Our Diversity Abroad alumni have been able to prepare, engage, and reflect on their international experiences. Upon their return we asked them questions for them to share how they did all of the above. Through these five questions we explore why Shakera chose to study abroad, how they got there, what it was like, and the impact of their global experience.
Why did you decide to study abroad?
Anyone who really knew me knew that I had absolutely no intentions on studying abroad. It was an idea that intimidated me because I would be forced to find comfort in the unknown. It wasn't until one of my best friends, Adrian Abrams, came back from his study abroad experience in Ghana that I realized maybe the unknown wasn't so scary. Adrian was able to make study abroad seem relatable and attainable. As a low-income, first-generation college student himself, he understood my hesitations and lack of information in regard to study abroad in general. He shared his stories with me, ensuring to include his highlights and lowlights, and slowly I found myself a tad jealous of his experience. I then got really disappointed in myself for limiting my opportunities solely out of fear. With the help of Adrian, my amazing study abroad advisor, and a ton of youtube travel blogs, I was able to get enough courage to fill out the application that would go on to change how I see the world.
How did you pay for your study abroad experience?
My school provides financial aid for students who demonstrate immense need and I was fortunate enough to have my typical financial aid package (which is mostly made up of grants and scholarships) transfer to my study abroad program. Whatever my school didn't cover I applied to outside scholarships like Diversity Abroad, Gilman, and others that specialize in making study abroad more accessible.
What is one thing you wish you would have known about studying abroad before you left?
I wish I would've known that its okay to want to take time for yourself rather than going out on a Friday or Saturday night. Study abroad is all about you! You aren't there to please anyone but yourself. You find what you like to do, and do it unapologetically. This is your experience so don't let other people dictate it. Also, it is totally okay to miss home and the people there. Give them a call whenever you're feeling homesick because hearing their voice will probably make you feel ten times better.
Did you experience any discrimination abroad because of your race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or a physical disability? If so, what did you learn from the experience?
I identify as an African-American woman. I didn't experience discrimination, but people were able to immediately tell that I wasn't from there as soon as I opened my mouth. They would say things like, "You must be from America" or "What are you doing so far away from home?". My least favorite thing people would ask me as soon as they picked up on my "American" accent was "What is up with your President Trump?", while my favorite thing people would say to me was, "Welcome home!".
How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?
Inside my study abroad classroom was a world of knowledge that I had never tapped into. I learned to listen with the intention of understanding and not just responding. I learned about the rich history of South Africa and the struggles they faced to ensure the rights for all their citizens. I learned the different teaching techniques of professors who were brilliant beyond words. I also learned that sometimes the greatest lessons you learned are the ones outside of the classroom.
Being abroad taught me a great deal about myself. For instance, I learned that I truly like to block out noises with earplugs and just be at peace with a book. I learned that contrary to my usual routine of constantly being around my friends and my peers, I genuinely take solace in going on adventures by myself and trying new things. I learned that I am not the best cook and my aunt is a genius in the kitchen who doesn’t mind my frequent 2pm questions about how to make something for dinner. Most importantly, I learned that I am a person that needs to work on herself a lot, and I am now given the opportunity to do that without having to second guess everything. I learned to live unapologetically for only myself and am still learning to find the pleasures in basic things that hectic schedule back home doesn’t typically allow for, like reading a non-academic book, jamming out to my favorite gospel music, or even just praying.
Any additional comments or thoughts that you have about your study abroad experience
I'm glad that I found the time to work on myself as an individual because I realized the importance of self care and self love. That was an unintentional lesson I learned from my study abroad experience, but definitely the most valuable.
Want to continue to engage after you’ve returned from your study abroad experience? Attend the Global Student Leadership Conference, Volunteer at the Diversity Abroad Conference, or share your story with us! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.