Take Your Education Overseas: The Benefits of Study Abroad
By Sarah Alexander
You don’t need to be an international relations major to benefit from studying abroad. As Adelphi students Melody Yeung, Nina Wakely, Gina Kurian and Dianne Doytchinov can attest, studying overseas is transformational.
Shannon Harrison, the director of Adelphi’s Study Abroad Program, has been helping students access this opportunity since 2015. Previously she worked at the Institute of International Education and has had many international experiences herself, spending time in Venezuela, Mexico, Spain, Peru and Japan. “When you study abroad you are completely removed from your comfort zone,” Harrison said, “and you need to operate in an environment that is very different from what you're used to.”
The value of the experience, she said, is that it requires you to reflect on your own life and your own culture you may take for granted. We grow up without questioning our own cultural handbook, so when taken out of our cultural context, we are forced to rethink the values we took for granted. “Study abroad provides empathy and an understanding that is so critical for just being able to communicate and live with other people,” Harrison said. She believes this cultural understanding and empathy to be a pathway toward global peace.
Impressions of Kenya
Adelphi works closely with several programs to provide a wide range of opportunities in many countries. Melody Yeung is a senior nursing major who spent most of this past January at The Caroline School in Wangige, Kenya. This rural school has 150 students from kindergarten to eighth grade, as well as a mini farm with rabbits, duck, chickens and a vegetable garden. As a nursing student, she delivered lessons about the importance of hygiene.
“I feel like going into the trip I came back a totally different person because I realized how little they have and how grateful they are for what they have,” said Yeung. On one occasion she planned a lesson that required the students to draw a picture with crayons, assuming that, like American students, every child would have a set. Yeung was surprised to find the school had only two sets of crayons to be shared by all 150 students. She had to eke out the small supply by breaking crayons in half and passing the bits around.
Another contrast that took Yeung by surprise was the children’s hospitality. They were excited to welcome her—holding her hand and giving hugs even though she was a stranger. Sunburned in the strong African sun and exhausted by the draining heat, Yeung marveled at how the children exuded energy and optimism, running around all day with hardly a drink of water.
During the trip Yeung also witnessed Kenyan wildlife when she visited a giraffe center and an elephant orphanage and joined a safari where she saw lions, rhinos, buffalo, hippos, monkeys and ostriches.
But a trip to one of Wangigi’s health clinics saddened her. Understaffed and under-resourced the clinic could hardly serve the needs of its patients adequately, many of whom had to wait long hours in the hot sun to be seen. Lacking health insurance, many patients could not afford the treatments prescribed and found they had made the trip for nothing. Others learned the treatment they needed was not available. “I want to become a nurse,” Yeung said, “and this experience really helped me because I feel like it made me more compassionate towards other people.”
Italian Education Lessons
Yeung was not the only Adelphi student abroad in January. Nina Wakely and Gina Kurian, both in Adelphi’s Scholar Teacher Education Program (STEP), spent three weeks in Italy exploring the differences between the Italian and American educational systems as part of a course called “Following the Footsteps of Italian Educational Thinkers.” Like Yeung, they too created a series of interactive lesson plans and delivered these in a nursery, elementary, middle and high school in Florence.
Both Wakely and Kurian were amazed by the children’s enthusiasm for learning. Italian children seem to view education far more positively than American students and experience less pressure from state standards and testing. Kurian recalled the eagerness with which the high school students from Liceo Scientifico toured them through the “National Archaeological Museum” to learn about Italian history. Seeing the students’ enthusiasm for learning reinforced Wakely’s confidence in her decision to be a teacher.
Wakely was also surprised by the laid-back culture. During the last few days of the trip she and her fellow Adelphians tried to go back to their favorite panini place three times, only to find it closed every time. When they asked the shop owner next door, he said the owner didn’t feel like working because it was raining and business would be slow.
“In Italy they are so much more relaxed and happier, and in a way appreciate life more,” Wakely said. “Like they take in those moments of life that often in the US that I feel like we miss because we are so focused on money and business.”
Kurian agreed. “They understand the value of time and making meaningful moments rather than rushing through things just to check it off the list.”
In addition to teaching in Florence, the students had a chance to travel around Italy—seeing the Colosseum in Rome, the streets of Naples and the leaning tower in Pisa. They took a cooking class in Tuscania and made pasta from scratch, mixing flour and eggs into a dough before putting it through a pasta machine. Pompeii, Venice and Milan were also on the itinerary.
“It was the best time of my life,” Wakely said. The Colosseum, Pantheon and Trevi Fountain— “that stuff I learned about in history in high school, I was like wow this is something I used to read about in a textbook and now I’m seeing it in front of my eyes…it's truly breathtaking.”
By coincidence they visited the Vatican on the day of Pope Benedict’s funeral and experienced history being made.
Both students said the experience made them more independent, confident and well-rounded, and it changed the way they think about their chosen profession. Kurian said she will be a more relaxed teacher, as she now understands that quality teaching is more important than accomplishing the whole lesson plan before the end of the period.
“Just taking a deep dive into such an unfamiliar situation,” Wakely said, “and immersing myself in a new culture with new faces, new people, was amazing because…one day when I am a teacher, I’ll have my own classroom. I’ll be dealing with so many different cultures and such diversity in my classroom, so to put myself in this place that had a different culture from what I’m used to was so cool.”
Kurian said that it was very interesting to see a different world view. “You can read so many books to learn about other ways of living, but until you fully immerse yourself in a different culture, it’s lacking.”
Wakely added, “Things I learned freshman year I don’t remember. I don’t remember those exact lectures or papers I wrote, but what I learned and saw on this trip is something that I will remember forever.”
Both Kurian and Wakely’s trip to Italy and Yeung’s experience in Kenya were part of faculty-led programs that Harrison said will be offered again in 2024. Fall in Australia
While faculty-led trips are incredible, they can be exhausting from cramming so much into a short time. If you are looking for a more relaxed experience, you could try to study abroad for a semester. Dianne Doytchinov, a biology major and pre-med student at Adelphi, spent all the fall 2022 semester at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia.
At first Doytchinov was nervous about the kangaroos that roamed freely on the university campus, but once she realized they were harmless she found them docile and entertaining—they chased birds. Doytchinov took marine biology, human anatomy and genetics. As part of her course work she went on a two-day whale watching trip to Hervey Bay, to record the behavior of migrating hump backs.
She struggled with homesickness for only the first few days before finding a great group of friends with whom she quickly became close. Soon after she arrived, she needed a place to stay and a girl from her class offered to put her up even though she was still virtually a stranger.
“Here [in America] we are pushed to be good on our own…never ask for help,” Doytchinov said, “which is not necessarily a healthy thing. Over there I know I can depend on my friends, and if I ask them to help me with something, I know they will support me in whatever way they can, without that feeling that you are infringing on the boundaries of the friendship.” In the U.S., she said, she often feels guilty for asking a friend for help, afraid she is an inconvenience—not so in Australia. Her new friends continually assured her she was no bother, because a friend is a friend.
Doytchinov also got a chance to tour Australia, snorkeling in Cairns, watching the “Phantom of the Opera” in Melbourne, and celebrating the New Year with fireworks at the Sydney Opera House. But to Doytchinov the real value of the trip was not the tourism, but the time she spent with her new friends immersing herself in Australian culture.
“When you let go of the tourist mindset, you are more focused on spending valuable time with the people you meet rather than, ‘I went to this place, I took a photo with the thing everyone takes a photo with,’ because after I got close to my friends, they would take me to ‘their’ spots, the sites they think people should see. And you would get a local’s experience rather than just the regular tourist experience.”
Because she went for an entire semester, she had the chance to “put down roots.” Her daily schedule included going to classes, then coming home and cooking before working on her assignments, often ending the day with watching a movie with her friends. By immersing herself for a longer period of time she was able to get a true picture of how many Australians live.
Recalling camping out in September under a canopy of brilliant stars, Doytchinov said she felt a sense of freedom there she had never experienced before. She is still “in shock” at Australia’s beauty—its beaches, sunsets, animals and vivid-colored birds.
Like the other students who studied abroad, Doytchinov said she gained confidence and independence through the experience. When you have to plan things for yourself, shop, cook and budget for yourself it affords you a “big sense of independence.”
Confidence and independence are universally acknowledged as two key benefits of study abroad. Harrison believes this is why a trip overseas is so transformational. “Even a very simple, short-term study abroad experience…just having that feeling of being outside your comfort zone where everything is different and having to navigate, would give anybody in any profession a step up,” she said.
Wakely advises: “If you have the opportunity and resources to study abroad….Do it! It’s worth it!”
Want to Study Abroad?
Students have the option to study abroad for a year, semester or on short-term programs, including one- to three-week faculty-led programs. To find a program that’s right for you, visit study-abroad.adelphi.edu for a full list of the current programs available. In addition, here are five steps from Shannon Harrison, the director of Adelphi’s Study Abroad Program, to get you started:
1. Plan Ahead. At least one semester before you plan to study abroad, contact the Center for International Education and attend a group advisement session.
Contact the Center for International Education in Post Hall, 200 or at firstname.lastname@example.org; 516-877-3487; study-abroad.adelphi.edu.
2. Understand Your Limitations. Make sure you have a good understanding of your degree audit. Know what courses your major requires and if you may be limited to a program that offers those courses. Also be aware of any financial limitations you may have. Adelphi does its best to make study abroad accessible to everyone.
Students who study abroad for a full semester can keep their Adelphi scholarships during that time.
The Center for International Education has a new initiative making faculty-led programs more financially accessible to all students and will not offer any programs that cost more than $5,000 in program fees.
The Gilman Scholarship is a great opportunity for students who have a Pell grant.
Many study abroad programs have scholarships that students are able to apply for, such as the Frederick Douglass Global Fellowship.
There are lots of different program options for lots of different budgets. Students with limited funds can also consider studying in smaller cities and in regions that tend to be less expensive.
3. Acquire Your Course Equivalencies. Set up an appointment with your academic advisor and the Center for International Education to make certain the credit from the courses you plan to take abroad will transfer back to Adelphi.
4. Apply. Visit study-abroad.adelphi.edu to apply. You must fill out Adelphi’s online study abroad application, as well as the application for the program you choose. Don’t hesitate to reach out to the Center for International Education to help you through this process.
5. Begin the Logistics. Once you have been accepted to a program, start preparing to travel. Make sure you obtain:
International health insurance
An international cell phone plan
Money in the local currency
Appropriate clothing for the climate you will be in
Then get prepared to have an experience of a lifetime!