Hello Bear Family!
When I was an undergraduate here at Missouri State, I always thought studying abroad was out of reach for me and the timing would never be right. As I transitioned into graduate school, these thoughts compounded because I believed the common misconception that doing any kind of study abroad after undergrad was a distant dream and missed opportunity. However, that all changed this past May when I had the amazing opportunity of a lifetime through Bowling Green State University’s CSP 6940: a short-term, faculty-led study tour of higher education and student services in Scotland and England for student affairs graduate students. My talk with you today is about what I gained from my study abroad experience and the great opportunities and resources that our Office of Study Away Provides provides that you and your student can utilize to pursue a study abroad experience.
1) A broadened perspective of my field to a global level.
Before embarking across the Atlantic, we had four video class sessions that involved readings, lectures, discussions, and projects to gain an understanding of the educational and cultural systems of the United Kingdom and the various institutions we would visit during the study tour. During our 14-day tour, we visited nine cities, six institutions, two international education programs, and two higher education professional organizations. We would have about 4-6 hours of meetings with higher education professionals at our institution visits to learn about their work, institutional culture, and the educational, social, and cultural contexts that impact UK higher education. As you can imagine, it was a very busy 14 days.
I truly did not know the complete scope of what I would gain going into this experience. I had never been outside North America before this tour and I essentially took a huge leap into the unknown with CSP 6940. However, engaging in ongoing critical reflection during our tour was a very enlightening process for me. Our group reflection meetings were centered on comparing the US vs. the UK and challenging us to make deeper meaning of what we experienced to maximize our learning. Every reading we did and place we visited helped me build my cultural competence in the context of the UK, but it could not have prepared me for the culture shock moments that occurred. These first-hand experiences helped me reconstruct my view about the spectrum of the college student experience and reframe my perspective about our values and practices here in the US. That is why I believe having firsthand experience is so critical. By learning from my 20 fellow grad student tourmates, our faculty leader, and all the professionals we met in the UK, I have gained a new passion and global perspective of my field regarding what our work means and where the student affairs profession can go in the future.
2) Newfound confidence and sense of adventure
Most significantly, there were key areas of confidence that I developed. Before this trip, I would not have considered myself to be an adventurous person. In fact, I almost did not apply to go on this tour because I was so worrisome about whether it would be worthwhile. Although I went through with it, I was still very cautiously optimistic going into the tour as May arrived. When I got to the UK, having to navigate the dual environment of being outside North America for the first time and being in a community of peers I had never met in person before was very challenging for me at first. As an introvert and the only person not from the Eastern time zone on the tour, I experienced much discomfort finding my place in these new spaces and I had difficulty finding the confidence to connect with others to start my experience. Yet, this was an incredibly humbling and powerful experience for me. Knowing that my time was very limited in the UK, I challenged myself to independently explore the cities we visited, break out of my worrying mindset, and make these important connections. Having the experience of representing our country every moment we were in the UK and building connections with fellow graduate students and colleagues abroad was an important learning process. The turning point of my experience was in York, England where I walked the entire 2.3 mile walk around its Roman-era city walls by myself and had coffee at a café literally in the wall (see middle left picture).
Throughout the remainder of the study tour, I felt immensely more self-confident to break through my initial self-doubt and mental barriers and I found a newfound sense of adventure. One of my fellow grads on the tour told me that every experience was a learning opportunity. By viewing our experience as learning opportunities, even the challenging times, we simply grow as humans. . As another colleague later once told me once, “There’s no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.” I truly found a new sense of self on this study tour and I developed relationships with awesome people in my tour group from across the US. I will never forget the experiences and memories we share together. In addition, I even met several Missouri State students when I was in London and sat next to a university donor on my flight back to Chicago!
Our Office of Study Away Programs
The mission of the Office of Study Away Programs is to facilitate “high quality academic programs to increase the cultural competence of the Missouri State community, while developing the global leaders of tomorrow.” Study Away Programs offers a wide variety of study abroad options: short-term, exchange programs, internships, independent programs, programs through affiliate partner organizations, semester-long, and year-long. Even though I only did a short-term program, just thinking about making it happen was still overwhelming for me. However, I can attest from personal experience how incredibly helpful our Office of Study Away Programs was in this process. They provide a plethora of informational resources, pre-departure education, program searching help, academic and financial advising, and logistical planning to make study abroad dreams a reality. I felt very prepared for my journey abroad through all their help and guidance all semester.
If your student has any level of interest in studying abroad, I highly recommend encouraging your student to visit their website and to attend the annual Study Away Fair on Wednesday, February 13 from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM on the second floor of the Plaster Student Union. The Study Away Fair features Study Away Programs staff, faculty directors, and affiliate program partners sharing their many opportunities for your student to study abroad. I also encourage you to discuss studying abroad with your student and outline academic and personal goals, concerns, unanswered questions, and desired outcomes you all have regarding a study abroad experience.
Studying abroad is a major, life-changing decision that involves a lot of planning and calculated risk-taking. We have a tremendous campus resource with our Office of Study Away Programs to assist you and your student in feeling confident and comfortable completing that journey. One of the phrases we learned in Scotland was “Give it a bash” which means “give it a try” or “take a chance”. I hope that our talk today has at least inspired you to “Give it a bash” and help your student explore the study abroad opportunities available through MSU.
Thanks for reading and Go Bears!