One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things. – Henry Miller
The opportunity to study abroad comes once in a lifetime. It is an opportunity to explore, study, and learn in a new academic system and in a faraway foreign country. It is an opportunity to learn about unfamiliar and unique cultures, and in doing so, gain perspective into one’s own culture. It is an opportunity to expand one’s understanding of the world in a time of rapid globalization and technological change. It is a priceless opportunity to make long-lasting friendships with others sharing similar academic and professional interests.
My recent yearlong study abroad experience at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in Norwich, England proved to be invaluable. I would like to share my academic adventure, especially with students interested in studying abroad. I feel morally compelled and obligated to share the benefits of my experience as well as some of the challenges I encountered. Furthermore, I am excited to share how I was able to overcome them. Ultimately, my goal with this article is to excite the imagination of the next generation of study abroad explorers!
I arrived at Heathrow airport in London, greeted by friendly English students from UEA whose job was to assist visiting international students in completing their journey to Norwich. “What cool accents,” I thought to myself as I boarded a coach, which was headed to the university. Moments later the coach left the airport and proceeded to drive on the left-hand side of the road en route to our destination. My thoughts wandered as we meandered through the countryside. When we finally arrived in Norwich, I was starving and my first experience with British cuisine was a traditional English roast dinner. All through dinner, I wondered with anticipation and excitement of what laid ahead for me over the course of the next year.
My main purpose of studying in England was to advance my academic pursuits at a venerable and esteemed foreign institution. The classes and coursework at UEA were demanding and rigorous, yet I found myself stimulated by the pedagogical style of this university. The British higher education system emphasizes independent research and learning. I was challenged by the significant amount of independent study and personal research I was required to conduct while delving into specific topics of my academic interest. I found one political science class which examined American politics through an English academic viewpoint particularly fascinating and enlightening. My unique experience in the class as an American student revealed a variety of subtle differences between the American perception of our political system and the British perception.
I was very fortunate to be to able travel the country. I stood at the gates of Buckingham Palace, peered up at Big Ben, walked through the Cambridge University campus, and much more. England also afforded me a gateway to the rest of Europe, which was often merely a cheap flight away. I ventured through the ancient roman coliseum in Rome, saw the construction of Gaudi’s unfinished basilica in Barcelona, and dipped my toes in the white sandy beaches of Palermo. Each of these adventures became landmark experiences, but perhaps the most significant memories lie in the many close friendships I made with other students at the university.
My study abroad pursuit was not without challenges. The greatest challenge I faced actually occurred on American soil — specifically, how to raise the financial resources to pursue my dream. My family was encouraging and morally supportive of my goal to study abroad, but like many families nationwide, my family faced financial struggles with the recent economic downturn in the U.S.. At first, overcoming the financial commitment to study abroad seemed almost insurmountable. My search for scholarships, nonetheless, revealed that financial support for students with similar circumstances do in fact exist. Most notably, the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship significantly helped turn my study abroad aspirations into reality. The Gilman Scholarship Program offers undergraduates of limited financial means the opportunity to apply for considerable financial assistance to pursue academic studies abroad.
Living and studying in another country had a significant and profound academic, intellectual, and personal impact on me. I encourage all current and future students to take advantage of the wide range of study abroad opportunities available through the UO as well as through universities across the nation. Furthermore, for those students who have the dream, but lack the means — seek financial assistance. Inquire about the Gilman scholarship at the UO’s Office of International Affairs and start planning your adventure abroad now! — Vittorio Gaddini