Let Your Book Be Your Passport

8 Oct

Who is up to the challenge of bringing their studies of different cultures to life?  If you are a college student who wants to learn and become immersed in the language and culture you enjoy, study abroad might be an option for you! There are scholarships provided at colleges and universities for students who meet the eligibility requirements. There are many scholarships out there for you to choose from, but you have to find which one fits you the best.

Many study abroad scholarships are offered in the beginning the fall semester of college where study abroad coordinators, instructors and students who have attained the scholarship and experienced traveling overseas hold information sessions in classes where they explain the scholarships available and share program experiences. I (Rima) was able to get in contact with these people to have a better insight into the study abroad program.

Each college has its own requirements and applications. One of the most important things one must have to participate in the study-abroad program is an outstanding GPA. Mr. Jackson_ a study-abroad coordinator has explained to me the decision making process he uses to decide who will receive the scholarship; “We will look at all applications, and usually will rank those who meet the requirement to move on in the scholarship determination process.  Often there are a couple of students who have really outstanding GPA’s or whose essay shows that they have researched the country to which they have applied, and are truly excellent candidates to study there.  Sometimes the student’s intended major fits well with the program in a certain country, and that is taken into account as well, although all of the programs in the target countries are fairly general in nature. There is an interview for students to participate in study abroad, and how a student’s interview response weigh in our decision to accept him or her into the study abroad program will be a deciding factor. It is often the case that each of the students who will be interviewed is an excellent student academically, have strong references, and have written solid essays.  In the interviews I try to determine the level of maturity in the students, as well as their ability to think on their feet, to express themselves clearly when speaking, their knowledge of the country or program for which they are applying, and their general level of self-confidence”. The decision comes down to a combination of strong academic skills, good references, a solid interview, and sometimes whether a program of study that would be directly related to the student’s major area of study


Irean by Irazú Volcano


Irean-a student, who has been helped by of Mr.Jackson at a community college in Chicago, has received the San Jose, Costa Rica scholarship. When I asked her for the reason of her application to studying abroad, her response was “at the beginning I wanted to learn the Spanish language from an original place. Costa Rica was also my choice for this scholarship because I have been notified by the media and many people that Costa Rica is a dangerous country and many people fear going there, so I wanted to see what they were talking about and face my fear”.

The ideas we consume from the media do not always accurately portray things the way that they truly are. This can discourage students from visiting particular places because of what they hear on the news and in the media.  Irean said: “it was completely different from what I have expected. Oh my God! It was so beautiful out there; of course we had our own schedule from before we left; we had school every day of the week, from 8:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m, but all the fun  starts after that and on the weekends. The family I was residing with for my whole five weeks were very nice. I still had to get along with my roommates that left with me from Chicago; we have different personalities which was the only complication. Otherwise; I felt completely safe and completely not how the media had been revealing to us”.

The best part of the experience for Christine (a student who was in the same program as Irean) was the activities. “We enjoyed our trip for the most part for all the attractions that were available to us; we had a mission of exploring things in Costa Rica. We went to museums. I got to see things I have never seen in real life like a volcano. That part was magical! For entertainment, we did everything you can possibly imagine.  We went skating, water rafting, zip-lining, bowling, and snorkeling/scuba-diving”.

Studying abroad gives students the chance to try new things and experience a whole new culture, while this is an amazing opportunity, there are always risks when traveling outside of the country. The study abroad programs that are offered at colleges in Chicago are reputable. The programs require that all students sign a waiver which indemnifies with the school, quoting Ms. Kumar (a study abroad coordinator) “Most of our programs are run through nationally-based study abroad programs, which have long standing track records of safety and security. We do not send students to countries which could in any way be risky. The student him/herself is the greatest determining factor as to the level of risks in any program, hence the advantage of a personal interview to determine the maturity level of the prospective student”. That is the best way to ensure the safety of the students studying abroad.

Advice from Nick from Loyola University, Chicago on his experience of traveling to Rome, “you can have fun when traveling, butto limits . There were students that have gone with me to Rome, and they were sent back because of their immature actions and they were screwed up because they were skipping classes to go spend time outside doing crazy stuff”. It is definitely an embarrassment to be sent home after getting the scholarship.

After coming home, the students are required to share their experiences with other students by giving lectures. The lectures consist of showing slides that include pictures of the places they have visited, the types of food they enjoyed eating, the experiences they had, and the cultural items they have purchased. Through their experience, the school and other students benefit as well, as explained by Ms. Kumar, “Those students serve as an inspiration to other students to excel academically so as to be able themselves to go abroad.  They return from the target country ready to speak about their experiences, and thus become themselves educators for other students and faculty.  Above all is simply the fact that students who are globally competent are better able to interact with others on all levels, and thus are first-rate ambassadors for the school”.

A good thing to remember when you are traveling abroad is that you are not only studying in that country, but learning about that country’s culture through their language, food, and styles of living.



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