LaShawn studied in Mexico on the Puebla, Mexico: Spanish Language, Art and Mexican Culture program in the Summer of 2015.
If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?
I would recommend students interested in studying abroad to do it because it is an opportunity to experience new and exciting things in a safe and guided environment.
If you could go abroad again, what would you do differently?
If I could go abroad a second time, I would seek opportunities to try activities that I did not the first time. I left the United States for the first time for my trip in Mexico, and I told myself to have an open mind. Having seen the memorable experiences that I had with my host family, the other students, professors, and community, I would have liked to open up to everyone much sooner during the trip.
What specific factors influenced your decision to go abroad?
In choosing to go abroad, I focused on where my interests were, opportunities to work on my language of study(Spanish) and the fluency that would be required to travel, as well as costs of the trip for tuition and budgeting that I would need on my trip for food, clothes, personal items, and events.
What concerns/fears did you have about studying abroad, and how did you overcome them?
I did not know what to expect. This was my first trip out of the country, and I was worried that my Spanish education would not be sufficient enough for me to get around or talk to my host family. I was worried that I would not be able to understand anyone. All of these concerns made me a little nervous, but I also kept in mind that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and talking to the Penn State faculty that were going on the trip made me feel more comfortable about everything. Slowly excitement for the unknown began to replace nervousness.
How have you used the skills you learned abroad now that you are back; either in job searching, or in other activities?
After coming back, I am more comfortable with speaking in Spanish outside of the classroom setting, and I find that as long as other people that I come into contact with are okay with it I am more open with everyone. I brought back a more communal outlook on society, which allows me to connect with a large group of diverse individuals and make connections that I otherwise probably would have never done.
Did you participate in any service projects while on your program? How did that enhance your study abroad experience?
During one of our end of the week trips, we travelled to a local school near Yohualichan. The PSU Puebla program has had a tradition of donating money to purchase resources to give the school and the group spends part of the day with the children learning about the school and their program. We came to serve the school and when we arrived the children and workers welcomed us with open arms and had a spirit of serving towards us by providing us with necklaces made from flowers and sweets and bracelets made from cocoa beans. Everyone was warm and caring. The boys and girls played basketball and soccer with Penn Staters, and they really got into it. This experience brought home to me that there are people in all conditions everywhere around the world, and just taking a little time out of the day to help others is always rewarding. A spirit of service and community is truly alive and vibrant in the Mexican culture, and I saw it exemplified in so many ways throughout my trip.
What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at Penn State?
I tried new foods unique to a foreign country like lengua de res (cow tongue), litchi, and helado de queso (ice cream with cheese pieces in it). I also just went out and did new things that I would not have tried due to my own stereotypes and prejudices on what is and is not acceptable for me try. I was in a new place, so I did not have the societal barriers that I feel like I notice back home in the states.
What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most out of their study abroad experiences?
To students leaving to go on their voyages abroad, I would suggest that you take advantage of every opportunity offered. Get to know the other participants going on the trip with you; they decided to go on this trip as well. Try to figure out why they wanted to go and what they hope to gain from this trip, as it may give you more enlightenment. Just try new things. You may not have the opportunity to experience these things at another point in your life, so talk to people you might not think about talking to children, the elderly, people along the street. Learn about their lives. Life lessons come in all shapes and sizes. Be flexible. Sometimes things do not always go according to plan but they are still worthwhile and learning opportunities. The most important thing is to just be present. Take in everything, the music, the smells, the people, the clothes, the FOOD :). Take the good times with the bad, embrace your moments of discomfort and move toward stepping out of your comfort zone and growing.You will be glad that you did, if you have the time, think about doing a daily journal. It is a good way to constantly reflect on the moments you are experiencing away from home and you will not forget about memorable moments.