Time Abroad: Fall 2008
Major: International Studies & Geography
My most memorable experience studying abroad was spending mornings harvesting rice in the paddies and then returning home with my host dad in the afternoon to watch and help him blacksmith. He could turn any amount of scrap metal into a machete or useful tool and the process was just incredible to watch. Not only was he a farmer, a blacksmith, and a cook, but he took amazing care of his disabled daughter, who was homebound. Although she could not speak, he would tell her about his day as he was making lunch for the two of them and feeding her.
The growth that you go through in your time outside of the United States is unforgettable. The way that you deal with frustrating or just strange situations will progress in the time that you are there. Looking back, you'll be able to laugh and remember those times your host mom showed you off to the neighbors and you had no idea what was going on, or the time you got lost and struggled to tell the taxi driver where to go. You'll also know the strength of the friendships you've formed with your classmates—that you can trust them with anything and share those common laughs about that one time, in Thailand...
On the other hand, if you don't have a passion to go, don't do it. Study abroad has been one of the best experiences of my life, but also the most challenging. You need the ability to retain a sense of self and your reasons for going even when you're frustrated because you don't understand the language, or the classes are different than you anticipated, or your host family's actions seem strange. So if you don't know those reasons, don't go—not only for yourself, but for the sake of those in your host country and on your program.
I could have learned about the environment and sustainable agriculture practices from the U.S. Some people might say, "Why do you need to go elsewhere to learn? You live in the most developed country in the world." But in Thailand, I learned from my host parents the way the pesticides from conventional farming affected their lives, and I saw systems and trends directly that are not as easily understood from reading a book. Those personal experiences help me remember clearly how a concept works at a depth I could not have received in any classroom. Coming back, I have been able to integrate that knowledge into the rest of my academic career at DU through my projects, essays, and even extracurriculars.