Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I made during my college years. I spent the winter term of my senior year in South Africa and Lesotho (another country in Africa that is landlocked within South Africa). There is no type of text book learning that can come close to the learning you acquire through travel and hands-on experience. The world is huge. There is so much more outside your country’s borders. Your school may have a year, semester, summer term, winter term, or even a week abroad. Take advantage of at least one of these opportunities.

I chose South Africa because I was inspired by Nelson Mandela’s plight for freedom. After listening to his lecture at my university three years prior, the love he had for his country was contagious. If you study abroad, choose a country that has a history, culture, and people that interest you.

The entire time in Lesotho and South Africa I was thinking, “Why in the world didn’t I study abroad every year?” No matter what your major is, you can find a course that is applicable to either your major or your general interest. The course in South Africa was called “Exploring World Issues: South Africa and Lesotho.” We spent the majority of our twenty-two-day program in Lesotho. There are no words to describe the beautiful landscape and warmness of the people. And I earned three credits for a life-changing experience!

While abroad, we examined the post-apartheid access to many of South Africa’s major resources and its effects on Lesotho, including the economy, education, politics, health, and culture. We visited the University of Lesotho for a day. We stayed with host families that treated us as if we were members of their own family. We volunteered at a home for disabled youth. We painted the most magnificent mural to brighten the lives of those disadvantaged children that were all wheelchair-bound. We saw the king’s home, rode on ponies, fed chickens, played soccer with local children, danced with a nun, stayed in huts in the mountains, swam in a natural river, saw dinosaur footprints, and climbed to the top of mountains. My favorite moment in the day was coming home and having a conversation with my host mother about various world issues and gaining a new perspective on things. We sure can live in a bubble!

There is a chance you may get a little homesick, but you’ll be back in your home country in no time. Learn to be friends with your trip mates. That can make the trip so much more fun. Also, if you are studying a foreign language, this is a great opportunity to get real practical experience putting that language to use. You will meet new and interesting people, explore a whole new city and way of life, and most importantly, you will grow! You will see this country through your own distinct lens while contributing your personal, academic, and cultural diversity to this amazing experience. This may be the only time in your life that you can immerse yourself fully in a foreign lifestyle while participating in fun activities for such an extended period of time.

Many students are concerned about the cost of studying abroad, but sometimes it’s less expensive than a semester at your current college or university. Financial aid can usually be transferred to the program and many scholarships are also available. I paid for study abroad using two external scholarships I received. This covered the tuition, plane ticket, housing accommodations, some meals, excursions, and transportation.

Safety can also be a concern for some students, but you are with other students and experienced faculty and staff who are there to lead and supervise the group. The only time you may be in danger is if you are going out alone at night. This is a bad move. This is a whole new culture and things that are acceptable in one country may be unacceptable in others. In terms of your physical health, I received shots before my departure and was cautious of certain foods I ate while there. I always drank bottled or boiled water and ate cooked food.

Once your interest in studying abroad is peaked be sure to visit your study abroad office so that you know the appropriate deadlines for applications and scholarships.

I don’t know who said it first, but one of my favorite quotes is “Life is not about the breaths that we take but the moments that take our breath away.” This will definitely be an eye-opening experience. Who knew the world was so big?

Remember:

o There is no type of textbook learning that can come close to the learning you acquire through travel and hands-on experience.

o Your school may have a year, semester, summer term, winter term, or even a week abroad. Take advantage of at least one of these opportunities.

o If you study abroad, choose a country that has a history, culture, and people that interest you.

o You may get a little homesick, but you’ll be back in your home country in no time.

o If you are studying a foreign language, this is a great opportunity to get real practical experience.

o Studying abroad does not necessarily cost a great deal of money.

o Studying abroad is safe.

o Once your interest in studying abroad is peaked, be sure to visit your study abroad office so that you know the appropriate deadlines for applications and scholarships.

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