Panel Discussion Connects Study Abroad Alumni and Prospective Students

In an effort to encourage students to study abroad, the Study Abroad Office created a panel of six study abroad alumni to address frequently asked questions during a discussion on Tuesday, Nov. 11. Sabina Post, study abroad director, assembled the panel, which included seniors Justin Ahmad, Caitlin Hogan, Kellie Lotkowski, Haley Diener and Brittany Pressley and junior Gates Failing.

Each student spoke about a different aspect of the program that he or she attended before opening the floor to questions. During their presentations, photos from their trips were projected on the screen, so that the students in attendance could visualize the places and people being discussed.

“I think the panel helps students get in touch with study abroad alum, hear stories and ask questions in an informal and laid back way,” Hogan said. “There’s no pressure to participate, but it’s informative.”

Topics ranged from what classes were available to how to live with a host family. Students discussed excursions that were hosted by their colleges and the culture shock they met in their new locations.

“My study abroad experience was the first time I had left the United States, so it’s not a stretch to say I was overwhelmed,” Diener said.

“I did a lot of things that I wouldn’t have necessarily experienced if I were alone. It is easier with come back to America and take inventory of the many ways we are privileged. I certainly didn’t value drinking water that didn’t need to be boiled or warm showers until I went without them,” Diener continued.

Each of the students attended a different study abroad program for varying lengths of time. Lotkowski spent spring break taking a business class in Prague, Czech Republic. Hogan, Diener, Pressley and Failing studied in Florence, Italy; Cusco, Peru; Quito, Ecuador and Serekunda and The Gambia, respectively. Ahmad spent both semesters of his junior year in Xalapa, Mexico.

“I decided to go to a country where I didn’t speak the language, and I went alone, which was very scary. Although it was scary, it was also very rewarding,” Hogan said.

The students also discussed how their experience affected them and their educational goals. Each pinpointed things they had learned that were not necessarily from their textbooks, but helped them to grow as individuals.

“Independence. I had to coordinate many aspects of my daily life, such as my internship, acquiring transportation, and making contacts with other people,” Failing said. “In order to succeed, I had to be an advocate for myself and overcome unexpected obstacles that I would not have encountered while in the US.”

One worry that many students have when studying abroad revolves around one’s living situation.

Most of the students on the panel stayed with host families. Of those students, each had stories to tell about their time with those families.

Some are even planning on visiting their host families over school breaks.  Other students cited similar experiences with host families.

Other students identified homesickness and completing independent research as the most challenging parts of their experiences. Despite the differences in the programs that each student attended, all had one thing in common: the overall experience was rewarding and had a positive impact on how they saw the world. These students explained their volunteering experiences and the impact those had during and after their programs.

The College offered these programs through several affiliate study abroad organizations, including BCA Study Abroad and Center for International Studies (CISabroad). Each program followed a different pattern for study, dependent upon where the students chose to study.

Excursions and day trips are built into most programs, so that students get a chance to experience the culture of the country. Pressley explained the ease of planning excursions among her group of friends, when the location they wanted to visit wasn’t offered by the College.

“Lots of other people want to travel too,” Diener said. “I did a lot of things that I wouldn’t have necessarily experienced if I were alone. It is easier with like-minded people.”

All of the panelists encouraged other students to consider studying abroad, saying it was a valuable experience.

“Don’t think about it,” Ahmad said. “Just do it.”

Please note: Staff writer, Samantha Weiss ’15, originally wrote this article for The Etownian published on April 30, 2014. The Etownian is Elizabethtown College’s student newspaper. Click here to view the original article.

About the Author – Samantha Weiss

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