Never Say Never: Studying Abroad (by Janelle Zukowsi)

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First Entries of a New Blog: Never Say Never: Studying Abroad – Fears, Benefits & Programs

Personal Bio

Hola a todos! My name is Janelle however after having my name pronounced as “ha-nay-yay” by Spanish speakers in foreign lands, I go by Nelle. I have been living in foreign countries since I was 18. I moved to Spain with a minimal amount of knowledge of Mexican Spanish to be told when I arrived that almost none of it could be used in Spain. After my year as a Rotary Youth Exchange student there I returned to the States to attend Portland State University. I fell in love with Oregon (being a native Washingtonian) but it didn’t scratch my itch to travel. So, in 2010 I set off for South America and landed in Argentina. Since then, I’ve traveled and volunteered my way up to Panama. I currently teach English and attend college online in Panama City, Panama. I’ve visited over 20 countries and I plan to add almost all of Central America to that list this spring! I consider myself well informed in ways to work, volunteer and study abroad. This blog serves to inform people who are considering exploring or studying abroad and for their parents to have first hand information based on personal experience and compiled research. If you have any specific questions feel free to write me. I love to pay it forward and help others learn about different programs, solutions to common fears and about the endless amounts of benefits of going abroad!


Have No Fear! The Choice to Study Abroad Is Clear!
Studying abroad is one of the most exciting, possibly one of the scariest and definitely one of the most rewarding endeavors someone can experience.  If you are reading this blog, then you have taken the first step to making your dream of exploring the world come true! In order to ensure complete happiness and success, it’s imperative to research available programs and make an educated decision on which will best suite your preferences. Reading up on others’ experiences is also a key element in ensuring the success of your experience abroad. This blog’s purpose is to sooth your fears and build knowledge in what to expect and how to prepare yourself for a beautiful life-changing experience.

Studying abroad isn’t just scary for the student – it’s equally, if not scarier, for the parent. My father was quite skeptical and nervous about my choice to study abroad. It wasn’t until he traveled abroad for the first time in his life and saw me integrated into the culture in Madrid, speaking Spanish, and successfully navigating the city that he expressed his approval. He confessed he didn’t understand the benefits of what going abroad could bring and that his fears had finally been soothed. It’s likely my dad shared the same fears as many other parents, such as:

1. Losing Touch.

Roger Jenkins, Dean of Admissions at the Farmer School of Business, expressed that, “[It’s] easier than ever to study abroad” (Jenkins, “International Travel with an Academic Purpose–A Necessity for Business Education”). More and more programs exist and more students are beginning to take advantage of such opportunities. We live in an incredibly technologically advanced world and sometimes our generation even uses the technology to keep in touch with people in the same room!

Skype is the greatest way to sooth one’s longing to see a loved one. It is a program to video chat with people in different parts of the world. A good internet connection, web cam, and the program downloaded onto one’s computer are all that is needed to connect with loved ones whenever, wherever. And the best part, it’s FREE!

Fear: Losing touch
Resolution: Skype!

2. The Price.

A student can choose a program that lasts from a couple weeks to a full academic year in order to accommodate all budgets. Financial aid from colleges in the US can be applied to most study abroad programs and even full ride scholarships, like the Fulbright Scholarship, can be awarded. Some universities, like Arcadia University of Glenside, Pennsylvania even offer deals like a $1500 deduction from tuition and free airfare to study abroad (Wilhelm, “For A Growing Number Of Freshmen, Packing For College Requires A Passport”). Studying abroad is becoming more affordable and more common than ever!

Check out the full ride scholarship:

Fear: The price – it’s too expensive!
Resolution: Apply for scholarships. Remember, tuition applies to study abroad programs and some schools offer free airfare.

3. The Application Process.

The daunting application process can deter potential international students, but rest assured – it all pays off! The application process to become a Rotary Youth Exchange student was thorough when I applied; medical and dental records, letters of reference, essays submissions, and two interviews. In my second interview I was asked the 3 branches of the US government. My heart sank, my palms began to sweat. “No….this can’t be happening to me!” I thought, I couldn’t remember the third. Judicial, Legislative and….I smiled and openly admitted to not knowing. This served as the first of many lessons I learned from the studying abroad experience; being honest was the best way to deal with uncomfortable and new situations.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I got a phone call on my parents’ home phone (remember those?). I sat down on the stairs and stared off into space as I spoke with the Rotarian. He said congratulations and my heart and stomach began fluttering with joy. I hung up with him and screamed for my mom. She looked at me with worried eyes at the top of the stairs as I bolted up them two at a time. We hugged and for the first time in my life I cried tears of joy. My mother, being a mom, started to cry too because we both knew what lied ahead was going to be hard but also immeasurably rewarding.

Fear: The long, scary application process
Resolution: Be honest. Also, its great practice for future employment might as well start early!

4. Hardships.

Hardships will be encountered despite gender, race, ethnicity, religion or personal preferences. It is an unavoidable part of studying abroad, but as most adults know, life’s hardships build character. Being from the States, I wasn’t used to anyone talking about weight unless someone had lost some (even then, we North Americans have a specific way of going about it as to not offend anyone). Well, gaining weight is a pretty common occurrence for students who study abroad. It’s not the end of the world and it can be controlled with self-will, something I did not possess at 18 years old. I had fallen in madly in love with some Spanish cookies. Also, my host father who was a chef shared his country’s culture with me through food. Inevitably, I gained weight.

In Spain, it is considered rude not to finish all the food on one’s plate. So even though I didn’t dish out my own portions, I was held to this standard. My host father encouraged me to abide by this custom, but he also teased me about my weight gain! For how much I had come to care about him, I couldn’t understand why he was being so rude. However with time I came to the realization that in his culture what he was doing wasn’t rude, it was just different from what I was used to. I began to analyze why I was so offended by his honesty. It wasn’t because I condone lying, it was because my culture doesn’t consider talking about weight gain, politics or religion polite. Presented with the opportunity to open up to understanding a new culture I was able to analyze how my own culture had shaped me. The best mantra Rotary taught me was, “It’s not better nor worse, just different.”  This saying is something ALL potential international students should learn to live by!

Fear: Hardships
Resolution: Hardships are to be expected anywhere in the world – make the ones you encounter interesting by experiencing them abroad!

5. Culture Shock.

Culture shock is a worrisome aspect of going abroad, but what can you expect when you are torn away from a familiar place with the goal of settling down in a place that is completely unknown? It will take time to get used to – so, give it time. Focus on the positives and try to understand the negatives as being just different, not negative. The experience of choosing to stay in a place, even if it’s difficult or confusing builds self-reliability, a positive attitude and an open-minded perspective on the world and its people.

Fear: Culture Shock
Resolution: Focus on the positive and try to understand why you perceive things as negative – you might be surprised, they aren’t actually negative when you open up your mind.

6. Safety.

Of course, safety is a concern. Studying abroad organizations like the Rotary Youth Exchange program are in close contact with host country organizations to ensure the best and safest experience for students studying abroad. Study abroad coordinators are in close contact with students and have students’ safety in mind at all times. Consistent contact and updates are common in study abroad programs, in addition to a presentation after the entire experience is over. Rest assured everyone involved in studying abroad wants students to be safe and have a positive experience.

What about the safety of other countries? Even though most countries do not have the same standard of safety as the United States it doesn’t mean all countries are so unsafe that they shouldn’t be explored. Be smart and stay informed. I successfully skirted next to the Darian Gap on boat and had no problems because I talked to locals and researched about how people had done it before me.

Keep up with local news of the foreign country to learn about potential protests or dangers. Talk to locals about where it is okay to go out alone, and what neighborhoods should be avoided. Be social because there is strength in numbers! All of these lessons will be learned naturally by the student studying abroad and they will benefit the student for the rest of their lives.

In my experience from living abroad for three years it’s just as scary walking around late at night in a bad neighborhood in the States as it is to walk around an unknown neighborhood abroad. I have found that American media can send hegemonic messages, “…[they] reproduce only those ideas, meanings, and values that uphold the interest of the power elite and that they silence opposing views” (Trenholm, “Thinking through Communication”). So, what we see and hear on the news isn’t the way things actually are; different countries aren’t as dangerous, scary and different from our own as we might think. We are more similar to other countries than we know 🙂

Fear: Safety
Resolution: Keep up with local news abroad, there is power in numbers so hang out with people to ensure safety and rest assured that not all foreign countries are actually all that more dangerous than back home.


Why Study Abroad?
Now that fears have been soothed, possibly a bigger and more important question is:

“How will this benefit the student?”

Many students who have studied or explored abroad promote and believe in it’s lasting benefits. Professor Richard Black of Sussix University explained that, “Research has shown that even a 12-week work programme abroad can enhance employability” (Boersma, “Time Spent Travelling Is Far from Wasted”). In addition to increasing job opportunities, studying abroad improves personal and academic confidence and global understanding. It enhances one’s resume, creates opportunities to acquire a new language and to build cross cultural connections.

Ian Wilhelm, author of “For A Growing Number of Freshmen, Packing for College Requires a Passport” wrote, “…international experience generally increases the confidence of any student, both academically and socially.” One of the most interesting aspects of studying abroad is interaction with new people, in a new place and sometimes in a new language. The process of acquiring a new language and building lasting friendships through studying abroad have been the most gratifying experiences I’ve had in my life. My experience in a different culture has allowed me to explore and understand myself at a deeper level which has led me to a more profound appreciation as to who I really am. I took Spanish lessons, learned new words through conversation and I was constantly referring to my notes to improve. I found the most useful study strategies for me because I needed to know how to communicate with those around me. From the knowledge I acquired from this experience I, like so many others before me, have become a more confident person and student.

Benefit: Academic and social confidence

Students who study abroad will be put in a new environment with students from different parts of the country or world. They will learn how to communicate effectively with them in spite of their differences and they will discover new cultures, people and ideas. I had the honor of attending the Dutch Rotary Youth Exchange Euro-trip in 2007 with approximately 30 students from all over the world including Bank from Thailand, Russell from New Zealand, Bea from Mexico and Sanvir from South Africa. We all had different stories, upbringings, customs, and traditions, but we formed tighter bonds than anyone could have imagined and we stay in contact to this day even though it’s six years later. After bonding with people from all over the world, one begins to realize that we actually have so much more in common than is commonly thought. This realization comes to many students who go abroad, and has created globally aware young citizens of the world. What a tremendous title to behold at such a young age, right?

Benefits: Global understanding, opportunity to make cross cultural connections, and enhanced, diverse communications skill development.

Students can choose to challenge themselves even further by studying abroad in a country where a different language is spoken. Professor Black of Sussex University claims that foreign language proficiency can increase employability (Boersma,”Time Spent Travelling Is Far from Wasted”). I have been able to use Spanish with co-workers, customers and community members in the U.S. I also started a non-profit bilingual yoga class in Portland to reach out to the Hispanic community and to those who wanted to practice yoga and Spanish comprehension simultaneously. That’s quite a few job opportunities due to my knowledge of Spanish for a 20 something year old! With the huge influence of Spanish in the United States, bilingualism has become a great skill to have in almost any kind of job. Not only does bilingualism help increase employability in the United States, but it also can open up the opportunity to work abroad.

Benefit: Acquire a second language to increase employability

In 2010 I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina where I was employed as a bilingual phone operator for a food delivery service, the content editor of a bilingual English language learning program, and as an English as a Foreign Language teacher. I am proud I have been able to have jobs because of my knowledge of a second language and my experiences prove it is a great skill to have as a potential employee in the States or to pursue jobs internationally.

Benefit: Acquire a second language to work abroad

For a better idea of what my bilingual jobs entailed, here’s the link to the app for the English language learning program I worked with in English and Spanish. Check the credits for my name!

This is the bilingual operating company I worked for in Buenos Aires:

There are a plethora of options to work abroad which I will cover in a different post!

Proficiency in a second language and studying abroad create an ideal employee for international business. Roger L. Jenkins stated, “Travel with an academic purpose is no longer a frill, something to round out an affluent student’s education. It is a necessity, especially for our business students, whom we are preparing to lead organizations in a world without borders” (Jenkins, “International Travel with an Academic Purpose–A Necessity for Business Education”) Technology and the current lack of physical barriers in communication makes employees who have knowledge of other cultures, languages and customs increasingly desired. “[It] prepares [students] for [the] global market” proclaimed Alayna Gaines, author of “Passport to Knowledge.” A globally aware employee can properly communicate and work with a variety of people responsibly because they have already had a global experience. My friend Maristela is a Brazilian salesperson who works for a Venezuelan company in Panama. She converses in Spanish and English at work and in Portuguese with family and close friends. Maristela’s and my experiences prove that there are a variety of opportunities to use a second language in almost all jobs in today’s global job market.

Benefit: Global market experience

My experiences traveling, studying and working abroad have built my resume to truly reflect the diverse skills I possess. I’ve had several kinds of jobs in different cultures and sometimes in different languages which have shaped me into a well-rounded, responsible, and unique employee. Almost all employers look for diversity and interesting endeavors and experiences on a person’s resume. “Many employers are looking for an appetite for cross-border assignments from all employees and demonstrating an early capacity to do this can be very beneficial.” (Boersma, “Time Spent Travelling Is Far from Wasted”) In our current economic hardship, these experiences can make one’s resume stand out from the bunch!

Benefit: Build your resume


How to Study Abroad!

I spent a year studying abroad as a foreign exchange student in Madrid, Spain. I took a gap year, which is when a student has finished his/her secondary diploma and takes a year to work, study or volunteer most commonly abroad. Gap years have been widely advertised and accepted in Britain and other cultures. A Financial Times article focused on Sussex University’s study abroad opportunities affirmed, “Huge rises in student fees and an uncertain jobs market are making youngsters and employers question the wisdom and long-term value of taking a gap year between school and university.” (Boersma, “Time Spent Travelling Is Far from Wasted.”) Even the most prestigious university in the USA, (you guessed it) Harvard, encourages newly admitted freshman to defer enrollment to experience life before continuing their education. Harvard students who have deferred enrollment to volunteer, work, or travel have said their year was “life-altering” and “[they] feel its full value can never be measured and will pay dividends the rest of their lives” (qtd in Fitzsimmons et al.). Gap years have been known to create more focused students with an “…edge in a competitive job market” (Mohn, “Real World Advantages of a Gap Year). No wonder Harvard promotes it and their students are so successful!

There are many programs and ways to explore and learn abroad that aren’t connected to schools. The Rotary Youth Exchange Program is not only offered to teenagers in high school, but students who have just graduated from high school may also participate. All four teenagers that were chosen from my Rotary club were recent high school graduates who decided to take part in the gap year experience. The truth is, after my year abroad I was more excited about learning in a classroom in my OWN language at college. I was motivated, driven and refreshed after my year abroad.

The Council of International Education Exchange non-profit organization is another great resource for not only studying abroad, but also working and volunteering.

There is also the option of doing more time abroad than just a semester or year. I have been compiling information about American universities abroad and found this great resource! I plan to apply for some of these universities this spring in hopes of attending an American university in Europe next fall! More about my experience with this to come in the near future 🙂


Works Cited

Fitzsimmons, William. Marlyn E. McGrath and Charles Ducey. “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next             Generation.” Harvard College. Office of Admissions. 2000 – Revised 2011. Np. Nd. Web.             28 Oct. 2012

Gaines, Alayna A. “Passport to Knowledge.” New Crisis (15591603) 108.5 (2001): 38. Professional             Development Collection. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.

Jenkins, Roger L. “International Travel with an Academic Purpose–a Necessity for Business             Education.” American Journal of Business Fall 2010: 7+. Academic OneFile. Web. 19 Nov.             2012.

Mohn, Tanya. “The Real World Advantages of a Gap Year.” Make It Better. N.p., April 2010. Web.             27 Nov. 2012.

Trenholm, S. (2011) Thinking Through Communication. USA: Pearson. Pg. 289

Wilhelm, Ian. “For a Growing Number of Freshmen, Packing for College Requires a Passport.”             Chronicle Of Higher Education 59.2 (2012): 35. Professional Development Collection. Web.             19 Nov. 2012.



Boersma, Maxine. “Time Spent Travelling Is Far from Wasted” Financial Times. N.p., 15 Nov. 2012.             Web. 19 Nov. 2012

Maxine Boersma told the story of young people who have worked abroad and how they believe their experiences will have lasting benefits. They have built their resumes, reference lists and many new professional relationships. There are many different ways to travel or work abroad, and with the current economic hardships, alternatives to them norm should be considered. It is also beneficial for the foreign organizations that receive international volunteers or workers.
I will use evidence of what can be gained and give examples of ways to work or volunteer abroad. This will help increase the credibility of writing about what I have experienced and gained. By having others testimonials from volunteers to interns, my argument will be much stronger.

Gaines, Alayna A. “Passport to Knowledge.” New Crisis (15591603) 108.5 (2001): 38. MasterFILE             Premier. EBSCOhost. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.

“Passport To Knowledge” focuses on the current increase of universities, like Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, that require all graduate students to study abroad. Alayna Gaines said, “[It] prepares [students] for [the] global market.” It also focuses on the low number of African Americans who study abroad and how schools are working to increase these numbers. The more African Americans who study abroad, the more exposure the world will have to real African American culture, and not only what is expressed in the media. Hardships like racism, prejudice and preconceived ideas will be encountered by any gender or race. These experiences will give people a true perspective of the world and the real way cultures perceive each other which will improve global understanding. I will use this evidence to express the benefits of overcoming the hardships encountered in being abroad. These hardships create stronger, more independent and confident people which increases their maturity, employability and experience.

Jenkins, Roger L. “International Travel with an Academic Purpose–A Necessity for Business             Education.” American Journal of Business Fall 2010: 7+. Academic OneFile. Web. 19 Nov.             2012.

Roger Jenkins expressed that, “[It’s] easier than ever” to study abroad. International study is no longer just for fun, and it benefits the dream of a future borderless business market. Going abroad forces individuals to learn navigation, responsibility, languages, transportation systems, and about new cultures and ways of living. These lessons learned will create self-reliant, mature leaders. Nowadays, students and faculty are gaining a better understanding of the global perspective from their exposure to international travel. After learning more about it, students had expressed that the expense is what deters many from going abroad. However, despite the price, it is important for parents to be informed about the endless benefits of studying abroad, so students can have a life changing experience. I can use this information to touch on the fact that it’s an ideal alternative to spending so much money on a college education without the guarantee of a job in our current economy. The dean of the Farmer School of Business wrote the article, therefore it will have some credibility backed by my personal experience and lists of the benefits gained from going abroad.

Wilhelm, Ian. “For A Growing Number Of Freshmen, Packing for College Requires a Passport. ”             Chronicle Of Higher Education 59.2 (2012): 35. Professional Development Collection. Web.             19 Nov. 2012.

Ian Wilhelm wrote that universities also benefit from students going abroad. Some universities, like New York University, require students to go to China or Europe. This requirement increases the amount of students enrolled at the university but does not require the campus size or facilities to increase. Studying abroad can appeal to many students because Programs can last from a couple of weeks to a school year. To inspire students to study abroad, universities like Arcadia University have given $1500 discounts in tuition and free air fare. These programs make students more confident academically and socially. I will use this information to promote the idea of free or discounted travel through scholarships or programs like the Rotary Foreign Exchange student program or the Fulbright Scholarship. I was a Rotary Foreign Exchange student, and my parents and I can vouch for the huge impact it had on my young adult life and character.


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