Thoughts on Study Abroad

from the Student Perspective - Scotland

Michelle Lewis, a current student at Greenville Technical College and participant in the 2011 Scotland trip described the positive effect of study abroad on her life this way:

"The biggest part of this trip had to be the impact it has put on my future. I see things differently now. I see things from a whole new perspective. I came to realize there is more out there than just South Carolina or just the United States. I came to the realization that I need to open my eyes and see the world. The great impact it has given me is the ability to now share my experience with my son so maybe one day he will explore and see the world from a different point of view."

from the Student Perspective - Morocco

Edith Gonzalez, a first generation college student at Greenville Technical College, participated in the study abroad program to Morocco in May, 2012.  Her trip was supported by a USIFL support grant to develop a Middle East focus at Greenville Technical College.

camels_from_Morocco It has been a year since a group of six students, including me, and four faculty members from Greenville Technical College traveled to Morocco on a short term study abroad program partially funded through USIFL grant funds. It was the first time I left home to spend 10 days exploring a completely different country, and what felt like, at times, a completely different world. We traveled through various cities and villages of Morocco, learning all about its people, food and history.

Growing up in a poor family in Mexico and without any higher education background, I never thought I would have the opportunity to attend college, much less travel and explore another country in the other side of the world. At age nineteen I had the great opportunity to do both, which changed my life and made my family proud. It also inspired my younger brother and cousins to get a college education.

This program literally opened my eyes to the world and it has helped me understand the Islamic religion and views about the world. At the same time it has helped me see that even thought we dress, talk and think differently, we are all humans so there is no reason to fight or judge each other because no one is better; we are just different. One group member is quoted as saying, “This trip was educational and helped me gain a different perspective on many things, including the USA, Arab countries and the Islamic faith.”

Like my fellow group member, without this program, I would not have understood many things: to see that diversity is a positive force for good and that we should respect our differences, as well as the truths we all share. My participation has helped me understand that people should not judge others because of their religion or their opinion. Instead, we need to understand and try to see things from their view. As they say, true “education turns mirrors into windows.” Without this funding opportunity, I would have not been able to learn so much about a different country and also about the country I live in.

Everything was different when I came back. My view of the world was different and my desire to learn more about Morocco and the Middle East, as well as the Arabic culture was greater. On my return, I signed up to learn Arabic, a language that was so different from Spanish and English. I started learning and understanding more about the Islamic religion. Today, one year later, I am still in contact with the friends I made there and I’m still learning by discussing the differences and similarities of our worlds, always trying to understand and respecting each other’s views. I have learned that there is a big world out there and that there are a lot of opportunities to explore it and learn from it.

This trip made me want to learn more about the religion, cultures and problems in Morocco and other places in the world. But it didn’t only impact my life, but my family too. After being introduced to different beliefs and lifestyles, I had been able to use what I have learned to somehow educate my family and friends about the Islamic faith and make them understand that learning about our differences will bring us closer; that we are not so different after all. All I have to say is Shukran (thank you in Arabic) to USIFL programs and the funding opportunities that helped me gain confidence and affected not only my life deeply, but my family and my classmates.

from the Student Perspective - Florence

 by Loretta G. Barker LorettaBarker

To settle on one amazing aspect of Florence, Italy is impossible. There is a reason they call it la dolce vita (the good life) and do not narrow it down to one ingredient. This was a life-changing journey, from the moment we were warmly welcomed at the airport to the last tearful kiss goodbye on the centuries-old steps of an Italian palace.

Every morning I woke up in my cozy room at the Hotel Cellai, flung the window open, and drank in the sounds of the busy street below bustling with life. A fresh breeze would wave the curtains as the sounds of people chattering in Italian, German, English, and a myriad of other languages drifted up to my fourth story room. Bicycle bells clanged, Fiats zipped by, mopeds buzzed in and out of traffic, and delivery trucks rumbled and echoed loudly down the street. I loved hearing it all because it was such a part of the culture I was coming to love and admire.

Every day, we experienced the freshest ingredients from the San Lorenzo Market while working with culinary masters who are backed by generations of tradition, turning those ingredients into simple, unforgettable experiences around the table with new friends. Tender black pork with red onion marmalade, gnocchi rolled with pesto and love, tiramisu that would keep us up laughing and talking all night, seafood risotto that was light and creamy, and a sweet-tart lemon mousse that begged "pucker up and kiss me!" Each evening, after workshops and classes were done, the ristorantes and trattorias we entered presented new feasts for the senses.

One vibrant highlight was the day trip to Pienza and Montepulciano. To walk into a little cheese shop on the hillside in Pienza and breathe in aging Pecorino cheese and salami, to see friendly faces smiling and allowing me to become family for one brief day, to look out over the wall surrounding the town and see the pastoral hills that begged for exploration-I could only walk away when I promised myself that one day I would be back. From there, we traversed the countryside to Montepulciano. What an eye-opening experience to explore and learn from the wine masters at the Salcheto Winery. We stood in the wine cellars and breathed in the heady aroma of fermenting wine in oak barrels and finished our tour upstairs with gracious hospitality and the fruit of the noble grape.

No amount of time can erase these memories that have been preceded by centuries of Italian passion and culture. So, even as one plate of food can entice the senses, the Italian people have captured my whole heart. I will always be grateful and live la dolce vita because of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

from the Faculty Perspective

Cheryl Hawkins, Department Head, Mathematics participated in the Science and Spanish Immersion in Costa Rica, March 26 - May 3, 2010.

This spring I had the privilege of helping Dean of Arts and Sciences Patty Amick lead eight of Greenville Technical College's finest students on a 10-day Study Abroad trip to Costa Rica. Traveling with us were Professor Michael Battaglia, our expert biologist, and Mack Amick, Patty's husband, who unexpectedly had the opportunity to apply his skills as an RN more than once along the way.

I must admit that I am not completely unbiased when I say that we led eight of Greenville Technical College's finest students, since one of the students was my daughter, Meghan Hawkins. Traveling abroad together as mother and daughter made the experience all the more satisfying.

Cheryl and Meghan at Volcano PoasDuring our time in Costa Rica we experienced more excitement than we could have imagined. Each of us stayed with a host family in the town of Atenas. Few of the host families spoke English, and our students ranged from beginning Spanish students to native Spanish speakers. They were truly immersed in Spanish and also able to experience authentic Costa Rica cuisine and family life. It was amazing to see how quickly the students' ability to communicate in Spanish improved.

Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity and its emphasis on protecting the environment, and as a result all of us were immersed in science as well. We visited an old gold mine and swam in a pristine pool at the bottom of a beautiful waterfall. We visited organic and traditional coffee farms and studied the differences. We visited the Caribbean coast and walked the beach for two nights with scientists seeking to preserve the huge leatherback sea turtle, a species once close to extinction. We took a jungle tour, where we saw wildlife including caimans, crocodiles, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and numerous varieties of birds and reptiles. We visited the Pacific Coast for swimming and a zip-line tour through the rain forest canopy.

Meghan and I agree that our most rewarding experience in Costa Rica was visiting Volcano Poás, one of several active volcanoes in Costa Rica. Because of the smoke and fog, many native Costa Ricans visit Poás numerous times without ever seeing the main crater. We were fortunate to visit on a beautiful, clear day, and we saw it all. Because we were accompanied by a volcanologist from the University of Costa Rica, we were able to experience something that few non-scientists experience - we hiked to the rim of the volcano, where we not only learned much from our volcanologist friend but were also enthralled by his tales of working in and around volcanoes all over the world. His chosen career is one of the riskiest.

I wish that every college student could study abroad at least once. Studying abroad expands ones view of the world and its people. It brings new perspective to life.