Shana-Kay studied in Dominican Republic on the CIEE: Santiago, Dominican Republic, Liberal Arts program in Spring 2016.
If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?
I think I would tell other students to study abroad because it is simply a life-changing experience. You are presented with an opportunity to experience a country in a way that many people can only dream about doing. You meet people who will impact you forever, you learn about your respective country and learn a different perspective of the people of that country. Studying abroad is something that changes your life because it changes your world-view and how you view yourself. I can guarantee you, once you study abroad you will come back to your home country with a new perspective and appreciation for life itself.
If you could go abroad again, what would you do differently?
If I could go abroad again, I think the only thing I would do differently is to try to immerse myself more into everything: I would take advantage more of the opportunities I had accessible to me and not be so reluctant to go for something. For example, before embarking on my study abroad experience, I told myself that I would do my best to get involved with community service projects in the country. However, I was unable to do so because of my course workload and other activities I had relating to my program. But if I could go back, I would push myself to make time for the opportunity.
What specific factors influenced your decision to go abroad?
Studying abroad has always been a dream of mine and I knew long before I started my college career that it was definitely something I was interested in taking part in. Furthermore, traveling and learning about other cultures is something I am very passionate about. I am a firm believer that life is not meant to be lived in once place and that traveling is a way to fully live and experience life. I decided to go abroad primary because of my interest and passion for learning about different countries/cultures, but also because I believe it is an experience that will add to my overall college experience and help my post graduation career in ways I can’t even imagine.
What concerns/fears did you have about studying abroad, and how did you overcome them?
I started my study abroad experience off with many fears. I was so afraid of leaving behind everything I was comfortable with: my family, my friends, my university; everything I had known for the last twenty years of my life. I was fearful that I would have a hard time adjusting to my host country, living with a host family and having to speak in a language I wasn’t 100% confident in. Upon my arrival in the Dominican Republic, my first week abroad was somewhat difficult because I suffered from homesickness. However, when I decided to change my mindset and to try my hardest to appreciate the experience as it was probably a once in a life time event, I began to enjoy my experience and my fears melted away. I learned that the only way to challenge yours fears is to face them head on and the only way to do that is to embrace being outside of your comfort zone because that is where life’s greatest experiences happen.
What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?
My program offered me the opportunity to live in a homestay and to take courses on topics that I believe will give me the skills I need in regards to the type of post graduation career I am interested in. Because I lived with a homestay family, I had to speak Spanish 24/7 and this helped enhance my Spanish Speaking skills. Since I am double majoring in Spanish, I wanted to study abroad in a country where Spanish was spoken majority of the time, in comparison to a place like Spain where there are many English speaking parts of the country. Furthermore, I was exposed to courses on topics such as Intercultural Learning and Communication, that introduced me to valuable concepts and skills necessary for any post college career.
How have you used the skills you learned abroad now that you are back; either in job searching, or in other activities?
I try to market my study abroad experience as much as possible; the fact that I lived in a different country for four months, spoke a different language and learned how to interact with new people, had to learn how to establish rapport quickly and learn how to adjust to a new environment are skills I believe I’ve attained and are valuable to any and all activities in my life, especially job searching. I believe my study abroad experience definitely helped me get the internship I have now for this summer because while I was abroad I blogged and took pictures and because of that, I was contacted by the director of one of the internships I had applied for and I think it is because of my study abroad experience overall and skills I learned abroad that my employer believed would make me an eligible intern.
What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at Penn State?
I was able to interact with Dominicans on a different level. I lived with a family in a homestay which was very different than living on campus at Penn State. It was nice being in a family setting; it helped me enjoy life more (and definitely my experience more) and not just stress about school at every moment. Furthermore, I was able to interact with both Dominican and Haitian students, study Dominican politics, folklore, culture and history in a way that is not offered at Penn State; I had weekly excursions to historic sites, museums, beaches, free trade working zones, different parts of the island and even the opportunity to travel to other countries; all of which are things that heightened my experience and I would not have been able to have at Penn State.
What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most out of their study abroad experiences?
I think the best advice I can give is to just enjoy and appreciate every moment and try your best to seize every opportunity that comes your way while abroad. Spend time with your host family, make new friends especially with people who might not be your age, race, gender etc. Attend class and participate in your discussions, take advantage of resources around you and just truly live each day abroad knowing that yes, you might be able to study abroad or travel again in the future, but you will never have the same experiences/moments ever again so really cherish everything as much as you can.
Share an experience where you interacted with someone in your host culture in a way that taught you something.
Just by living with a host family and talking and interacting with local Dominicans everyday for four months taught me to appreciate the time you spend with people and to try to be present as much as possible while I am with whoever I am with. Some of my most cherished moments from studying abroad are just simple moments such as playing dominoes with my host brother, sitting on the veranda with my host grandma, or spending saturday afternoons studying and talking with my friends. These simple moments are moments that impacted me and made me the happiest I’ve ever been.