They say that if you are hesitant about studying abroad, your first trip should be a faculty-led maymester or summer program. After that trip, your feet would be wet enough in the traveling field that you will then want to participate in an exchange program of your choice. My journey abroad, however, was the exact opposite, but entirely accidental. I applied for the UT in Sydney Semester Plus program because it was the only one that served Education majors at the time. However, a few weeks after my acceptance into the program, I was bummed to find out that the faculty led portion was removed due to low enrollment. I was now on my own, and this terrified me! The last time I went abroad was when I was in diapers, so you can bet that I was overwhelmed with worry. I was depending on that support system, provided by the UT professor and a few other UT students who would be with me the first three weeks, to help me get acclimated to my new environment. After the news, I did contemplate withdrawing from the program, but was encouraged by my older sister (who also did an exchange program during her undergrad years) to stay. In life, it’s important to not let your fears play a factor in your decisions. And boy am I glad that I followed this principle!
With my fifty-pound suitcase in one hand and anxiety in the other, I boarded the plane to Sydney all by myself! Fast forward to literally a year later, I can honestly say that my life as an exchange student was probably the best decision I’ve ever made for my personal growth. The list of benefits for going on an exchange is honestly endless, but I would just name a few of the ones that I experienced:
- increasing your independence and maturity
- introducing you to a vast global community, thus enriching your social platform
- traveling opportunities within and outside your host country
- experiencing university life different from UT
- newfound confidence to conquer anything thrown at you
- really submerging yourself in the new culture
One thing that you experience going abroad for the first time, is the inevitable bite from the “travel bug”. You are then aroused with the strongest desire to travel more and more and see the rest that the world has to offer. It’s true, once you go abroad, you won’t want to come back. While abroad, I realized I didn’t want my traveling experience to end there. I was determined to go on another study abroad program! That’s where my faculty-led Community and Social Development Maymester program in Cape Town, South Africa came in. I simply applied because I wanted to go abroad again, take a class that I needed for my degree, but also a program that was shorter than an exchange semester. Going on the exchange gave me so much expertise, that going on my maymester was a piece of cake. This often allowed me to assist my peers on the trip who were experiencing any anxiety with their process. Reflecting back, there were some awesome benefits that the maymester offered, that my semester exchange didn’t:
set support network of UT students
- better relationship with a UT professor
- flexibility with school semester obligations
- structure with already planned events
All in all, both programs shaped the woman I am today and I am certain that whatever type of study abroad program you choose will leave the same impact. Just remember, when deciding, you want to weigh your priorities depending on what is most important to you: not being away from home for too long or being truly immersed in a culture; going with friends you already know or making your own friends from all over the globe; etc. The comparisons are endless, but no matter what the program, your experience abroad will be life changing! For comparisons of other program types, check out this previous blog post.