By Lauren Katalinich
The decision to study abroad is a difficult one for many people. The idea of leaving friends and family behind for a semester or an entire year, along with the challenges of language barriers and living with host families, can be just a little bit frightening for even the most adventurous of students. These apprehensions were a few of the reasons Ashlee Baeten, an international studies and geography major and native of Shaumburg, IL, chose to start small with study abroad and first test the waters on several short-term programs.
The first was a three-week program in Italy. Ashlee spent the summer after her first year here at Iowa exploring Florence and taking a class on world literature and film with a UI professor, which earned her UI resident credit and fulfilled a general education requirement. That same summer, she set off for a second program in Tanzania where she studied history, culture, development, and Swahili in Dar es Salaam. The next year, Ashlee participated in a winter break volunteer program that took her to Xela, Guatemala, where she worked at a local orphanage.
Ashlee says these experiences were perfect for giving her a taste of study abroad and earning academic credit over breaks which allowed her to graduate in just three and a half years in December 2013.
"It was great that I didn't have to commit to going anywhere for a whole semester," Ashlee explains. "I got to explore three different continents and had three totally different experiences as a freshman and sophomore. I was definitely able to make a more informed decision about where I wanted to spend four months as a junior."
After her short-term programs, Ashlee knew she wanted to go abroad for a semester to immerse herself in a culture for a longer amount of time. She said that while short-term programs are very meaningful in their own way, the longer time a student spends in a country, especially one very different from the U.S., the more they are forced to adapt and learn about the culture.
"Sometimes when you travel somewhere for a short amount of time, it's easy to view a place in this highly romanticized and unrealistic way," says Ashlee. "A lot of time you end up seeing what you expect to see because you aren't there long enough to be challenged by the cultural differences or to begin to understand the idiosyncrasies of the culture."
In the end, Ashlee chose to study for a semester in Ecuador with the goal of deepening her understanding of international development and improving her Spanish. Living with a host family who spoke minimal English, which forced Ashlee to communicate all of her thoughts, feelings, and day-to-day concerns in Spanish, was one of the most transformative aspects of her experience, she says. It was something that couldn’t be achieved in just three weeks, but it was her previous programs that had given her the confidence to make that step.
Ashlee and other past program participants will be on hand at the second-annual spring Study Abroad Fair to share information on the many short-term, faculty-led programs that the University of Iowa offers over the summer and winter breaks. Study Abroad advisors and faculty program directors will also be present to answer student questions about specific programs, financial aid, and available scholarships. Join us on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2013, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the University Capitol Centre, second floor to discover the study abroad program that fits you and your goals best. Tweet or post photos using #uiabroadfair to let us know you're there!
For more information on the fair, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about study abroad at http://international.uiowa.edu/study-abroad.