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Taking Advantage of Resources as a First Generation College Student

Posted on November 08, 2019


Why did you decide to study abroad?


As a first-generation college student, my goal was to take advantage of all the resources that would be offered at Pomona College; however, study abroad had been out of the question for some time. I couldn't find the right program or the right experience. I was looking for more than just an academically rigorous environment -- I was looking for personal growth, for adventure, for a multitude of perspectives and for a challenge.

Tell us about the program you went on

I chose to participate in IES Abroad's European Union Program, based in Freiburg, Germany. Besides traveling to approximately 10 different countries in Europe and visiting some of the international headquarters for the different EU offices, I found this program to be a good fit for me. For a while, I saw the EU as its own entity without realizing that the domestic national policies and states' interests could in fact shape the identity of the entire intergovernmental organization and redefine its historical trajectory. It's been great to deconstruct the views of specific countries and see their influence in the international arena. As an International Relations major, the entirety of this subject fascinates me.


How did you pay for your study abroad experience?

All expenses were covered by Pomona College, including any passport/visa/pictures fees, transportation to and from the center, and a very generous food stipend during my time in Germany.

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

I wished I knew that when you order a water at a restaurant in Germany (and in many parts of Europe) you will be surprised to receive sparkling water. I'm not a huge fan of sparkling water and wished that they would serve plain water instead. Still water is really expensive in Europe, more expensive than soda or beer!

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 did not experience any explicit discrimination abroad besides microaggressive comments from the program director and assistant director. During our orientation, they told us to try to stay away from the community across the train tracks -- apparently the scene there was "sketchy." As a person of color I knew exactly what that meant. When I visited this "sketchy" place, I knew why the program director described it as that: this was a community of color. I felt safe in this community because for once, the people that lived here looked like me.

How has studying abroad benefited you, personally and academically?

Personally, studying abroad really made me feel like I can survive and thrive when I am out of my comfort zone. Even when I didn't know the language, I still found ways to navigate Europe.

Additionally, studying abroad allowed me to find my voice in an academic setting. Being able to exchange ideas and challenge my peers was something that studying abroad gave me the confidence to be able to do. Now, back at my home institution, I practice a lot of the speaking skills I learned while I was abroad.

What was the most memorable moment of studying abroad?

On a Friday evening, we took a boat tour of Paris in the famous Seine. When we were heading back, the sun started to go down and the skies reflected a beautiful purple/pink sunset. As we were approaching the end of the tour, we saw the Eiffel Tower light up. It glittered and shined and danced around with so much light -- I just could not describe how magical that was for me to see. The light show was phenomenal and it was in this moment that I fell in love with Paris.

How was the entertainment and nightlife?

Freiburg has a pretty nice nightlife. Our friends and I lived in Vauban with other university students; hence, we were all pretty young. This one time, we threw a huge party in our suite and approximately 3o0 people showed up! We traveled to downtown Freiburg for clubs, like Mamasitas (one of the few places in Europe where I got to hear Latin music) and Jazz Haus (awesome 60's parties). The University in Freiburg hosted some great social events, including an African dance party.

In what way do you feel your experience abroad has prepared you for your future career? (Think both tangible things like language acquisition and intangible like learning to work with people who are very different from you)

In the future, I hope to be working with international communities of color and other marginalized communities. Hence, it was crucial for me to go abroad and find ways to connect with such communities even when I had no background knowledge. My experience abroad really prepared me by allowing me to engage with communities different from my own, by learning more about the international struggles of marginalized communities, and by seeing ways in which institutions are trying to combat these problems.

Would you recommend the program you went on, if so why??

If you're in Europe, travel cheaply by using Ryanair and Easy Jet! I also used carpooling as a means to get from one place to another. This one time, I paid 7 euros to travel from Paris to the southern parts of Germany -- and I met some really cool people along the way!

What advice do you have for students thinking about study abroad?

Do not let finances keep you from studying abroad. There are tons of scholarships you can apply to, you can create a GoFundMe, you can ask your school's alumni and peers to invest on your trip, you can talk to your professors, etc. There are so many ways to finance your time abroad. Once you're there, budget your expenses and do not overspend!

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

If you're interested about what I ate, what I saw, and what I experienced abroad, check out my blog!

Authored by: Sergio Rodriguez

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