I am an alumna of UC Irvine and studying abroad. In January 2007, I left the U.S. for the first time to learn Italian in Siena, Italy through UC's Education Abroad Program. It is hard to believe that it has been five years since I flew across the ocean to discover my passion. What's harder to believe is that it almost didn't happen.
Like many parents, my mother had concerns about sending her only child to Italy for five months - cost, safety and fear of a lack of communication. Fortunately, all it took was an in-depth conversation with my uncle to convince her that study abroad was a valuable investment.
Soon thereafter I was living in a medieval city with an Italian family reaping all the benefits of study abroad: (1) increased independence, self-confidence, and flexibility; (2) clarified personal goals and values; (3) increased understanding of views and perspectives held by others, which are different from their own; and (4) foreign language skills.
I gained so much from my semester abroad that I came back eager to share my story with others and am now a proud staff advisor at UCI's Study Abroad Center, whose mission is to "foster a culture at UCI in which study abroad is expected and achievable for all students."
Why expected? The world UCI students will inhabit after graduation, both professionally and personally, has become increasingly interdependent. Ascertaining transferrable skills will allow UCI students to lead responsibly and productively in their professional and personal lives as they face tomorrow's global challenges.
But how is this achievable? Often when I talk to parents they like the idea of study abroad, but they aren't quite sure if it is feasible to make it become a reality. I am here to tell you that study abroad is more attainable than you think!
The trick is that, unlike popular belief, there is no "one program fits all" or "best time to study abroad." Since locations, program length, living options, cost, and requirements to apply all vary by program, the key to finding the right program is to plan early! Students interested in study abroad should visit the Study Abroad Center as soon as possible to get started. The center offers introductory workshops, walk-in peer support, individual staff advising and more. Plus students can feel at ease knowing that once selected for participation, they will receive additional advising and support in preparation for the journey ahead.
The other day I called my mom and asked what advice, if any, she would give other parents. Her suggestion: "Encourage your son or daughter to go, but to email, Skype, or send a postcard once in awhile." She said, "Even though you were far away, I felt connected because of the emails you sent or the conversations we had over the phone."
Her response when I asked if study abroad was worth it: "Absolutely!"
- Chrystal Fairbanks '08