Ireland with three of my closest college friends and roommates. While making this decision, I expressed my concern about going abroad with my best friends. I looked at going abroad for a semester as an opportunity to be completely independent from everything that I found comfort in. I was excited to find my own way in a foreign culture. Being with my best friends, I wasn’t quite sure how this was going to work. Instead of looking at the upcoming experience in a negative light, I started to welcome the idea of sharing something so special with the people dearest to me. Together, we were able to explore Ireland as well as many places throughout Europe. My time spent abroad with my best friends was something that I might not ever be able to do again. As smoothly as our adventure did go, here are some things to keep in mind when traveling with others.

Here are my best Tips12512741_10208852272641370_6295288887532647326_n & Tricks

  1. Eat and drink water! Whenever you start to feel grumpy after a long day of traveling or exploring a new city, be sure to have a meal and drink plenty of water. This is advice that my parents gave to me before I left and I found invaluable during my time abroad. Being hangry is a very real thing!
  2. Make sure that you have an idea of what everyone in your group wants to accomplish when you are in a new city. There are always people who would prefer to go with the flow and then others who live by a list of what they want to do and see. Try to come to some sort of compromise. Compile a list of activities that the whole group would like to do and then sort through what others are gung-ho about or what they could live without.
  3. Don’t be afraid to get away from the group! If there is something that you are dying to do and you feel comfortable going by yourself, then go do it. I was able to spend a few days in Italy by myself and I can’t express how wonderful of an experience it was.
  4. Find solace in each other when you start to feel homesick. Missing home is inevitable when an ocean separates you from your family and everything familiar to you. Having my friends was like having a home away from home. Every once in a while I needed to complain about Ireland just because it was different or talk about just how much I missed Panera. It is so nice to be able to share these feelings with people who you know are experiencing the same things.

img_7487Every now and then my friends and I look back at all the photos and videos we took and think “wow”. It’s crazy to think about how much we experienced together and how much we overcame. New languages, food, airports… so many airports! I am so thankful that we got to share an adventure and I know we will always look back on our semester as one of the best times of our lives. We’re known in the CIE office as the Cork girls, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Issy Perrin 2 Isabelle Perrin

Psychology Major Linguistics Minor

University College Cork, Ireland

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How to Make the Most of a Stay at a Hostel

Whether you’re looking to meet fellow travelers like you or just save some money on a weekend excursion, hostels are a ubiquitous part of the study abroad experience. Many hostels have had a poor reputation in the past as being unsafe or unclean. Recently, however, there has been a race to the top in the quality of hostels. Chains and independent operators alike are going the extra mile for a cheap, comfortable, and enjoyable stay. Here are some things to keep in mind for when you’re booking, and for when you arrive at your destination:

When booking a hostel:

  1. Think about the kind of environment you want. More than other forms of lodging, hostels are a sort of mini-community. Many have themes, and even those that don’t still have a general atmosphere that they want to maintain. Are you looking for a party, or some peace and quiet? Traditional, or avant-garde? Rustic and familial, or sleek and contemporary? There is more to a hostel than the location and price.
  2. Look for official recommendations. Booking websites like HostelWorld and HostelBookers will typically bump highly rated hostels to the top of your searches, and other websites may have an official recommendation from the website itself. Booking agencies won’t put their brand name next to a sub-par hostel, and will typically follow up with you if you happen to have a negative experience.
  3. See what amenities are included. Is there free breakfast? Free wifi? Does the hostel provide lockers? How about a lock and key for them? Are linens and towels included? Every hostel is different in what it offers. Some come with all the bells and whistles, while others are more spare in what they offer.

During your stay,

A photo from an impromptu trip to the German Alps with two people I met at my hostel.

A photo from an impromptu trip to the German Alps with two people I met at my hostel. Talk to other hostel-goers for travel tips, and you might even end up with a travel companion!

  1. Let the staff show you around. Hostel workers tend to either be locals or other fellow travelers, and are generally young adults. They’ll know the ins and outs of whatever city you’re in. Want to know where the nightlife is or where to get the best meal? The person at the front desk might give you the name of their favorite spot. Hostels also usually run tours—often for free!
  2. Bring what you need for a good night’s sleep. Odds are high that you’ll be in a room with several other people who probably have different sleeping habits than you do. Earplugs and an eye mask are good to have, just to make sure that you get a good night’s rest.
  3. Be social! What separates hostels from other forms of lodging like hotels and motels is the social dimension. Where else can you meet a bunch of young travelers and swap stories from all across the globe? Introduce yourself to the people in your room. If you have down time, spend it in a common area and talk to people who come in. You might meet someone who shares your taste in music who can show you a nightclub you might both enjoy, or maybe someone you can tour the city with in the morning. Hostels give you an instant community in the time that you stay there. Make the most of it.

Girard Bucello
International Affairs Major
UMW in France
EuroScholars Semester Abroad at University of Geneva, Switzerland
International Undergraduate Research in Estonia and Belguim

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Handling Negativity Abroad

Everyone handles stress and homesickness in different ways, and some more negatively than others. If you find yourself or the people around you complaining or sulking while abroad, it can be difficult to know what you can do to help, if anything at all. When do you distance yourself from someone who is bringing you down emotionally? What do you do if you realize that you’re the one being negative? This article is about how I have handled it during my time abroad, but finding what works for you will take time and probably some trial and error.

When Someone You Know is Being Negative:

I went on a faculty-led study abroad trip to Chile over Winter Break, and while it was my second time studying abroad, and the ten day trip seemed like nothing to me after spending two months in China a year and a half prior, it was many of the other students’ first time studying abroad. Everything was a-okay for the first week, even after a stint of food poisoning that hit most of us and sent a few students and one of the professors to the hospital, but on day seven, with only three days left of the trip, several students had hit their breaking point. We were able to spend the last leg of our trip in the beautiful coastal city of Valparaiso, but while I found ocean view preferable to the cityscape of Santiago, the change of scenery, and perhaps the slightly less modern accommodations, left several people cranky and homesick. Only a few students seemed genuinely miserable, but their negativity rubbed off on the majority of the group, who joined in the choruses of longing for the comforts of home.

While it’s easy to analyze and explain their negativity in retrospect, I found it very hard to empathize with them at the time and found myself becoming annoyed at the people I had previously enjoyed being around. And unfortunately, whenever I think back on my trip, one of the first things that come to mind is how unpleasant those last few days were because of that atmosphere of negativity. In a shumwinchileort-term faculty-led program where our days were scheduled and spent together constantly, there wasn’t much to do but point out the positive things or laugh it off whenever someone complained, looking to spend more time with like-minded people who were determined to have a good time. I don’t know what I would have done if it were a longer program, but I imagine that I might have confronted someone about their negative attitude, or if I had been in a position to, avoid those people whenever possible. The last thing you want when reminiscing with old travel companions to be reminded of every little thing that went wrong rather than all the wonderful things about your time abroad.

When You Find Yourself Being Negative:

The fist step to fixing a problem is realizing that there is a problem! So if you start to notice your own negative attitude, you’re half way to changing it. Good for you! Being abroad is stressful: from culture shock to homesickness, it is totally understandable that you are not going to be having a blast every minute you’re in a foreign country – and that’s okay. But your attitude can have a significant impact on the people around you and how they perceive you. Maybe you don’t care, but changing your attitude will ultimately help you have a better time abroad. Think of all the time/money/emotion you’ve invested into the trip already. You probably want the best return on that investment, so here are some tips on how to break the funk:

  • Laugh it Off. Laughter is truly the best medicine. Try to find something humorous about the situation. Keep it light. Instead of being upset about getting food poisoning, we all had an inside joke about the perils of bike tour picnics. If you can’t pinpoint the specific thing that is bringing you down, do something you enjoy. Watch a funny TV show, listen to an upbeat song, go for a walk. Don’t allow yourself wallow in a bad mood and get stuck in the cycle of negativity.
  • Write it Down. Venting aloud is healthy, when used sparingly. But when venting becomes constant complaining, it’s time to evaluate yourself. Instead of complaining out loud, write it down so you don’t bring down the people around you. While abroad in China, I kept a very detailed blog/journal. When I got back, I realized that a lot of it was about the little things that bothered me that I had completely forgotten about. Doing this helped me vent without complaining to the people around me.
  • Just Say No. Complaining can be addictive; if you’re able to quit cold turkey, do it. Counter a negative thought with a positive remark. Resist the urge to join in when someone else says something negative. This is a hard one since it requires you to forcibly change your line of thinking, but I’ve found it’s one of the best ways to really appreciate my surroundings.
  • Seek Help. Lastly, if something feels very wrong, seek help, especially if you have a history of mental health issues. If there is a counselor or doctor available, that’s the best option, but a professor, supervisor, program or university staff is good too. While friends can help, if the issue is serious, get professional help. Your health is the most important, both at home and abroad, so take care of yourself first!

Remember, it’s normal to go through periods of stress and homesickness, but taking action to combat it will help you get the most out of your study abroad experience!

Eileen Settlemyer in China  Eileen Settlemyer
Business and English Double Major
Asian Studies Minor
UMW in China Summer Internship
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All Aboard! Five Tips for Traveling on Europe’s Railroads

Spending a semester in Europe and want to see it all? You’re in luck: Europe has a dense and incredibly reliable rail network, linking bustling capitals and quiet rural towns alike. There’s almost nowhere that you can’t reach, no car required. For some Americans who aren’t familiar with the European rail system, though, it can be a bit daunting. Here are five things to keep in mind that can make your travel a lot smoother.

  1. Get a EuRail Pass before you leave. If you plan on going to very many places, a EuRail pass will reduce the total cost of your overall trip. A pass that’s valid in four countries for eleven days of travel costs about €510—which sounds like a lot, but amounts to about €47 per day. For comparison, a round-trip high-speed train ticket from Zürich to Berlin will cost you €150. Be sure to order your pass online, and do so a few months in advance before you go.

    A Eurostar train at Brussels-South station. A great way to get from the UK to mainland Europe, it's one that you'll have to book well in advance.

    The Eurostar train is great way to get from the UK to mainland Europe, but you’ll have to book in advance.

  2. Look for student/youth prices. Most rail carriers in Europe have special rates for students or for travelers under 25. Sometimes you’ll have to apply for or purchase a special reduced fare card, but if you’re going to travel a lot, it will be well worth it.
  3. Know whether you have an assigned seat. Nine times out of ten, you won’t—just get on the train with your ticket and sit in any open seat. As long as your ticket is valid from your start point to your end point, you’ll be all set. Some trains, however (like the cross-channel Eurostar or France’s TGV) have assigned seats. Check your ticket carefully.
  4. Make sure that your ticket is validated. Sometimes, your ticket is automatically validated when you purchase it. Others, however, will have you use a machine in the station or on the train to make your ticket valid for travel. Ask a conductor or an employee at the station for specifics. If you travel with an invalid ticket and get caught, you might be asked to leave the train or pay a fine.
  5. Pay attention! While many long-distance international trains will have announcements in English, others will not. Some won’t have announcements at all. Be sure to listen for your station, and keep in mind that some local place names differ from their English names. Also, pay attention to which train car you’re in. On some routes, trains divide halfway through their journey, and each half continues to a separate destination. You may be in the wrong part of the right train—which is only slightly better than being on the wrong train entirely.

Especially if you’ve never traveled outside of the United States before, the first train ride might seem a bit intimidating. That feeling should evaporate quickly, though—traveling by rail is a comfortable, efficient, and relatively cheap way of getting across the continent. It’s a way of exploring Europe that is, at heart, uniquely European.

Girard Bucello
International Affairs Major
UMW in France
EuroScholars Semester Abroad at University of Geneva, Switzerland
International Undergraduate Research in Estonia and Belguim

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[Study]ing Abroad : What You Truly Learn Overseas

When considering study abroad for a semester or a year-long trip it isn’t always clear whether the emphasis will be on academic study or on other activities associated with living and traveling overseas. It may seem like the prevalent opinion today about studying abroad it that it is actually a guise for time off of school and that students don’t exerts themselves very much during the period that they are away, but this is not an accurate assessment of the institution. In the end, the studying to non-studying ratio is never going to be an equivalent dichotomy, and regardless of the destination and the way that you approach studying there, you will gain incomparable life skills.


Enjoying a beautiful last day in Paris.

Although some students may profit from study abroad as a means to escape from a more rigorous academic course load, others approach it as a way to engage in a deeper and more specific set of studies than they normally would. However, in the case where the academic load may be lighter overseas, the opportunities that one receives in the face of fewer classes to take or papers to write are equally impactful. Although the studying may sometimes concede to the “abroading” portion of the whole package, in the end what you have the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom could be more valuable.

While I was studying abroad in Paris, France during the spring of 2015 I would often post pictures on social media for my friends and family members to follow my adventures. One afternoon, after posing a huge slew of pictures from my two week spring break trip to seven cities in France and Italy, a family member jokingly commented on the installment to ask if I was doing any actual studying while abroad. Perhaps this was a fair question to ask considering that I had been traveling a good deal recently, but I also took my classes at the Institut Catholique seriously and devoted a lot of my time to preparing for them. This occurrence caused me to look back over my stay in Europe and I realized that I had been acquiring new skills that I employed frequently.

One of the most invaluable skills that I refined during my time living independently outside of the U.S. was being able to plan. In order to enjoy Paris to the fullest I spent time familiarizing myself with its neighborhoods and figuring out the best ways to get around so that I could easily pass from one activity to the next. When it came to traveling outside of the city coordinating transportation timetables could sometimes be a challenge, but being able to complete a trip without serious issue was truly rewarding. In the end, however, I had be able to adapt quickly to less than ideal circumstances and react to what life handed me (or in many cases threw at me or tried to trip me up with) on the regular. In that space of unplannedness, you can gain the opportunity to wander freely and experience people (the locals and other Americans who are sharing your abroad experience alike) so that you can more fully observe, absorb, and share all that you encounter which results in crucial intellectual and personal growth.

If you would like to read about my adventures in Paris, check out my personal blog at:
“Roaming Les Rues Parisiennes”

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Sarah Dickshinski
Anthropology Major
French Major
Middle Eastern Studies Minor
Institut Catholique de Paris, Paris, France (Spring 2015)


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Seeking the Ideal

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Studying abroad includes moments where you feel on top of the world!

I’ve always wondered what it is that pushes people to travel. I understand certain logistical reasons such as traveling for work, family, or study, but what about those individuals who manage to quit their jobs in inspired moments of utter spontaneity, become professional travel bloggers, and tour exotic locations for an infinite amount of time? I would conclude that there is an aspect inherent in traveling to new places, a certain intangible quality that attracts us and subsequently calls us to take planes, trains, and ships in pursuit of the ideal.

However, upon arrival the foreign may be less than ideal. It may be the opposite of ideal, in fact. With newness comes discomfort and an uneasiness about what lies ahead. Within that uneasiness, though, it is possible to unearth an underlying excitement that will embolden you to seek adventures that will then aid in the adjusting process. Striking a balance between the romanticized wanderlust of travel and the stark, perhaps unsettling, reality of being in a new and very different place is very difficult, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Yet, there is a way to figure out this balance and overcome the strangeness.

First things first: you’re here! You’ve arrived. You are currently in this very instant standing, blinking, and breathing in the very destination that you’ve been looking forward to reaching for so long. Some people (perhaps a good deal of people) never reach this point and would give a lot to go back to their college days and study abroad. My first recommendation to feel more at home is to simply go day by day. Take advantage of something new each day and in that way gradually familiarize yourself with your adoptive country. Day one could be sampling a new flavor of gelato, day two could be a small solo trip to a nearby sight, and then day thirty-five could be hang gliding through the lush Peruvian mountains; you’ll just have to see where your travels take you!

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It also includes moments where you wish it would all just stop for a minute.

My second piece of advice is to take advantage of every single minute that you spend abroad. Not every moment is going to be a standing on top of the Eiffel Tower, riding on a camel through picturesque sand dunes, or sipping tea in Buckingham Palace with Her Royal Majesty rose-colored glass kind of moments. Living abroad requires sitting alone in laundromats, wandering confused in metro stations, standing frustrated in lines types of moments. Those who partake in brief trips with friends and family to foreign cities and return with glowing reports of all that they experienced have really only tasted the highs of the location and being there for an extended amount time is a completely different situation. However, those seemingly less rosy moments contribute to the trip just as much as the high ones and will increase in value when you return home and process the entire experience.

A fellow American who I met in Paris observed once how everyone that she knew from home seemed to be continually reiterating that she must simply be having the time of her life whereas her assessment of study abroad was slightly more nuanced. She agreed that she was taking part in life changing experiences, but that she definitely had sucky days too. Those types of days do arrive, but fortunately they pass quickly, and I was able to emerge from frustrations, confusion, and loneliness having learned more about myself, and being more confident in my abilities to navigate abroad independently.

If you would like to read about my adventures in Paris check out my personal blog at:

“Roaming Les Rues Parisiennes”

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Sarah Dickshinski
Anthropology Major
French Major
Middle Eastern Studies Minor
Institut Catholique de Paris, Paris, France (Spring 2015)

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The Pros and Cons of Interning Abroad

Nanjing Road 023When deciding on an education abroad program that works for their academic and personal goals, students often don’t realize that completing an internship abroad is an option. I hadn’t considered it, and wound up choosing it by happenstance: I knew I wanted to go to China, and I knew I couldn’t afford the time or money for an entire semester abroad. It just so happened that there was a faculty-led program to Shanghai through the Business Department over the summer that fit all my needs. And it happened to be an internship program, instead of an academic based one.

For me, an internship abroad was a great way to kill 3 birds with one stone (internship experience, traveling abroad, and course credit). Here are pros and cons that might help you decide if interning abroad would be a good fit for you!

PRO: Save Time

I’m completing two majors and a minor, so time was a BIG issue for me. I didn’t think I could take an entire semester abroad and still meet all the requirements to graduate on time. While there are several academic study abroad options for the summer session, summer is a crucial time for many students to make money and get job experience. While my internship was unpaid, having work experience abroad has been a huge boost to my resume! Of course, studying abroad at a university is impressive to hiring managers, but living and working abroad without the structure of university life shows potential employers a higher level of independence and responsibility.

Con: You Won’t Want to Leave

Actually, you might be ready to leave. My internship ended right when the first round of homesickness really hit (2 months), so I was kind of glad to go home. But a week later I wanted to go back. This is especially hard when talking to people who took full semesters abroad- it seems like they did so much more. This is in part because of the longer duration of a full semester abroad, but also because students have a lot more free time. I worked 10-6 Monday-Thursday (plus an hour of commute time every day), and that was less than a lot of my co-workers who worked five days a week. We were able to get Fridays off to be our “class days” in which we would go on company visits or cultural excursions. Still, I was constantly torn between wanting a day to rest and not wanting to waste any of my time that could be spent exploring the city or traveling the country.

Pro: Real World Experience

This is true for any internship, except while interning abroad, you don’t have the comfort of living at home or in your college community. That means planning every single meal, budgeting your money over a long period of time, transportation to and from work, and balancing work and your social life. Add the stress of adapting to a new culture (and possibly language), and you’re sure to come back ready to tackle anything!

Con: You’re (mostly) On Your Own

Whether you are finding an internship on your own or going through a faculty-led program, chances are there will be few or no one from your University or even your country working at the same company as you. Unlike taking classes abroad, internships start and finish at different times for different people, so you may find yourself walking into an office with other interns who have been there for several months already, and it can be intimidating to try to make friends when there is an established group dynamic. While it’s important to go into any study abroad with a friendly and outgoing attitude, it can be a little overwhelming when everyone else isn’t in the same boat as you. In my case, with a 12 hour difference between China and VA, even scheduling a call home to hear a familiar voice was a struggle.

Pro: Test Out a Field of Interest

Okay, so this is the point of interning in the first place, and you can easily accomplish this at home rather than abroad, but let’s be real: it is way more fun doing it abroad. I thought that market research was my calling, but after spending every work day in front of a computer producing countless excel sheets and power points, I realized that I need to pursue a career that is a little more hands on and people-oriented. If I had been locked into an internship at home doing that, it probably would have felt like a wasted summer, but abroad I was so busy in my non-work hours that I could at least appreciate the time spent sitting down and doing something that was not mentally or physically taxing.

Eileen Settlemyer in China

Eileen Settlemyer, Class of 2016
Business Major
UMW in China Internships, Summer 2014
UMW in Chile Business Law, Winter Break 2016

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