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Study abroad impacts UC students for life

’Truly understanding diversity’

In a strategic charge to make UC a truly global university, President Gregory Williams aims to achieve greater success in worldwide education and outreach. A belief that opportunity to study outside the United States is critical to our students thriving in a global environment has made study abroad a university-wide priority, including fundraising efforts.

Private support opens up a world of opportunity to students, a world that gets much larger through international study. While most of us are in bed sleeping away the challenges from our workdays, students are having cultural experiences on other continents. Below, four students/alumni explain how they enriched their education through study beyond our country’s borders.

Nick Workman

•    Fourth year, urban planning, DAAP
•    Study abroad — fall quarter ’10: University of Amsterdam, Netherlands

Destination — “More than 170 nationalities reside in Amsterdam, making it truly one of the most international cities in the world. Also, the Netherlands is a relatively small country, making it easy to travel around Europe.”

Accommodations — “There are no forms of on-campus housing, and university buildings are scattered throughout the city. I resided in an affordable apartment arranged through a nonprofit housing corporation affiliated with the University of Amsterdam, within walking distance of my classes and public transportation.”

— “Because Amsterdam is so international, the Dutch are extremely open and generous to foreigners and will help you if you are lost or have a problem. The highlight was being immersed in the culture and being able to enjoy all the aspects of Amsterdam that make it such an interesting city, such as its canals, historic buildings, museums, nightlife and, of course, its bikes. I met people from all over the world and made contacts with many international students with whom I hope to network in the future.”

Importance of the trip — “My time in Amsterdam exposed me to the customs and traditions of another country, which is valuable since our society gets increasingly more global. As an urban planning student, I gained insight on the world-renowned infrastructure that the Dutch have meticulously constructed, from its numerous canals and dykes to its excellent public transportation. Those are definitely cues I will take in my own career where possible.”

Anthony Galarza

•    Master of Community Planning, DAAP ’10
•    Study abroad — Sint-Lucas Brussels, University College of Art and Design, Belgium (fall ’09)

Destination — “My concentration was on international development, and the program I applied for was a unique blend of urban design, city planning and European architectural design. I wanted to experience firsthand the European teaching methods that pertained to urban design, architecture and sustainable approaches in this field. The program also brought students from all over Europe and Asia to share ideas from their perspectives.”

Accommodations — “With a studio apartment adjacent to the University of Antwerp, I experienced two major cities in Belgium on a daily basis, which offered varying perspectives on culture and language.”

Highlights — “The opportunity to work closely with students from about 15 different countries was very rewarding. The program gave me the ability to learn from others in a way that one would not get from a purely American perspective. I also gained great friends with people from places like Spain, Poland, Greece, the Faroe Islands and France.

“My course in architecture history of Belgium was a huge highlight, offering bi-weekly field trips to different cities to examine the country’s different architectural styles. We gained a historical perspective on the evolution of architecture and got to tour sites in Belgium and just across the border in the Netherlands for a comparative analysis.”

Importance of the trip — “I could not pass up the chance to live in Europe while studying urban design and architecture with an international perspective. Belgium is a small, urban and densely populated country that has dealt with a lot of urban issues plaguing many countries; yet they seem to be handling these issues in a sustainable manner. The trip was the best option for me because of the diversity, central location and the fact that it is the capital of the European Union.

“The international perspective was a great learning tool for any career choice and gave me tools I might not have received elsewhere. The program also sparked even more interest in the history of architectural design and planning, which could be beneficial in furthering my education in those fields. I might not have discovered those interests if it weren’t for this trip.”

In India, it was seeing the river Ganges and Taj Mahal, touring the entire fashion industry from fiver to finished garment, riding on a motorcycle to work every day and teaching English to 50 tribal artisans.

Lauren Magrisso

•    Third year, bachelor of interdisciplinary studies (self-designed degree) in design strategy
•    Studies abroad — 2008: Israel, 10 days. 2009: London, 1 day; Chosala, India, 2 weeks. 2010: Dahod, India, 10 weeks; various Indian cities, 2 weeks; Montreal, 5 days; Cusco, Peru, 2 weeks.

Destination — “I set a personal goal to go abroad at least once a year. I chose each place because they represented an experience of a different way of life on different continents. I am currently in the works of planning trips to Africa and Australia.”

Accommodations — “While co-oping in India, I stayed with a host family who didn’t speak English. It was a challenge at times, but I wouldn’t trade the experience. My host mother included me in traditional Hindu ceremonies. I also learned that all the kids in the family were birthed in my bedroom, and I learned how to cook traditional Indian food.”

Highlights — “In Israel, highlights included riding a camel in the desert, staying in a Bedouin tent, meeting a long lost relative I found on Facebook and going to the Jordan border to look out over Hezbollah life. In India, it was seeing the river Ganges and Taj Mahal, touring the entire fashion industry from fiber to finished garment, riding on a motorcycle to work every day and teaching English to 50 tribal artisans. In Peru, I saw my hard work pay off through finished projects for the school.”

Importance of the trip — “My trips taught me how to work in cross-cultural teams. I learned that even if you are speaking the same language, you cannot expect the other person to understand the cultural context of your words. “The life skills I picked up were immense. When I got off the plane in India, no one was there to pick me up, but I managed the situation and did not panic. Now I feel like I can handle anything that is thrown at me in life.

“In every country I visited, I always connected with old friends who were living in the location. I now have a network all over the world. I also learned a more sustainable way of life, one that I promote here on campus.

“The one thing my mentor in India taught me is: ’If you want something bad enough, you will get it.’ If students at UC are interested in studying abroad, it can happen since UC has the right infrastructure set in place. I tell others looking to study abroad that the most important thing to do in your undergrad is to find your passion.

“When I went to India for the first time, I was a fashion student doing a project on farming. Everyone asked me why I was going to learn about farms and not fashion. I told them sustainable farming is something I was passionate about.

“Well, sure enough, fate had its way, and on my trip, I connected with the organization Sahaj, which I went back to as a design co-op. Then, as I was planning for my trip back to India as a co-op, I was in the room next to a group of fashion students who were planning a tour of India’s fashion industry during the same two weeks I had free.

“Having gone to India for farming, I ended up learning about fashion after all. As long as you are doing what you are passionate about, then you are doing the right thing.”

Tina Chen

•    BS with honors, biological sciences, A&S ’10
•    Now a first-year medical student, UC College of Medicine
•    Studies abroad — Aug. ’08 – Aug. ’09: National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan. Aug. ’09 – March ’10: University of Veritas, San Jose, Costa Rica
Destinations — “I chose Taiwan to connect with extended family and improve my Chinese language abilities, and I chose Costa Rica out of a passion for Latin American culture. The country is so full of natural beauty and is the most peaceful country in Latin America.

“I had devoted two years to learning Chinese and Spanish because those are currently the two most important languages for international success. Spanish fluency has already proven useful in my current medical education, and I hope to be able to use Chinese in my career both locally and doing international work, such as with Doctors without Borders.”

Accommodations — “In Taiwan, I lived in dorms with three local university students, which immersed me in the local environment. The tiny, crammed dorm room made us less like roommates and more like a family.

“In Costa Rica, I stayed with a host family within walking distance of the university. Every Sunday, I went to the local market with my host mother, who showed me fruits, vegetables and snacks I had never seen before. Through a shared love of cooking, we taught each other how to prepare dishes from our respective cultures. We had family movie nights together, visited relatives in other parts of Costa Rica and threw parties for friends and family. I genuinely felt like I was part of the culture.”

Funding — “I was a recipient of the Turner Scholarship, a UC|21 Scholarship, a Cincinnatus scholarship and a grant from UC International, all of which were applicable to my studies abroad.”

Highlights — “The connection with my parents’ homeland in Taiwan has been an incredible personal journey toward understanding my identity. Visiting my uncle in my mother’s hometown was particularly enlightening. I actually met schoolmates of my mother who told me stories about my mother when she was my age. I sat in silence by the shore where my mother walked as a child and pondered over the generations of family memories that the ocean must hold. I thought about the sand of the beach and the soil of the mountains where my ancestors farmed and cultivated the very earth that makes up the tiny island of Taiwan.”

Importance of the trip — “Making note of cultural differences makes you realize how your own behaviors and beliefs have been shaped by the environment in which you were raised. This is the first step of truly understanding diversity. Then you begin to realize how everyone, regardless of culture, has a unique personal history that shapes who they are. My experiences abroad made me more globally aware and accepting of diversity.

“Studying abroad can be full of personal challenges that will greatly test your self-confidence. Venturing out on my own taught me to make the best use out of available resources and distinguish between reliable and non-reliable sources. I gained confidence to reach goals and destinations in the most exhilarating and liberating way possible.

“I encourage anyone considering studying abroad to stop sitting on the fence and just do it! This is the best time in your life to go abroad. We’re young, we’re energetic, we’re curious, and we can. There’s no better time than now.”

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