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Study Abroad Stories

Posted May 22, 2015

Experiences from former Study Abroad Students

Cat Gaa

Cat Gaa turned down a radio job in Chicago and turned up in Spain. She blogs by morning at Sunshine and Siestas and wrangles teenagers as an English teacher by night. This is Cat’s story:


My six-week study abroad course in Valladolid, Spain gave me a crash-course in tapas, siestas and the Spanish language. In this small Spanish university city, which was once the capital of Spain, I was in the stomping grounds of Philip II, Columbus and the writer Miguel de Cervantes. Hardly anyone spoke English but our small group of 25 students, so I was forced to use my *castellano* skills to do everything from order a coffee to ask for direction to flirt in the *discotecas*.


Making the decision to study in a less popular destination made all of the difference for me: I was in a city older than my country, learning Spanish through locals and making daytrips to the oldest part of modern Spain. My classmates chose flashy Barcelona or sultry Granada, but I have yet to regret picking Valladolid.


Nearly a decade after my summer as a *pucelana*, as locals are called, I’m living and working in Spain as a teacher. That initial step – both in Spanish and in living abroad – set the course for the rest of my life. I often visit my host family, where we laugh at where we began and how we ended up. Everything looks the same – Plaza Mayor, Campo Grande, the river– but we’re all different.



April D. Thompson

April D. Thompson has been a  passport holder since the age of 1, and is an Absolute Travel Addict whose writing has appeared in Essence Magazine, Canada’s Travel & Escape, and USA Today, among others. She’s a lover of travel, philanthropy, culinary, music, and cultural festivals around the globe. This is her study abroad experience:


I spent an amazing 6 weeks working on an independent study abroad project in South Africa investigating the access programs in place to better prepare disadvantaged students for degrees in STEM.


As an African American woman, graduate engineering student, and manager of an engineering retention program, this was the perfect project and perfect location to conduct it.

I gleaned tons of insight about education reform initiatives in South Africa as a result of the Bantu Education Act and Apartheid. Schools were beginning a "desegregation" of sorts and surprisingly students, faculty and staff were eager to share their stories. I gladly listened and reveled in the moments when discussions and focus groups shifted from the project to day to day life, hobbies and interests, inquiries on life in the US.

My time in South Africa was eye opening, informative and transformational. While it was painstakingly obvious how we are different, what stood out the most was seeing and truly understanding how we are all so very much the same, despite the language we speak, where we are born, or our economic standing. I'm forever grateful for the lessons learned, the bonds created and the impact this experience has had on my life.

Since South Africa, I have returned to South Africa twice and continue to travel abroad and encourage others to do the same through my travel writing and sharing my personal experiences because I truly believe travel is transformational.



Kim Powers

Kim Powers is a marketer in Napa Valley, working for the Napa Valley Wine Train. She travels every chance she can get, trying to get abroad every year. This is her story:


I studied abroad at Kingston University in London for the academic year of 2011-2012, coming from my home university of Sonoma State in California. I had always wanted to live abroad and I was lucky enough to be accepted into the popular and competitive UK program. It was the best experience of my life. I find it important to learn from as many different teaching styles as possible and the UK instruction style in the business and marketing departments was very different from home. There were no midterms, no homework, no attendance grade, no extra credit. My final grade was entirely based on a semester long group project and the final exam. It was terrifying, but as I got into the swing of things, it felt natural. I felt like an adult. I grew up. My professors respected me on my abilities. The projects I produced were fully researched. I could hand them to the companies they were based on an they could implement the £2 million marketing strategy I proposed. I was proud from what I learned both in the foreign university and the experiences I had traveling internationally. I became confident in myself, in my ability to achieve and explore. Study abroad opened up new possibilities, both professionally and personally.


I’m planning on moving abroad eventually and study abroad has given me the confidence to do it. I got my job out of college because of study abroad. I have amazing friends because of study abroad. It was the best experience of my life.



Thank You to Everyone Who Shared Their Abroad Experiences!


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