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What I learned from studying abroad

Natasha+on+her+trip+to+Costa+Rica.+Photo+courtesy+of+Natasha+Spradlin
Natasha on her trip to Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Natasha Spradlin

Natasha on her trip to Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Natasha Spradlin

Natasha on her trip to Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Natasha Spradlin

Natasha Spradlin, Reporter

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I started my undergraduate career in 2012 with a dream to study abroad, but as a first-generation college student from a low-income family, my prospects seemed dim. My freshman year, I could not help but wonder how I could pay for a trip abroad, let alone afford to study in another country. My financial responsibilities made it difficult to entertain the idea that I could achieve my goals.

“People like me don’t study abroad,” I said. “I’ll never be able to save enough money.”

Self-doubt is a powerful, crippling emotion. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was selling myself short. I assumed I was being realistic; it was better to accept my fate than work unnecessarily hard for an improbable outcome. In one year I talked myself out of studying abroad. Self-doubt caused me to make excuses instead of find solutions.

Graduation rolled around faster than I thought it would and by my junior year, I felt lost. One day, I sat down and wrote a list of my long-term and short-term goals. In bold letters, study abroad stared me in the face.

I’d be lying if I said I no longer felt self-doubt when I solidified my goals in writing. The difference was I decided to stop letting the word “no” dictate my life. I quit calling study abroad a dream because it wasn’t a dream.

My grandmother always told me, “Make a plan and work the plan.” Study abroad was a plan and I was going to work it! If one program did not work for me I looked for another.

I started to consider questions such as whether I wanted to satisfy credits for my major or my gen-ed requirements while abroad. I looked for shorter programs because I knew a semester or year-long program was not a feasible option for me due to work. I set a budget and searched for programs that fit in my budget. I applied for scholarships and I wrote essays. I bookmarked programs that gave me the option to apply my financial aid to the cost. If a program included meals, airfare and/or housing it became a top contender on my list. If it did not, I let it go.

I am proud to say my plan worked. In May, I studied abroad for the first time. I chose to go on a USA faculty-led Biology program with Dr. Mata in Costa Rica and I had the time of my life. The opportunity to learn biology in the rainforest vs. a classroom was an invaluable experience. I gained a better understanding of the world. I made lifelong friends. I discovered new and exciting foods.

However, the greatest lesson I learned while studying abroad is I can do anything I set my mind to. I found myself again through leaving my comfort zone and if you ask me, you can’t beat that.

 

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What I learned from studying abroad