Studying abroad a must-do college experience
Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
This Mother’s Day, Gretchen Seibel honored two mothers – both of them her own. She called her mother in Michigan, and she sent a card to her Italian mama, Marina. A year ago Seibel didn’t even know who Marina was. But now, she considers her family.
Marina was Seibel’s host mom when she studied abroad in Rome. She was the first Italian Seibel met. And Marina took good care of her, taking her out for late-night gelato and driving her and her friends to the airport at four in the morning to catch weekend flights to Venice and Sicily. She was a mother to Seibel in every way. And now Seibel feels so lucky to have not one, but two mothers to love.
Seibel, a sophomore at DePaul, names Marina as one of the best parts about studying abroad. In just 12 weeks, she felt like she had created another family. But she didn’t leave with just a new family – she left with greater confidence, maturity and friendships. She is every reason a U.S. college student should study abroad.
Seibel studied abroad last fall, so she hasn’t had all that much time to think about how her experience in Rome could shape her future. But already she knows it’s impacted her life in some great way.
“I encourage everyone to study abroad because it allows them to realize things about themselves and another culture,” she said.
This is almost a cliché realization for the average study abroad student, yet it really rings true for most. In an International Education of Students survey of 3,400 students who studied abroad between 1950 and 1999, 95 percent of respondents said their study abroad experience had a lasting impact on their worldview. And when it comes to learning about oneself, the impact is just as strong. About 98 percent of respondents also said their experience helped them to better understand their own cultural values and biases.
It’s not just laziness or narrow-mindedness that anchors students to the U.S. Studying abroad is expensive. It interferes with class schedules and sometimes forces people to stay in school a fifth year. Some students dream of eating gelato by moonlight in Italy, like Seibel, but it’s only a dream for them.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a way around most of that, Seibel said. There are hundreds, even thousands, of scholarships for study abroad. Many schools transfer financial aid to study abroad programs. And there’s always the part-time job.
“It is worth every penny that you spend there,” Seibel said, “even if you have to work it all off when you get back.” Seibel held a few different babysitting jobs before she left for Rome and works a few more now. Slowly, but surely, she’s earning back some of that money she spent on cannoli, leather boots and Italian wine.
Everything she lost to Italy she can gain back. She’s taking summer classes to make up for the lost classes. But everything she gained was locally grown. Seibel made friends with the people she traveled with, friends whom she admitted she probably wouldn’t befriend in the U.S. There’s just something about the kind of bonding that happens when you get lost in the streets of Rome with a group of Americans and must speak Italian to the locals to find your way back.
The life of a college student nowadays seems hectic, stressful and busy at times, but most students are only tied down to their classes and career beginnings. Their grades are at stake, but not much else. For those concerned about delaying the start of their potential career by just a semester or two, what’s the point? The economy is still struggling, and there might be more jobs a semester or two later anyway.
And post-study abroad students like Seibel continue to remember their trips fondly, despite the summer school and extra part-time jobs.
“A part of me is still there,” Seibel said, “and a part of the trip is still in me, even if I’m not there.”