Student Reflection on Identity Abroad: Overcoming Challenges

Dear Prospective Study Abroad Student,

My name is Mary Harkleroad and I am an undergraduate biomedical engineering student here at the University of Iowa. I participated in the CIMBA program located in Northern Italy at the Istituto Filippin. I was the first person in my family to study abroad as well as being the first to attend college. Needless to say, my family and myself were very skeptical about studying abroad at first. College alone provides many financial and personal challenges but applying the same concepts and adding in a whole new country is difficult to wrap your mind around. But it doesn’t have to be.

At first, when I was talking to a fellow student about his study abroad experience, I automatically assumed that studying abroad would be too expensive to be a viable option. But it isn’t! Almost too late, I found out about all the amazing scholarships and grants available to students seeking to study abroad. Not only were there so many opportunities to help finance my study abroad trip, but it was even possible to have my entire trip financed.

Once we overcame the financial challenges of studying abroad, I focused on the personal challenges I was worried about. What if I’m struggling academically? What if I take the wrong train? What if I became lost? What if I need help? Who will be there for me? Lucky for me, I’m a student at the University of Iowa where they share my concerns.

While studying abroad, I was taught by knowledgeable and dedicated professors determined to make sure that I not only understand the material, but it also followed along with what I would have been taught if I had taken this course on campus. The University of Iowa also required me to complete a pre-departure course online that addresses safety and personal concerns to better prepare students before we left. Once I arrived, there were trained staff and even University of Iowa personnel there to help me should ever any situation arise. While studying abroad, I had a new and prepared support system that was by my side every step of the way.

Don’t get me wrong, I oversaw everything I wanted to do but knew they would help had I asked. For example, I planned my entire trip to the magnificent city of Rome. Seeing the amazing historical sites, such as the Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, and even visiting the Vatican, was such an amazing opportunity that I may have never been able to participate in had I not studied abroad. And that was only in one weekend! From the endearing small town of Asolo to the beautiful water ways of Venice, I could see and experience so much of the rich culture in Italy. What better way for me to spend my summer?

While I studied abroad, I was not only able to complete courses related to my specific major but I also felt I grew on a personal level, which really surprised me. Studying abroad has better prepared me for the obstacles life can present. In a whole new country, I was faced with challenges that were unpredictable such as language barriers, reading a map wrong, or even just a new opportunity. It was exciting and allowed me to become more confident in who I am and what I am capable of. Studying abroad really allowed me to step outside my comfort zone, which was an eye-opening experience that will forever be a part of me. By being exposed to a whole new world, both literally and figuratively, I could develop a whole new skill base by being put in situations that you don’t normally find yourself in. Studying abroad is full of a limitless amount of opportunities and experiences that it truly is what you make it. It’s time to take charge, get out of your comfort zone, and experience something new. What are you waiting for?

Best Wishes,

Mary Harkleroad

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