Study Abroad

Travel Tips for College Students

Performing an annual exam on a jaguar with the veterinary medical team from my Honduras spring break trip.
Performing an annual exam on a jaguar with the veterinary medical team from my Honduras spring break trip.

Many college students are advised to travel at some point during their undergraduate career. Whether it be a study abroad program, a community service trip, or a vacation with close friends, I believe that traveling in any capacity can broaden your perspective and teach you things that you may not get the chance to experience during your time at school. At an age when many of us don’t have our lives quite figured out yet, the experiences I’ve had traveling have provided me opportunities to gain confidence and independence, learn self-reflection, and ultimately be more aware of what is going on in the world around me. Unfortunately, travel is sometimes difficult for students due to limited budgets, busy schedules, or other circumstances, but it is definitely still possible! Here are some tips and advice about traveling as a student that I’ve picked up in my travels thus far:

 

  1. Take advantage of study abroad programs and educational opportunities abroad.

I urge any student to look into what their school’s study abroad programs have to offer. These trips are designed for students and are many times more cost effective or easier to schedule while you’re going to school. If a whole semester is difficult to commit to for scheduling or money reasons, consider programs that run during school breaks. Last May I went on a 3 week study abroad trip to South Africa and it was cheaper than going for a semester as well as allowing me to work around the classes that I’m required to take. In addition to college-run programs, there are plenty of reputable third party organizations that run trips geared towards students. Consider trips that may be helpful in advancing your career or education as well. For spring break this semester I went on an alternative break trip to Roatán, Honduras through an organization called World Vets. Being a pre-veterinary student, I was able to volunteer under the supervision of a veterinarian at a wildlife rehabilitation facility to gain skills and experiences with exotic animals that I would not have had the chance to otherwise. This semester I also took a shorter and more inexpensive trip with my sorority to a leadership conference in Nashville, TN where we got to work on our networking, leadership, and professional development skills. Trips like these are more structured and can provide opportunities that a student may not be able to participate in on their own.

Performing an annual exam on a jaguar with the veterinary medical team from my Honduras spring break trip.
Performing an annual exam on a jaguar with the veterinary medical team from my Honduras spring break trip.
  1. Plan ahead in order to save money and time.

If you’re on a budget, research options for the different aspects of your trip ahead of time. This gives you ample opportunity to explore all of the options and see what would work the best for you. Booking flights or hotels early is often cheaper than waiting until the last minute. Also try looking into alternatives to popular destinations that may be cheaper or traveling domestically instead of internationally. In addition, alternative break volunteer trips are a great way to not only travel on a budget but give back to the community. Ultimately, planning ahead will definitely ensure you’re prepared, but don’t be afraid to be spontaneous and flexible with some parts of your trip!

  1. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and keep an open mind.

When you’re at home or school you’re generally in your comfort zone, but travel is an opportunity to try new things and gain a broader perspective. Trying new foods, new activities, or meeting new people on your trip can be exciting and help you discover things about yourself. Traveling with friends is also really fun, but I’ve had an amazing time on trips where I didn’t know anyone and was forced to meet new people from many different places. The cultural differences you encounter on your trip may surprise you, but being exposed to different ways of life other than my own has pushed me to be more open minded.

  1. Commemorate your experiences!
Attending a leadership conference in Nashville, TN with my sorority.
Attending a leadership conference in Nashville, TN with my sorority.

After your travels you’ll likely have memories that you’ll want to cherish. Many people bring home souvenirs, which I would definitely recommend, but my favorite way to remember my travels is to take lots of pictures and to keep a travel journal. Pictures are a great visual representation of your trip that you can also share with others. Journaling, on the other hand, gives you a chance to personally reflect and have a record of your experience from your own perspective that you can refer back to.

Some of the best memories I have from college are from my travels, and I would encourage any student to step outside of their comfort zone and explore what the world has to offer.

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 Continue reading

Making the Time for Study Abroad

Before I left for college my freshman year, the most common piece of advice I received from friends and family was to study abroad. However as a pre-medical student, I was told over and over again that I wouldn’t have the time to go abroad during the semesters and I couldn’t afford to go during breaks. Fortunately my junior year, I was accepted into the Rowe Scholars program through the Honors Program, which gave me funding to attend a five-week summer program in Salamanca, Spain.

Weekend trip to Porto, Portugal
Weekend trip to Porto, Portugal

I was definitely nervous to travel to a country I had never been to before, especially when I didn’t know anyone in the program. I was also apprehensive because I hadn’t taken a Spanish class since junior year in high school and I was required to take one while abroad. However, this trip ended up being one of the best things I have ever done while in college. I met a great group of people on the trip and being in a foreign country really helped me to let go of my need for structure and planning and learn to go with the flow. We found that the best days ended up being days when we took on opportunities as they came.

I was given a once in a lifetime chance to experience a brand new culture and to travel to different cities every weekend. My biggest recommendation for going abroad is to take advantage of tours and really soak in the culture of where you are. We found that our favorite cities were the ones where we took walking tours and learned about the history.  Because of the experience I had, I am currently looking into applying for another program abroad for the spring semester. For anyone who is worried about not having the time to go abroad or not being able to afford a trip, there is a way to make it happen. Don’t give up!

Plaza de Mayor in Salamanca, Spain
Plaza de Mayor in Salamanca, Spain

Into the Wild, and Out of My Comfort Zone

Bouncing up and down on a game vehicle at five A.M.  looking for lions and giraffes was a normal South African morning for me for three weeks. One day I was sitting in the middle of a herd of thirty or more elephants and observing their social behavior as they too were observing us. Watching the babies show off their oversized ears and trunks was amusing as they marched towards the vehicle with attitude. Toni in South AfricaTo be in the presence of protected animals like the rhino was spectacular. Even though they are larger than a game vehicle they spend most of the day hidden in the African bush. Searching for leopards and lions was hard but rewarding when they came out from hiding. To be feet away from the king of the jungle with him tolerating the flashes of cameras was an experience in itself. Being able to experience animals up close in their natural habitats was educational. We even went to wildlife sanctuaries to learn more about species from a closer view. Students were rewarded with a ride from an African elephant, came nose to nose with a hyena, and got close and personal with a cheetah.  All of these animals are used to educate the public, whom unfortunately don’t know much about their native species. I learned so much from this experience and never thought I would have traveled so far.

Before applying to college I was not open to much change. It was terrifying thinking about pursuing a degree at an institution far from home. UConn was the best choice I made since great opportunities such as the South Africa program are offered. Three weeks away and a sixteen hour flight was unsettling to me, but Continue reading

Culturally Intact

The life of a college student is filled with both methodized and unexpected chaos. Whether it is the struggle of finding a place to get your next cup of coffee or trying to plan out next semester’s class schedule even though the current one is not even half over, there never seems to dull moment. It is often easy to get lost in all of the hustle and bustle of college life. Looking back at my college and life experiences, I realize that it is important to enjoy the little things in life that make you who you are. People often get caught up in a vortex of professionalism and conforming themselves to fit into careers and various positions in life but doing so, they often lose hobbies, interests, and aspects of who they really are. One of the most important facets of my life is my heritage. It is so important to me that I make it a significantly larger portion of my life than the average person. I am a first generation Polish-American; my parents came over from Poland only a few years prior to my birth. I am sure that it was difficult for them to transition to a different culture and society, but they made sure that our rich heritage did not get lost somewhere in the mix. From as early as I can remember, they instilled a sense of Polish pride in my brother and me.

Pulaski Day Parade in New York City
Pulaski Day Parade in New York City

As a child, I would drag my feet every Saturday to ‘Polish School’ and never understood why my parents would make me go. Now that I am older, I realize how grateful I am for what they did. I was able to develop a strong connection with my roots, one that not many people have. Growing up in an international community I had a lot of friends who were in the same first generation boat, Continue reading

Curiosity Speaks Every Language

At the beginning of the summer I sat with my family at our favorite restaurant in Boston, at the same table we sat at as little kids. We may be 21 and 16 years old now, but my brother and I played tic-tac-toe and hangman on the paper napkins for old time sake, just as we did years ago waiting for our meals. At the table to our right, two little boys were engaged in iPad gaming wars. The table to our left a little girl sat with her princess dress on, with the addition of a pink pair of headphones as she zoned out to the latest Tinkerbell cartoon on mom’s iPhone. I was troubled to see that with the new rise of technology kids seem to be losing their creativity and sense of curiosity. As I started my adventures for the summer, I was curious to see if the pattern held true with kids across the country, and across the continent.

Digging irrigation trenches in Panama
Digging irrigation trenches in Panama

In May I took off for an environmental volunteer trip to the indigenous village of Piriati Embera, Panama, with UConn Global Brigades. For a week we had the incredible opportunity to learn from community members about their methods of sustainable agriculture, and help plant hundreds of seedlings that will hopefully provide the community with a source of income for future generations. We also helped to maintain greenhouses and irrigation trenches, and held workshops teaching the dangers of acid rain and improper waste disposal. The amazing thing about this trip was not just the experience of working in Panama; it was working side by side WITH the community members. We got to hear stories of their families and traditions, and their hopes for their children and grandchildren. Throughout the week the kids who lived in the area would run by the greenhouses as we worked, making silly faces or showing off their tree climbing skills. They made toys out of sticks and pieces of trash along the street. They leapt into the river trying to show off backflips when they thought we weren’t looking. They raced down the road on bikes and on foot. They giggled and teased and chased and smiled, and they did it without mom’s iPhone or iPad gaming wars. They came to ask questions and tell us about what they wanted to do when they grew up. Some wanted to be doctors, some fashion designers, some singers, some professional futbol players. Every kid we talked to was so excited and curious. After an incredible week of laughing and working with the families of Piriati Embera, Panama, it was time to head back home Continue reading

Study Abroad: A New Way to Look at Home

Garcia Study Abroad 2

In high school, I came across a Mark Twain quote that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. He said, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” It was then that I realized that if I wanted to be knowledgeable on humanity and the many different cultures around the world, there was no way for me to fully understand them unless I was there to experience them first-hand. Therefore, I decided to spend my summer in a Neuroscience program in Salamanca, Spain, not only enriching my academics but also changing my outlook on what it means to be a global citizen.

As I was preparing for my departure, Continue reading

“Guatever” Happens, Happens

I am a planner. I like to know what my schedule looks like for the day, week, and month ahead of time. It is safe to say that my color-coordinated iCalendar and three agendas – which have every obligation, assignment or errand I need to run – are my most dear possessions. Whether it is breaking my next day down by minutes, planning my academic and extracurricular goals, or revising my extensively researched 1, 3, or 5 year plan, I am always looking ahead. Due to this part of my personality, I find that I am someone who places emphasis on the importance of foresight and preparedness. My tennis coach in high school always told us that “success is when opportunity meets preparedness.”

However, I would not contribute all success to being obsessed with planning ahead or meticulously spending hours researching every opportunity out there that would benefit my career goals. Almost all of my most enriching and rewarding experiences have come about by accident or due to “my plans falling through.” I believe that being flexible, trusting yourself and going into everything with an open mind and open heart is essential to success.

Members of the Social Entrepreneur Corps
Members of the Social Entrepreneur Corps

For example, this summer I had the experience of a life-time, when I spent 5-weeks living and interning abroad for U21 Social Entrepreneur Corps in Guatemala. The first thing that I could tell you about my decision to study abroad and work in Guatemala, is that I did not plan for it. I have no prior Spanish speaking experience; I was planning on travelling to Rishikesh, India with UConn Empower in the upcoming winter and also had applied to two competitive public health research internships for the summer. It was not something that I had included in my 4 year plan at UConn. I simply read an email from the Honors Program asking for applications from students who wanted to study abroad in Central America for a four-week program smack in the middle of summer. Interested in seeing if the program would be beneficial to one of my UConn Empower members, Continue reading