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April 11, 2018

My Top 5 Reasons to Study Abroad

Greetings from Chile! My name is Katie Claggett and I’m in my third year at Guilford College. My major is Sociology and Anthropology and my minor is English. When I’m on campus, I spend my time as a member of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program, athlete for the Biohazard Ultimate Frisbee Team, tour guide for the Office of Admission, and volunteer with the Every Campus a Refuge program.

With my program, International Studies Abroad, I visited this beautiful town in the south of Chile. The highlights from that excursion included swimming in a volcanic lake and ziplining!

I’m passionate about studying abroad. In fact, I chose to spend my entire third year studying in other countries through Guilford affiliated programs. In the fall, I lived in Rabat, Morocco, and this semester I am studying in Valparaíso, Chile. In our modern, globalized world, opportunities to spend extended amounts of time in other cultures are invaluable! Admittedly, I occasionally miss my community at Guilford, but I know the takeaways from this year outweigh the homesickness!

I could write books about my experiences, but to keep it simple I compiled a quick list of the top reasons I chose to study abroad! Guilford offers hundreds of programs with a variety of topics and formats, so if you’re hoping to study abroad, I promise you will be able to find a program that fits your interests and schedule.

1. People: Guilford is a tight-knit community, which is one of the many reasons I love it! However, studying abroad offers the opportunity to meet others from all walks of life and establish meaningful relationships. Even if you don’t speak the same language, you can find other ways to connect with the people around you. Initially, I bonded with my Moroccan family through card games. Eventually, we had our own way of communication: a mix of English, Darija and inside jokes. Even if you do not opt for a homestay, in my experience, locals are enthusiastic to teach you about their home culture (especially if you try communicating in their language)! Just the other day, I chatted with a fruit vendor about his interests and his job in the market. Meaningful connections with people from different places will greatly enrich your life. 

2. Language/Communication: Mastering effective communication is a lifelong skill. While abroad, especially in a place with a less common language, you will learn how to read nonverbal cues and context. In general, reading context and tone is useful because you can understand a topic without fully grasping all the details. The ability to understand context clues is a skill transferable to future careers and relationships. Additionally, studying abroad presents an opportunity to focus on a different language, potentially one you have never previously encountered! Last semester, I took a Modern Standard Arabic class despite never studying it previously. This semester I am practicing my Spanish in Chile, and every day I enjoy learning more nuances within the language. These nuances are sometimes difficult to convey in a classroom setting, but in context I learn quickly and enjoy the learning process more! I encourage everyone to immerse themselves in a language and culture that may seem foreign or different. If that idea terrifies you then you should definitely try it!

3. Academics: Guilford’s intimate class sizes and writing-intensive courses provide a rich academic environment. In fact, the academics on campus inspire me to draw real-world connections. Guilford professors influence students to use theories within the classroom to better understand complex injustices in our society. This notion further inspired me to try new approaches to learning. As a School for International Training (SIT) participant, I was able to design and implement a month-long research project. Here in Chile I had the option to take courses with locals or even participate in a service-learning experience to supplement my courses. Last week, in my Spanish Communication and Culture class, we spent part of the class in the mercado (market) and then returned to the classroom to discuss what we observed. In my experience, academics abroad are less stressful, more intriguing and more exciting!

4. Travel: A common assumption about traveling is that it is expensive. And with slim student budgets, traveling often seems out of the question. However, with many programs the cost for the semester is roughly the same, if not cheaper to be abroad, rather than living in an apartment on campus. Money aside, traveling can be an exciting journey to explore other corners of the world. Granted, it is not always easy, it is not always comfortable, and it may require planning, but it is worth it!

5. Food: This point speaks, or perhaps tastes, for itself. When abroad, not only are your taste buds constantly dazzled by new flavors and combinations, but you also can understand local cuisine in new ways. For example, you come to appreciate how some foods are only available in certain seasons, or only available in certain parts of the world. In my experience, food tastes better when it’s from a local source (which makes sense, because it is more fresh)! Testing local cuisine will make your time abroad more enriching. Pasta in Tuscany, couscous in Morocco, and completos in Chile are only three of my many food highlights from this past year. Lastly, absorbing the local tastes and smells is more enjoyable with a local who will know the best restaurants to visit or the perfect way to cook with specific spices. Visit the open-air markets whenever possible and treasure the freshly prepared dinners every night with your homestay family!

Thank you! Again, these are only my top five reasons why I chose to study abroad, but the complete list is never-ending. The opportunities and experiences are limitless, and I encourage you to look into your options! ¡Hasta luego!

Want to hear from more Guilford students on their experiences abroad? Check out the student-authored study abroad blog, Beyond Friendly.