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Discovering Myself

Posted on November 07, 2019


Why did you decide to study abroad?

I decided to study abroad in order to discover myself. I felt lost as to what I wanted to do in life and what path I wanted to take, so I felt some time away, seeing all the unique opportunities that the world has to offer, would provide me clarity. Prior to my experience, I had only traveled to the Caribbean, London and France, so the continents of Africa and Asia were incredibly interesting and thrilling mysterious to me.

The biggest overall influence on my decision was a book called The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo. It is about a young boy named Santiago who leaves his small home in southern Spain and embarks on an adventurous journey to discover his "Personal Legend". He dreams of finding treasure at the Pyramids of Egypt. So he leaves home, encountering obstacles along the way and eventually crossing the Sahara desert to find his destiny. I wanted to follow Santiago's footsteps and find my metaphorical pyramids.

How did you pay for your study abroad experience?

When I first decided to study abroad I knew that the largest hurdle to overcome would be financial. In order to overcome the challenge, I drafted a plan that divided up each scholarship for which I intended to apply based on my 6 month timeline. I wrote on a sheet of paper the name, requirements, and deadlines for each scholarship. Over the next month applied to twelve of them, using the templates of my first applications as building blocks for other ones.

What I learned was simple but profound: by applying for scholarships you already stand out from the talent pool. In truth, most people do not take the time and effort required to apply. Second, I learned that volume works well with scholarships - I applied to 15 total. Although I had a less than 25% success rate, the three main scholarships I was blessed to earn were enough to empowered my journey. The first was the HBCU Scholarship, the second was a Morehouse College institutional scholarship, and the third was a merit based scholarship. Finally, I was blessed with family members that provided the remaining support to accomplish my goal.

What is one thing you wish you would have known about studying abroad before you left?

3 Critical Tips I wish that I had known before going abroad:

  1. Buy the BEST Camera that you can afford. I bought a cheap Canon Camera with 720p recording and I deeply regret my decision. You are going to want to remember those moments for the rest of your life and a grainy shot of you in the Amazon or trekking through the desert just is not going to cut it.

  2. Forge New Friendships. Go out of your way to meet someone new. I made some great friends on the ship and while abroad because I went outside of my comfort zone and introduced myself, making a concerted effort to meet someone new almost everyday. However, although it may sound contrary, about halfway through your time abroad, it is wise to cut back on meeting new people and to really have great, fun experiences with the friends you have. This amazing memories will bond you for a lifetime.

  3. Journal Daily. Wow, I look back on my Journal entries and almost cry sometimes because of the way the words bring me back to my best emotions and moments abroad. It is so fun to look back on what you were thinking and feeling in the moment, knowingly smiling because you knew what is next. Also, journaling will help you come to better understand yourself for years to make the effort every day - even if for 5 minutes!

Bonus Tip: Pack Lighter. However much you think you actually need, cut it in half. I promise, you will thank me later :)

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 self-identify as a Christian black male and did not personally experience discrimination abroad, however, I did notice the unspoken division that occurred between the black and white students on our ship. The black people tended to stick together at one table, essentially self-segregating. After a few weeks the boundaries began to disintegrate and we began to build cross-cultural relationships - which I loved! Also, I did discern the immense role that race plays in international relations, particularly in South Africa. While there, poverty was clearly disproportionately affecting the black civilians in poverty-stricken townships along the outskirts of the city. On the other hand, colored and white people were in the wealthier areas of Cape Town.

How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?

My international experiences changed my life.

Without exaggeration - I came back from Semester at Sea completely floored by the immensity of the world and the diversity of its people. I took almost a month to reflect and digest upon my experiences. Now, I can truly say that I am more confident on a day to day basis knowing that I can handle stepping outside of my comfort zone. Also, the time being abroad gave me allowed me to reflect on my life purpose and discover my personal vision and mission. Although I am still tweaking it, I do not think I would have the same level of personal clarity without going abroad.

Academically, my papers and essays are enriched by the new perspectives and memories that I have. Additionally, in the classroom I can add directly to the discussion and debate with unique knowledge from the country or culture we are investigating and/or compelling stories to start my presentations.

My cross-cultural sensitivity has definitely been impacted, as has my desire to have an international impact in whatever capacity of work that I do. Unfortunately Semester at Sea did not provide the depth for me to develop my Japanese skills so I will need to study abroad in Japan for a longer time to get that depth of knowledge.

Sometimes you must choose between depth and breadth, and for your first chance to travel, I would actually argue for breadth.

Any additional comments or thoughts that you have about your study abroad experience

The program that I embarked upon, in my humble opinion, was the best study abroad program in the world! The program is called Semester at Sea and the sponsor was University of Virginia. Our housing was completely covered as we were on a ship! I stayed in the economy cabins in order to save money. As far as academics, the rigorous program was well balanced, with opportunities for “field programs” that provided in depth understanding of the subject at hand. For example, for my Comparative Politics class, we studied the apartheid regime firsthand while in South Africa, meeting with members of the truth and reconciliation. Furthermore, we also spoke with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and were able to ask him questions regarding forgiveness.

Best moments in my life occurred because I boarded the MV World Odyssey. You can too.

Author: Austin Joseph

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