In today’s fast-paced, competitive world, students often attend college with an eye towards a long-term career. Before making the decision to study abroad, students might ask “What use is studying abroad to me? Will studying abroad help set me apart professionally? What is there to gain from the experience?” In this week’s post, members of ACCENT’s San Francisco Team give their own unique answers to those questions.
Among our answers is that of outgoing Contract and Social Media Manager Chelsey Little, who is moving on to other opportunities. We wish her the best of luck!
Anna Tapfer, Contract Manager
Studying abroad in Munich, Germany, for a full year gave me many opportunities to develop skills traditionally thought of when studying abroad, skills such as German language proficiency and an enhanced sense of cultural awareness. These skills have certainly been useful to my career: allowing me to work overseas in Vienna, Austria, and securing my acceptance in a graduate program in Foreign Language Education. However, there are a number of other skills that I developed that I did not anticipate would be as beneficial as they have been.
Studying abroad enabled me to build my self-confidence, helping me learn to let go of the need for concrete details and allow myself to accept ambiguity. Taking a train to a new town and only understanding half of the announcements, for example, meant that I wasn’t ever entirely sure if I was going to arrive on time or even make it all the way to my destination. In Germany this wasn’t the biggest issue; once I learned more of the language, I realized most of those announcements were to let you know the train was delayed a full two minutes, an eternity in the German rail system. However, traveling outside of Germany meant that I could not count on my newly found language skills. I had to get creative in how I dealt with everyday life in a different country, weighing decisions as they came up and working things out on the fly, instead of planning in advance, as I had been used to. This type of flexibility, acceptance of ambiguity, and creativity in problem solving has definitely helped me professionally as well as in my personal life. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have lived abroad twice in my adult life and for all the benefits those experiences have afforded me.
Sara Assadi-Nik, Assistant Programs Coordinator and Social Media Coordinator
My study abroad experience was an exercise in building confidence and adaptability in unfamiliar situations, and an ability to stay calm under pressure that I still carry with me to this day. I recall a specific day in Paris not long after I had arrived: I had decided to make a trip to an unfamiliar neighborhood to visit a friend at a nearby University in Paris. Confident in the directions my friend had given me earlier that afternoon, I bounded out into Paris with great élan. Paris, as I would come to know, was a city of many wonders and visual delights. I became too distracted by the charming carousel, the frenzy of tourists on the Champ de Mars, and the candy-colored sunset on the Seine and soon found myself hopelessly lost. This was in the era before smart phones had become popularized, and all I had was a small flip phone that I had bought at the local Tabac for 20 euros, a device with no internet connection and a comical lack of battery life. I wandered the streets, hoping for something recognizable that would steer me back to the right path. In the US, I would have had no problem asking for directions from a stranger. Here in Paris, however, I was horrified to actually speak French in public, harboring a neurotic anxiety about appearing as a discourteous and wide-eyed American, not keeping with the unflappable elegance I imagined of true Parisians.
Overcoming my embarrassment and self-consciousness, I finally built up the courage to approach one of the locals. She was helpful and concise, pointing me in the right direction. Soon the landscape appeared clearer and more familiar. Exhausted, I finally dragged my blistered feet through the doors of the University Café. I scanned the sparsely-populated café and didn’t see my friend anywhere (he had waited for me for over an hour and unable to reach me on my cellphone, had left). I wearily slumped into a seat at the bar, thinking about everything that had transpired. Harsh, vituperative thoughts circled in my head. How was I going to spend the better part of a year in this city if I could barely get around? I sat there for another hour, ruminating on my harrowing experience, eventually gathering myself up, walking straight to the metro station, and back to the comfort of my tiny apartment. This was not the last time I would get lost in Paris, or confused, or maddened. Slowly I learned that for me, the answer to living abroad was to allow the city to challenge me, and in turn, for me to challenge myself. The self-assurance and adaptability that I gained from my time in Paris still helps me in my work and my personal relationships. I’m still working on perfecting that poised Parisian sophistication…though I’m not holding my breath on that one.
Ashley Spinelli, Program Development Manager
I studied abroad twice – first on a month-long “Music and Culture” faculty-led program in Ghana where I studied cultural anthropology through Ghanaian drumming and dance, and later on a yearlong direct exchange program at the University of Bologna in Italy where I studied Italian language, literature, and history at the oldest continuously operating university in Europe. The two experiences were extremely distinct academically – one involved 6 hours per day of dance classes while the other entailed countless hours in lecture halls. Nonetheless, both experiences provided me with the opportunity to live and study outside of my comfort zone, and learn from professors who guided me to reflect more deeply on the world in which I lived, and the economic, political, cultural, and psychological dimensions that had shaped my experience up until that point. I’m very thankful for having had the opportunity to study abroad, as it provided me with many new ways of looking at the world and analytical skills that carried me throughout my graduate studies and career in education.
Megan Neureuter, Associate Director of U.S. Operations
There is no question that I both developed and improved my communication skills during my study abroad experience— it was somewhat impossible not to! Studying in Paris with a very basic knowledge of French required some creative expressions and a lot of gesturing. That being said, those communication skills basically changed my life. It helped me to understand that I could make it anywhere, and led me to challenge myself in ways I would not have thought possible. Looking back now, with some years between me and my Paris experience, I can see how it led me to success internationally as well as at home, with my greatest success in having married a non-native English speaker after meeting overseas. Sixteen years and two beautiful daughters later, it still amazes me how essential good communication is, how it can make or break a relationship both professionally and personally, regardless of the language spoken.
In the end, though I had formative experiences before heading to Paris for a semester, it was that experience that helped me realize the value of good communication. It is something that has made me a more thoughtful and compassionate person.
Tanyshia Stevens, Programs Coordinator
I think the most important skills I learned from studying abroad, though slightly obvious, are independence and self-sufficience. Everyone says going to college is the first step to independence, which is definitely true, but the type of independence I learned while studying abroad is probably something I wouldn’t have learned if I hadn’t gone.
From the minute I set foot on campus, I was always with someone: my parents moving me in, my roommates, or my friends. I would never go to the dining hall alone, my roommates and I picked our classes together, we did laundry at the same time, and as much as I wanted to explore the city I was in, if I couldn’t find someone to go with me, I wouldn’t go. Once I was abroad, I was all alone. I didn’t know a single person. Here I was in Paris, wanting so badly to see the city, but so afraid to step out into the unknown with no support system. However, I knew that if I wanted to see the city, I couldn’t wait until there was someone to do it with me. Did I immediately blow caution to the wind and start exploring my new city? No. I started small by exploring my neighborhood and the markets on my street. Once I was confident I could find my way around, I branched out farther.
Returning back home, I maintained the mentality I had while living in Paris. I no longer waited to have someone with me to do things. If I wanted to sit in the park on a sunny day, I sat in the park on a sunny day. I no longer felt the need to be surrounded by people – I found comfort and confidence in being alone. This self-assurance, knowing that I can do anything I set my mind to, is something I carry with me both personally and professionally, and it definitely shows. When you no longer doubt yourself, and carry yourself with confidence, you are able to take on new challenges that make your professional life – and personal life – more rewarding.
Audrey Celenza, Contract and Administrative Assistant
I learned a lot of vital skills through the two study abroad programs that I participated in, but one of the most important was the sense of optimism I got from my study abroad experience in Edinburgh, Scotland. A chronic worrier, I expected to have bad roommates, a bad apartment, and a bad flight.
Instead, my roommates were intelligent and considerate people. I had a room all to myself. The locals were incredibly friendly and would start conversations out of the blue. This last surprise had me noticing small acts of kindness that I would have taken for granted if I weren’t in a new place. On the way back to the US, the flight that I had thought would be a nightmare was made a complete delight by a little girl who enthusiastically recommended I see Big Hero 6 and skipped down the aisle to show me her handheld video game collection.
You can find goodness wherever you are, but it took a change of scene for me to really look around and see it. Simply being able to view the world in a more positive light has helped me face both acceptance and rejection with grace, and I’ve become more patient and understanding of others.
Jani McEuen, Programs Coordinator
One of the most essential things my study abroad experience instilled in me was the ability— and self-confidence— to travel alone and remain calm when travel issues arise. Before I studied abroad, I had never been on a plane by myself (I didn’t even like to drive very far on my own, due to my horrible sense of direction), let alone flown out of the country. However, once in London, I was pushed out of my comfort zone. I had to research and plan out how to get around the city on my own, both to get to class or to any local attraction I wanted to visit. I also wanted to take advantage of being so close to continental Europe by making side trips to other countries, knowing I’d often have to travel by myself. The experience of traveling on my own while studying abroad made me realize that venturing out on your own (whether to another country or just to a new noodle house in your hometown) isn’t as scary as we first might think. I used to worry about making a wrong turn while driving or about missing a bus, but I learned that it doesn’t really matter. There will always be another bus.
This understanding has come in handy both in my personal life and professionally. For ACCENT, I do a few trips a year by myself to deliver orientations to students on our study abroad programs. On one of these trips I missed my flight due to extra long security lines; it was the first time I had ever missed a flight. For a moment I panicked internally because it was a travel situation I had never encountered. However, my study abroad experience had taught me that things go wrong, especially when traveling. It also taught me that it is not the end of the world when they do. Before studying abroad, I might have called my family to freak out if I had missed my flight, this time I calmly spoke to the airport attendant and figured out what my next step was. My time abroad taught me that I can handle these mishaps.
Allison Keith, Director of U.S. Operations
Growing up as the 5th child of 6 in my family, I was forced to take on a fair amount of independence from a young age. However, my study abroad experience most certainly made me grow even more in this area. I chose to do a gap year as my first overseas experience, and even though I was only 17, I traveled a lot on my own. Being so far from my family and friends (pre-internet, so very little contact back home!), meant that I had to problem-solve entirely on my own. The confidence that I acquired during my gap year most definitely helped me in college, as I had previously been very timid and shy. Studying abroad made me even more inquisitive and allowed me to open up more with people. I learned to embrace other cultures, which diversified my interests. My study abroad experiences eventually led me to find the field of international education, for which, 25 years later, I am still so thankful!
Chelsey Little, Outgoing Contract Manager and Social Media Manager
I would have to say that adaptability is one skill I really honed when studying abroad in Florence, Italy and Oxford, England. This is a vital skill in any profession and has certainly helped me during my time at ACCENT as Contract Manager and Social Media Manager. In any field or workplace, things change as time goes on, and sometimes things change very quickly or unexpectedly, so being able to anticipate and face unforeseen challenges head-on by adapting to the task and needs at hand is critical. In both Florence and Oxford, I had to adapt to a new culture, a new classroom and workplace environment, new people, and new places. Everything about life was a little different than what my day-to-day was back on campus at Stanford, or in my hometown of Austin, Texas, and in adapting to those differences, I found that I thrive under such circumstances and truly enjoy the learning opportunities that novel environments and experiences offer.
Beyond being a just a “skill” though, as the years have passed, I’ve come to realize that adaptability is, for me, a core personal value. When I think now about adaptability, I think about how it has helped me to connect with the community that I live in, wherever that community may be. Growing up in Austin, I connected with my community by taking public transportation throughout the city, going to cafés and coffee shops to study or read, and generally interacting with people wherever I’d go. In Florence, I walked to both class and work each day, made friends with expats who lived there, and even dated a local Florentine student. In Oxford, I got involved with a local theater group comprised of Oxford students from around the world, all living, studying, and performing Shakespeare together, in true English fashion. When I graduated from Stanford, I moved to San Francisco, where I would ride my bike around the city, go to local farmer’s markets, walk around, and just take everything in. About a year ago, I moved across the Bay to Oakland and am hoping to continue connecting with my local community throughout my life and career.
Although my time at ACCENT has drawn to a close, I still firmly believe in the work they do and in the importance of studying abroad. I am so proud to have been a part of helping students have these learning opportunities for the past five years, and forever in my heart I will be a member of the ACCENT family.
~ ACCENT San Francisco
Did this post inspire you to study abroad? Research your study abroad options at http://accentintl.com/find-a-program/.