Study Abroad

Venturing Down Under

This past summer I was fortunate enough to travel a whopping 25,000 total round trip miles following my lifelong dream to visit Australia and its neighbor, New Zealand. I was one of 21 students from colleges across 13 U.S states, Singapore, and the local Cairns, Australia to be part of the School for Field Studies (SFS) rainforest management summer study abroad program. It all started on the morning of May 22nd, 2017 when I was driving to JFK airport about to embark on a journey I never imagined I would undertake. The six-hour flight to Los Angeles seemed like nothing compared crossing the Pacific. 14 hours and seven movies later I touched down in Brisbane, Australia, pronounced “BRIS-BIN” as I quickly learned. Next a short two-hour leap to Cairns (“Cans”), Australia- a city where one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef, and the oldest rainforest in the world, the Daintree, meet.

I started out my month and half long trek on my own. I spent one week exploring the local tourist areas and taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. For someone who has spent countless hours of their free-time memorizing and studying reef fish and watching planet earth documentaries, being surrounded by the very scenes I’ve only seen on a screen was incredible. I was directly connected to the ecosystem that had inspired and continues to inspire the masses.

After my brief “vacation” in Cairns and Port Douglas – it was back to the airport to meet the rest of the SFS clan I would soon become family with. I had thought my first interactions would be awkward or uncomfortable, but not with these people. Almost immediately we were cracking jokes on our winding travels up into the mountains and into the rainforests of Yungaburra, Australia. Our station was tucked away from civilization in an area with a variety of snake, marsupial, bird, and terrestrial-leech (yes- terrestrial leech) species. This very plot of land became our home for weeks to come. We learned about effective rainforest management techniques, about local environmental policy, and the local agriculture economy.

For 10 days between our stay in Australia we ventured 2,250 miles southwest to the north island of New Zealand. We traveled through picturesque rolling hills and ocean views all while studying the local flora, fauna, and how local environmental issues were being addressed. During one of the most influential parts of the trip we got to live with a Maori family. Maori being the name of the indigenous people of New Zealand. We were exposed to a totally new language, culture, and way of life. We learned about the roles the Maori play in protecting native species and ecosystems as well as how they keep their traditions alive in a modernizing world. New Zealand was the most beautiful place I have ever seen and was that much better, for me, because it was a birders paradise. I got to pet the only Kiwi the general public is allowed to have contact with in the world as well as Continue reading

Eight Countries and Twelve Cities Later…

Florence, Italy 2017
Florence, Italy 2017

Last year at this time if someone told me that I should study abroad I would have told them that there is no way. I would have said that it is a huge financial commitment, cuts into time that I could be working and is too much time spent away from family. Flash forward a year and I can genuinely say it was a life-changing experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.

I did a very specialized UConn study abroad program in the summer that was only with landscape architecture students. We traveled to 8 countries and 12 cities across Europe. I was one of 14 students with two professors teaching us along the way. We spent on average three days in each city where we would have half a day of class and half a day of free time to explore. We were able to experience different cultures, expand our landscape architecture skills and socialize with many people we had never met before. Don’t get me wrong, it was the most exhausting month of my life, but I will always look back at it with only fond memories.

As a College Ambassador I am always looking to improve as a person. I look back on my study abroad experience and have realized it allowed me to do just that. I am now more confident, independent and culturally aware. This transformative experience is something that everyone should absolutely try. UConn makes it particularly attainable by offering several different scholarships that can help fund your trip.

 

Here is a list of the places I visited! Continue reading

Junior Year as Told by a Premed Student

My reaction after watching a birth for the first time! I want to be a neonatal doctor, so getting to see a birth was very exciting.
My reaction after watching a birth for the first time! I want to be a neonatal doctor, so getting to see a birth was very exciting.

Junior year is notoriously very difficult, regardless of major or pre-professional program, there is a lot at stake. Students are tasked with gearing up for their last two years of college by planning classes, making sure to meet all requirements, and thinking about what their next step will be. Whether you plan on attending graduate school, entering the workforce, or taking time off, there is a lot to consider and it can be extremely overwhelming. I am an Allied Health Sciences major, beginning my junior year, and I plan on attending medical school following graduation. I do not plan on taking a gap year before going to medical school, so a lot is happening this year, and it’s happening very fast. I have spent a lot of time preparing for this year, and now I am working on how to manage classes, study for the MCAT, and find ways to improve my application to be the most competitive.

First, the MCAT. I plan on taking it in early 2018, and to do this, and do well, I have a lot of studying. It is important to think about your own study habits and how comfortable you are with the material when preparing for an exam of this magnitude. You must find what will work for you to be successful, because everyone learns and takes tests differently. Personally, I have found it helpful to enroll in an MCAT prep course through Kaplan. This course includes guided online sessions for three hours each week, study books, and personalized assignments that are geared to help you in areas you need improvement. This is just one of the many ways people go about preparing for the MCAT. Find what will work for you and make you successful. Additionally, make studying a priority along with all of your other classes!

A second thing that can be stressful about applying to medical school is the application itself. While this is many months away, it does not hurt to think about what you can do now to improve your application, makings yourself a more competitive applicant. What types of things are you involved in? Do you have any volunteer or clinical work in a hospital? These are a couple of questions you can ask yourself, and if you find that you are missing something, try to search for opportunities to fill the gap. For example, this past summer I traveled to Spain where I was able to shadow doctors in a hospital for a month. This was great exposure to the medical field, and I learned a lot about Continue reading

Floods and Massive Landslides in Peru

Recent landslide in Peru
Recent landslide in Peru (“Flooding in Peru.” AvaxNews. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.)

During the month of March, prolonged rainfall has caused severe river flooding, landslides and mud flows across Peru. Around 150,000 homes, including a lot of people’s businesses have been flooded. Approximately 1,250 schools and 340 health centers have suffered some type of damage. 24 of Peru’s 25 regions have reported damage, the most affected regions are: Lima, Piura, Lambayeque, Ica, Arequipa, Huancavelica, Ancash and Loreto.

As of March 25th, 2017, there have been reported the death of 90 people, about 40 people are injured and more than 15 people missing, cause of this climate phenomenon named “El Niño Costero.” As of right now more than 120.000 people have either lost their family, businesses or friends, the number keeps increasing due to the continuous floods and landslides which is making people move to other parts of Peru.

Aside from people losing their homes, massive landslides and floods are causing the loss of water.

Police trying to move people to a safer place
Police trying to move people to a safer place (“Flooding in Peru.” AvaxNews. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.)

Many Peruvians do not have access to water, some have to buy water from other people and the prices are very high. Unfortunately, many people do not have the money and resources to buy water. The loss of water is not only happening in the poorest regions of Peru, many of the districts of the capital have reported that they do not have access to water, some temporarily and others for a very long period of time.

Currently, Peru has been declared in state of emergency and the situation over there is not getting any better. Many companies have been helping people find shelters and places where they can stay and be helped but the number of affected people keeps increasing. There have been a few fundraisers here in the U.S. and even at UConn to help the victims of this chaotic situation.  Recently, Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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