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Going Abroad After Gaining Independence in College

Posted on December 02, 2019


Why did you decide to study abroad?

I decided to study abroad because I wanted to do something by myself. Before coming to college I had never spent a night away from my family, but during my freshman year I found a sense of independence in the freedom of being alone. I hoped that I could immerse myself in a new culture, with no expectations and without the accountability of travelling with anyone I know.

How did you pay for your study abroad experience?

I have a DES scholarship for my regular studies, I knew that they were offering me five years of the scholarship but I would graduate in four years. I used two of the extra terms to contribute to my study abroad expenses. I received two scholarships from GEO at the University of Oregon, the Mills scholarship and the GEO Ambassador scholarship. For my program in Guatemala I received a specific scholarship from the professor and for the program in Mexico I received a similar scholarship to the one I have at school, DESA.

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

My best advice is to spend time finding scholarships so that you don’t have to pay for your study abroad experiences. Going abroad in the summer is a really great way to spend the free time that summer offers getting ahead in your schooling.

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?

There were times that I felt uncomfortable on both programs, even though I felt so at home in Mexico. I am Mexican and I noticed on both of my experiences abroad that the white students were treated very differently than I was. One example is how the towns are so used to catering to tourists that the people tend to go against their customs to accommodate the white tourists. Usually supermarkets have baggers at checkout counter who are not employees, they bag for tips from the customers. As I checked out, no one jumped to assist me with bagging my items, so I did it myself. One of the white students was in line behind me and as she paid for her items the checker noticed that none of the baggers were nearby. He bagged the items for her. It was very obvious that he would not have done the same for me, this wasn’t an accident. On both trips there were four female students of color and the rest of the students were white. The white women tended to attract more, sometimes inappropriate attention.

How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?

I grew up in a primarily Spanish-speaking household so I have been bilingual since I was young. I felt a connection to the communities I lived in through Spanish; there wasn’t an option to speak Spanish or incorporate English into conversation. I am planning on attending graduate school at the University of Oregon College of Education and I hope to work with underrepresented communities that I believe suffer from miscommunications in the American system.

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

Don’t be scared, especially of the financial burden. Study abroad is such a worthwhile investment. If you have the opportunity to live with a host family, take it. You will probably never have the opportunity to live with members of a different community and learn from them everyday the way you can with a host family.

Author: Vanessa Santillan-Nieto

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