Alternatives to Studying Abroad

Zion National Park, Utah
Zion National Park, Utah

Many of us have heard the claim that studying abroad will make your college experience; it’s an opportunity that will shape the rest of your college career and the rest of your life. But for some students, studying abroad isn’t an option, and that can be due to any number of reasons. Some students are transfer students and may be unable to fit studying abroad into their schedule, or maybe their destination of choice doesn’t have the courses they need for that specific semester, or maybe they just don’t want to – the list goes on. Students facing these types of problems may feel left out, or that all the time and work they put into their academic career might not mean as much because they were unable to check the “study abroad” box that many put on their college to-do lists.

As a transfer student, I have experienced many of the above-mentioned barriers that would prevent me from studying abroad if that were a path I wanted to take. To cope with missing out on the possible character building and cultural education that will be applicable to my career, I chose to make traveling within the United States a goal of mine, and I would recommend this to those in a similar situation. Many people may put the United States into a tiny box, thinking that as a country we have our values and norms and characteristics that are specific to us as Americans when compared to those from other countries. And while those things are true, different parts of the United States are unique as well, with their own set of ideals, norms and culture. Exploring the United States, and in my situation specifically, visiting as many National Parks as possible, has exposed me to the diversity the United States has to offer. But that is not the only way – experiencing the diversity of the United States can be done in a many ways, including traveling with family and friends, or through alternative breaks offered by Community Outreach or service trips offered by other clubs here at UConn.

My sister and I on the North Carolina, Tennessee border in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
My sister and I on the North Carolina, Tennessee border in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Throughout the past few years, I have visited Acadia National Park in Maine, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in Utah, the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks in Wyoming, and the list goes on. Throughout my travels, I have been able to explore and learn about the people of these places, the products that they make, their daily activities, and the cultural values and norms they live by. For example, heading out west and down south has opened my eyes to the slower way of life for the people that live in these areas. As someone from Connecticut, I’ve always been accustomed to the fast paced tempo of life in New England, but in places such as Utah, Wyoming, and Tennessee, life moves a little slower in the best way possible. While there I didn’t feel the constriction of the clock or a schedule, and I was able to experience the area and the activities in a reflective way that allowed me to learn. Another feature that is quite common to these areas is the importance of farming and agriculture. As a country we thrive upon agriculture and you can find it to some extent almost everywhere, even in some of the smallest towns in Connecticut. But in the Midwest and down south, agriculture is a way of life; the culture, products and the values of those who live on, or are around farms are different than those of us who find ourselves surrounded by cities. In addition, food and culinary preferences in these places are different from anywhere you go. Reflecting on our destinations and how locals experience them enables travelers to learn more about those who live differently, although we are all in the same country.

Welcome to Jackson Hole sign, leading into Jackson Hole and to Yellowstone National Park
Welcome to Jackson Hole sign, leading into Jackson Hole and to Yellowstone National Park

While these slight differences may not seem much to some, they have provided me with the ability to appreciate the differences in culture, values and daily living created by distance. I have broadened my horizons and been given a new perspective on people with the skills I have gained while traveling and interacting with others who live differently than I do within the varying geographies of our country. While the cultural differences I have experienced may not seem as significant as those experienced by students who have studied abroad, I am still able to take these skills with me into the real world and apply them. Although I wasn’t able to study abroad during my college experience, I feel fulfilled and able to apply my unique experiences to my life going forward as an adult.