Everyone’s goal at some point in life is to travel, I believe in my case that I loved to think outside the box. I have only been able to travel outside the United States to visit my family’s home country, El Salvador, five years ago. I did not want to be limited in terms of global experience. I sought to truly understand other cultures beyond the two I know. As part of my global studies major, I have the option of studying abroad and fulfill my degree requirements at the same time. I decided to find out which programs suited my needs as at the time of looking for a study abroad program, I was a Sophomore. I found out that our study abroad center at UNC-Chapel Hill has a lot of programs based in the Middle East. I compared various programs based on location, academic curriculum, costs, number of students who had been to the program, and advice from the Study Abroad office.
This process was long and tedious because you will find a lot of programs that can bring the “full package” but may not fulfill one important area which for me was looking for a program in Northern Africa. I was able to narrow it down to Tunisia and Morocco. I chose the program in Tunisia as it was new and offered a unique study. This is the first democratic country and I would learn more about a region that is not well known of. This program included the study of religious integration in the Mediterranean that includes about a month’s time spent in Italy. While in Sicily, I have the opportunity to visit major international organizations such as NGOs, UNESCO, etc. The third-party program called “School of International Training” (SIT) offered a variety of programs and for a first-time traveler, it provided various resources to its students. I would be guided through my experience while still having the liberty to decide what I wanted to do the final month in terms of research work or the internship program. Alongside this, I would be able to grow in proficiency with Arabic and experience a homestay. I knew if I wanted to truly gain experience with another culture, I had to immerse myself in the culture.
In addition to this, a huge factor that plays a role is the financial aid options available to a student. As a first-generation student it can be challenging to navigate these realms. I lacked the guidance from my parents as they are unfamiliar with study abroad. I think that put me a bit behind amongst my peers as well as a barrier to communicating what exactly would be the reason for me to pursue such a program with high costs. Regardless, I felt compelled to do so and find out all the information I could to make it easier for them and myself through searching for this study abroad program. I first found out that SIT offers various scholarships for the student’s needs and this is something that eased my worries as it can be expensive to go abroad. I made sure to apply to all the scholarships I was eligible for through my university, online websites such as Diversity Abroad, the Gilman Scholarship, etc. I was fortunate enough to get awarded three scholarships which enabled me to study abroad at no cost.
As a minority, you are unsure of what to expect living in another country. I made sure to advocate for myself when collecting information and finding the best ways in which to prepare my application essays. I highly recommend making this journey of finding your right program a thoughtful one as so many parts are important and valuable in terms of what you will get out of it. I believe it is important to note that you have to put as much effort as you put in those applications as you did when applying to college. SIT was looking for a student who wanted to truly engage and develop skills for the purpose of making a positive impact in this world. Every step of the way is key and will result in an amazing experience! Good luck finding your path!
Author: Samantha Rivera