Thursday, December 11, 2014

8 Things You Learn About Yourself While Abroad

For the last blog entry of the semester, I thought it would be great to talk about how much learning can happen while studying abroad. For this entry, I reached out to several of my friends who have studied abroad and asked them to tell me what they learned about themselves from their time abroad.  Here are nine things study abroad students said they learned about themselves from studying abroad:

1) From Kerry who studied abroad in Uruguay:

You learn about yourself in the sense you learn what things about you are "American" per se and other things you can easily let go to adapt to the new environment you're placed in. For example, something I really missed about the USA that I would say identified more to my life would be humor. I realized I'm way more sarcastic than most Latin Americans because they tend to be more sensitive. Now, on the other hand, with let's say music, or dancing, I was more than happy to not listen to english music for a whole semester and picked up on Uruguay style music in a heart beat. You leave to this new country thinking you're going to learn so much about the country but what you really end up learning more about is yourself! 

2) From Anna who studied abroad in Australia: 

I learned a lot about how other countries viewed Americans and how easily Americans get labeled when going abroad. I also learned to put a lot more faith in myself, that I can do things on my own and really how independent I can be!

3) From Kristin who studied abroad in Costa Rica:

I learned that I'm a lot more adventurous than I thought I was!  I also learned that I was much more able to adapt to different circumstances than I thought I would be.  I did not grow up camping or really spending much time outside, so as lame as it sounds, I was really nervous about bugs and anything related to nature, but I got really used to living in a house full of cockroaches and traipsing through the jungle for hours, it became my way of life, which was a cool transition to see happen.

4) From Callie who studied abroad in Australia: 

I learned that you’ll always find at least one person who likes you for you, so it’s pointless to hide in a shell you make for yourself. I also learned that traveling by yourself isn’t too scary and can actually be quite liberating.  It’s nice to be able to do what you want to do, so if you can’t find a travel buddy, don’t let that hold you back!

*The WIU Office of Study Abroad does not recommend traveling by yourself. If this is something you plan to do, check with your study abroad coordinator in your host country for safety tips or places to avoid. 

5) From Catherine who studied abroad in France:

I learned to enjoy spending time alone. In the US, I was constantly with friends/roommates/family. In France, I was in a single dorm room, and I had to find ways to entertain myself that didn't involve others. Some of my favorite memories of studying abroad involve wandering around Nantes by myself with no plan, no time constraint, and just myself for company.

6) From Stephanie who studied abroad in Australia:

About halfway through my semester abroad was the first time in my life that I was really homesick, which was unexpected. When I didn't have the option to go home on breaks or weekends, when just scheduling a Skype call was complicated because of the time difference, when I missed my little brother's high school finally resonated with me how much the people back home meant to me and that in spite of my stubborn independence, it's ok to need other people.  

7) From Katie who studied abroad in Spain: 

I would say that one of the biggest things I learned was not to take myself so seriously. I made tons of mistakes with the language and with the Spanish culture. At the beginning, it bothered me all the time, but eventually I just learned to take it in stride and move on, both learning from it and letting it go. This growth allowed me to truly enjoy my time in Spain and not get caught up in the little things

8) From Charlie who studied abroad in Australia: 

I learned just how much of a change can take place in a person's outlook during the course of a semester abroad. My close friend came with me to Australia, and during the first couple weeks she had convinced herself that she needed to buy a return ticket back to the states immediately. She persevered, and by the end of the semester, she didn't want to leave. She actually lives in Australia now!

What are you waiting for?? Come in to the Office of Study Abroad to start the process of a journey of a lifetime that allows you to learn so many different things about culture, school, and yourself! 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Career Benefits to Studying Abroad

View of Canberra, Australia from Mt. Ainslie Lookout

In todays diverse world, international experience is something that can really make you stand out to employers. How exactly does study abroad put a competitive edge on your application? Here are few things that make you stand out to employers because you studied abroad and a few things to keep in mind about your study abroad experience when job searching:

1) Knowledge of a Foreign Language: If you study in a country that speaks another language, you will come back to the US and have knowledge of a new language. With our diverse world, it is always great to have knowledge of a second language to make yourself stand out during internship or job searches.
2)  Cross-Cultural Interpersonal Skills: Learning how to interact and work with people who are different from you is another skill you will gain while studying abroad that will add a competitive edge to what you can offer a compnay. No matter where you go, you will be interacting with people from a different culture on a daily basis, and this will improve your interpersonal skills. Employers will love seeing that you have gained some experience interacting with different cultures!

3) Graduate School Applications: If you are looking into continuing your education after undergrad, studying abroad can help with those applications too! Graduate school admissions committees will see that you studied abroad and know that you gained a variety of skills while abroad such as adapting to an unfamiliar environment, learning from different teaching styles, communicating in diverse groups, and recognize you have a willingness to challenge yourself.

4) International Internships: Any work experience is valuable to a potential employer. An international internship or job can offer even more benefits and make you even more competitive to a potential employer than a domestic internship. These benefits include awareness of diverse business practices and customs, exposure to global issues facing your industry, and the opportunity to networks with professionals from across the world, just to name a few.

5) Flexibility and Adaptability: These are two skills employers will love to see! I have answered many interview questions regarding these skills by talking about my study abroad experiences. Situations will arise while abroad that require you to be flexible.  Being in a new environment and country requires extreme adaptability. Both of these skills will make employers happy and make you stand out in the job or internship search!

6) Putting Your Study Abroad Experience on Your Resume: Now that you have this awesome experience, its important to know how to market it to potential employers. Be sure to think about where to place it on your resume and what to include. Regardless of where you place it on your resume (under Education, International Experience, etc.), dont just put the program name, country, and dates you went. Let employers know why your experience is on there and what you learned! Some action verbs that might be useful to explain why study abroad is on your resume are adapted, immersed, lived, organized, overcame, translated, and visited. For more about how to include study abroad on your resume, check out and

Additional Resources:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Holidays Abroad

With the holiday season coming up, I thought it would be a good time to talk about holidays abroad. Holidays are commonly associated with family gatherings and food, so it can be a little weird to be in a different country during these events. It is definitely a time where you might be more prone to experiencing homesickness.

Mystery Inc for Halloween!
If you count Halloween as a holiday, I was abroad for that. Halloween is not as big a deal in Australia as in the US, but my housemates jumped right on board when I talked about Halloween, and we all dressed up and invited their friends over and all the exchange students over. There were several people who had never dressed up for Halloween before since that is not part of their culture, so it was nice that my housemates were willing to help it seem more like home. Even though I am not someone who is big into Halloween, it was still nice to see the effort my housemates went through to make sure the exchange students and I could have a traditional American Halloween. 

The only major holiday (well, holiday that I consider major) I was away for was Thanksgiving, which is my favorite holiday. I was initially very sad to be missing Thanksgiving at home because that is the only time each year I get to see the people I spend Thanksgiving with. However, I ended up thoroughly enjoying my Thanksgiving in Australia, and it is honestly probably my favorite Thanksgiving ever. Some of my friends and I decided to make all the traditional Thanksgiving foods and have our own Thanksgiving with my American friends. We also invited our Australian friends so they could see what the holiday was all about and take part in an American Thanksgiving. It was a GREAT time by all, and we got to celebrate a holiday with our new families we made abroad, and introduce Thanksgiving to our Australians. While we enjoyed our delicious turkey, we watched a game of Cricket, and the Australians explained what was happening in said game. Now, I still can’t say I understand Cricket, but it was cool to have both cultures mix and be learning from each other!

Part of our Thanksgiving feast!
The thing that made this my favorite Thanksgiving was that even though I wasn’t around the usual people, my friends abroad were seriously a family to me.  We went through so much together, which is only natural whenever you move across the world from everyone you know. Even now, part of me wishes that I could re-live my Thanksgiving in Australia. I would give a lot to have my group altogether again and just be our ridiculous selves around each other. They made being away from real family not so hard. They made life a blast for those 5 months. They changed my life in so many ways, and some of those ways, I am still realizing. 

So, what is my advice to get through the holiday season abroad? 

1) The biggest thing I can say is still find a way to celebrate, especially if it is a big holiday to you or one of your favorites.

2) Gather your friends from your host country or other friends you’ve made who are not used to celebrating that holiday and invite them to celebrate with you! Teach them about your home culture and make it an opportunity to learn from each other. 

3) Make time to talk to your family that day. I Skyped my family on Thanksgiving, and even though I was left staring at a blank wall because they were all cooking and left the room at the same time, it was nice to hear from them and have a few minutes to catch up.

4) It might be different than what you are used to, but remember you will likely never be with the people you are with while abroad for holidays again. Enjoy spending that one year with new people and remind yourself that you will see your family again! 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Generation Study Abroad

In 2011-2012, 295,000 American college students studied abroad.  Sounds like a big number, right?!?! Unfortunately, this is less than 10% of students graduating from college each year.  With our increasing global society, it is more important than ever to gain international experience to succeed in our world, and study abroad is one of the best ways to gain this experience.  So, with that small percentage of students who study abroad, what is being done to increase the numbers of students who study abroad?

Generation Study Abroad has started a challenge to increase the numbers of American students studying abroad to 600,000 by the academic year 2017-2018. Institutions wishing to join the challenge can pledge their action to reach a goal of doubling the numbers of students studying abroad from their institution, and guess what?? Western Illinois University has joined this challenge - we have committed to doubling the number of WIU students who study abroad in the next few years! What an exciting commitment for our institution! 

Generation Study Abroad is sponsored by the Institute of International Education (IIE), and IIE is investing $2 million to provide scholarships to help provide resources for students to study abroad.  IIE believes that people in the 21st century need to increase the capacity to think and work on a global and intercultural basis to reach peace and prosperity in our world, and one way to reach this is through studying abroad!

The Generation Study Abroad website has several resources listed for students, along with more information about the initiative. Their website is if you are interested in learning more, or just want to take a look around some of the resources they offer to students! 

Use #generationstudyabroad on social media to spread the
word about study abroad opportunities and the initiative to
increase the number of students studying abroad!
Many of the resources listed under the student page include different scholarships and grants that can be helpful in funding a study abroad program. If finances are something that could hold you back from achieving your study abroad dreams, I highly encourage you to take a look! Another resource is the IIE Passport, where you can look up information about study abroad programs and refine your search based on what type of program you are looking for! The student resource page can be found at  

Help Western reach its goal of doubling the students we send abroad! You will learn valuable personal life lessons, transferable skills useful in any career imaginable, meet new friends from all over the world, learn a new way of life, and learn so much about yourself. Studying abroad boosts your resume as employers like to see that students have international experience and can also help improve your interview skills. I cannot tell you how many times I have used experiences from abroad to answer interview questions - I usually have to remind myself not to answer all interview questions using an experience from abroad! 

If you are interested in learning more about the opportunities available to you for studying abroad at Western, please do not hesitate to contact our office! We are located in Horrabin Hall 8 if you want to stop by and set up an appointment to talk to a study abroad advisor. You can also call us at 309-298-2504 or e-mail us at We hope to hear from you soon! 


Monday, November 3, 2014

7 Budgeting and Money Tips

Budgeting is something most students who study abroad are concerned about. Luckily, there are
some ways to help you manage money and things to consider to help you save some money and be money smart while studying abroad! Here are some tips I used or would recommend related to money!

1) Find out if your bank from the States has a partner bank where you’re studying. 

This saved me a lot of money because it allowed me to skip out on fees that happen with withdrawing money from a foreign ATM. This worked out for me because my bank had a partner bank that was very common in Australia, so I never had an issue of having to use an ATM that could give me extra fees. If this does not work out for you, then consider taking out large sums of cash at once so you have to pay an extra $5 (or whatever your bank charges) fewer times.

2) Think about the exchange rate when making a budget.

This can make a huge difference in your budget! You have to remember that if you’re paying for something in your host country, it will be a little more or less in US dollars. For example, if you are paying for books online and they are a total of 100 Euros, that can range from about $125-$150 American dollars depending on the exchange rate. Be sure to think about that, especially with large purchases such as housing or tuition if you are paying that yourself.

3) Have a budget.

This might sound silly, but if you go without really thinking about a budget, you will likely end up spending more than you want. I personally made a budget for what I thought I needed for food and basic living expenses that must happen and a “fun” budget for when I wanted to take trips or eat out. I also kept room for a little padding money in case something came up unexpected, like if I had ever gotten sick and needed to go to the doctor. Be realistic with how much you can spend and if you don’t have enough for everything, decide what means the most to you.

4) Take AT LEAST 2 sources of money.

My debit card got cancelled in my last month, so I had to rely on my credit card, which was my only source of money. I traveled to New Zealand when only my credit card would work, but I soon found out - my credit card didn’t like New Zealand very much. The only reason I made finances work on this trip was because the person I was traveling with owed me money from purchasing tickets for one of our excursions we had booked. Talk about a headache to deal with! So, 2 sources is the minimum, but I would say three would be even better.

5) Use your International Student Identity Card.

My school gave me this card, but if yours does not, you can also order it yourself. It will allow you to receive a variety of discounts on random things! While I never used it that much, my friends in Europe said they used it quite often. The ISIC card can be used as an official form of student identification all over the world and also has perks available like travel insurance, so it is a great resource to have while abroad! 

6) Save money on laundry.

To wash and dry one load of clothes, it was $6 in Australia. CRAZY expensive. Obviously, you can’t not wash your clothes, but I started letting my clothes air dry instead of putting them in the dryer. Sure, it took a little longer and I may have had to go to dinner in slightly wet jeans one night, but it still saved me money. It may have been a small amount, but every penny counts!

7) When traveling, stay in hostels.

I’ve talked to several people who are a little freaked out about hostels, whether it be because you might stay in a room with strangers or cleanliness concerns. However, if you’re on a budget, it is a WONDERFUL option. I personally LOVED stayed in hostels and thought it was so much fun to meet other people while traveling. I even met some people when I was in Cape Tribulation (the north coast of Australia) and later met up with one of them when I visited Melbourne! 

There are several ways to save money when studying abroad. What you do now to save money can also probably apply when abroad! Be smart and even if you are only saving a few dollars here and there, remember that can add up quickly!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Emphasis on the Study: Classes in a New Country

Going into my study abroad experience, I thought classes would be similar to what I was used to in the US. It didn’t take me long (probably only 3 days) to realize that classes would be different…Way different. Now, I realize that classes could be entirely different in each country, and classes may be different at universities within the same country. I talked to a couple of my friends who studied abroad in other countries to get other perspectives to add to this blog, and my hope is that this post leaves you curious to know more about how classes can differ from what you know. Maybe so curious, that it makes you decide to study abroad and go figure it out for yourself! :)

University of Canberra

Canberra, Australia

This is the university I studied abroad at, and I was surprised at how many differences I found. Here are just a few differences I noticed:
  • Each class has a lecture and a ‘tutorial.’ Tutorials are smaller sections of your lecture, which allows for more discussion and activities to recap what you learn in lecture. 
  • Depending on the week and your classes, you may not have all of your lectures or tutorials. I had one class where lecture was every other week, and on the weeks with no lecture, tutorials met. I had another class where lecture and tutorial was every week. Another class had lectures every week and only six tutorials throughout the whole semester. I really had to be on top of things to know when I needed be where each week! 
  • Most Australians do not go to lectures. Professors would post audio recordings of their lectures online, so most students would use that instead of actually going to class. Several friends I met in classes actually scheduled to work during their lectures! 
  • I only had 3 exams my entire semester. Most of my classes were papers that required me to write about a situation where I needed to apply what I was learning. It was much more application based than theory based, and this was something hard for me to adjust to.

Université de Nantes
Nantes, France

Université de Nante

My long-time best friend, Catherine, studied abroad in Nantes, France when we were seniors (round one) in college. I went to visit her while she was there, and my visit with her is actually one of the reasons I ended up studying abroad. I asked Catherine a few questions about her experience regarding classes, and here are some of the main points she told me:
  • Classes were different lengths and different times every day. 
  • Some of her professors were strict, while others were laid back. There wasn’t a typical way professors were, they all varied and you had to get to know how each professor was in regards to how strict or laid-back they were. 
  • In France, if you have a long class, there’s a designated smoking break in the middle. 
  • Over all, classes were easy. Catherine only got a grade based on a final exam, which was her language proficiency test, so there was no way to study except learn the language. This was because of the program she was with, but the goal was for her to learn French while she was in her classes. 

La Universidad Nacional

Heredia, Costa Rica

One of my friends from grad school, Kristin, studied abroad in Costa Rica, so I also took the time to chat with her to get a perspective from another region. Kristin had a lot of things to say about her classes in Costa Rica, so here are some of things she mentioned:
  • In the US, it is unlikely that students will wait in a classroom if the professor is 45 minutes late. This is not the case in Costa Rica, however, as no matter how late the professor is, students will not leave class early. 
  • Kristin’s professors were very laid back and not strict about requirements. She remembers asking a professor for clarification on how long a paper should be, and the professor did not give a solid answer, but rather stated “two, three, four…It doesn’t really matter. It’s more about quality than quantity.” 
  • The language barrier was interesting to work through. She had to make sure she understood what was going on, so Kristin would often talk to professors after class about assignments to make sure she understood what she was supposed to be doing. She also befriended native Spanish speakers in her classes, so she could also talk to them about assignments. Kristin said she would meet some friends outside of class to serve as a “language partner” to help her with her Spanish skills. 
  • Instead of getting books from a bookstore, professors used what is called a “copy shop.” At copy shops in Costa Rica, professors can copy chapters from books they want to use, and the shop will combine it into a large stack/book for students. These shops were everywhere, and often had long lines at the beginning of semesters since everyone was trying to get all their books!

Once again, you will likely encounter your own differences at any university you choose to study abroad at. If you are on a faculty-led program, this may not even apply to you, but you will still be learning in a new and different environment and may face different challenges. Wherever you are going, be ready to experience something new and exciting!

Monday, October 20, 2014

6 Tips for Battling Homesickness

Homesickness is something you will likely encounter during a study abroad program, regardless of if it's a two week program or a semester long program.  You may only be a little homesick for a short amount of time, or you might feel extremely homesick for a while.  No matter how homesickness hits you, here are some tips in dealing with missing home. This list comes from answers I got from asking my friends who I met abroad and other friends I have who have studied abroad, so they are real solutions people have used!

1) Stay busy

You’re going to be in a brand new place - adventures are everywhere! If you’re feeling homesick, find someone to go on an adventure with, or go somewhere by yourself. This could be as simple as taking a walk around your new area, but be sure you do not allow yourself to sit and think about home all the time. My Aussie housemates were always willing to take me on random adventures, which was super awesome. So, get out there and enjoy your time abroad!

A few of the ones who became my family while I was abroad.
This was in our first two weeks of being abroad, and I had
no idea the impact they would have on me! 

2) Find your family

My group of friends became my family while I was abroad. Having such a tight group was probably what saved the most from being homesick too much. When I did feel homesick, I found it super comforting to hang out with my other study abroad friends who could relate. I was abroad for Thanksgiving, and I think this was the time homesickness affected me the most. I was taking final exams on Thanksgiving Day, while my friends were off of school and with their families. My US friends and I celebrated by cooking a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for us and our Aussie friends. It helped so much to be with them since I couldn’t be with my family. Of course, we had to have an Aussie spin to our Thanksgiving abroad, so we watched cricket while eating. 

3) Social Media

When I first got to Australia, I Skyped people 3 or 4 times a week (probably a little too much). As I got more used to things and found friends abroad, this steadily dropped. During my homesickness phase, Skype helped me a lot to stay in touch with friends back home. I also used Facebook to see what was going on back home and message friends. Social media makes it pretty easy to stay in touch with all your friends, but be careful with this, you don’t want to stay hidden behind a computer screen and miss all the experiences you could be having in your host country! Use Skype and social media when you need it for your homesickness, but be sure it’s not the only way you battle homesickness.

Tennessee Night! Anna and I made food
that represented Tennessee for all our study
abroad and Aussie friends to enjoy!

4) Do something familiar

If you run while you’re at home, go hit the road and go for a run! Maybe you need to watch an episode of your favorite show. Just do something that you would do at home. If your host country has a favorite food from home, go get it. Something our study abroad group did each week was have someone different make dinner each week that represented their home. I remember I was so excited for Tennessee night (I'm originally from Tennessee), and me and my other friend from Tennessee made fried chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and sweet tea for everyone. It was a great way to remember home while also experiencing other tastes from around the world each week, and also a fun way I got to introduce some of my culture to my Australian friends. 

5) Remember you won’t be abroad forever

You don’t have very long to make the most of your experience abroad. If you choose to sit around and be miserable the whole time, you will not enjoy your experience and will be wasting your time. Get out and remember that home will be there whenever you get back and that you only have a short amount of time in your host country!

My Australian housemates, who became part of my family
away from home and who were always willing to
take me on adventures!

6)  Have movie and tea nights

This was my own personal favorite way of dealing with homesickness. There was a group of us who would have movie and tea nights ALL THE TIME. If we were feeling homesick, it was nice to be able to talk about those feelings with others, and this group was always there for that. My housemates also had movie nights occasionally, and it was always fun to chill with them. Even though they were not studying abroad, I know they played a huge factor in helping me deal with my homesickness.

Whatever you do, do not give in to homesickness and let it consume you. It’s ok to talk about your feelings, but make sure your homesickness is not the only thing you talk about! Use your support system of new friends to help you through the tough times!