Alexis studied on the Amsterdam, Netherlands: Dutch Criminal Justice (Summer) Program in Summer 2016.
If you could give only one reason, why would you suggest other students study abroad?
I would suggest that other students study abroad because personally and academically it provided me with a much appreciated shift in perspective. Not only was it eye opening, but it was also an incredibly enjoyable experience during which I met students similar to myself who I bonded with a great deal through all of our travels.
What was it about your program specifically that fit your personal goals over other programs?
I have always wanted to travel Europe, but this program gave me opportunities that related directly to my major and my interests like visiting the Anne Frank house, touring dutch prisons, homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and even a women’s resource center for human trafficking and prostitution. These are experiences that are completely unique to Penn States program in Amsterdam due to the hard work and connections of Howard Smith and his Dutch partners. I would have never been able to create a trip like this one traveling to Amsterdam on my own.
How have you used the skills you learned abroad now that you are back; either in job searching, or in other activities?
I’ve only been back for two months, but I think that the famous dutch attitude of tolerance and open mindedness has rubbed off on me. In my classes I’ve found that my opinions on certain issues that we covered in Amsterdam have shifted. I think I gained more confidence and independence from my solo travel experiences and due to the fact that Howard Smith had us write 25 pages of summaries on articles related to our class work, I’d say my writing and critical thinking skills have improved as well.
What experiences did you have while studying abroad that you feel you could not have had if you had stayed at Penn State?
I sometimes think about what would have happened had I stayed at home and took a summer course instead or read up on dutch culture. My thoughts on this are that I would’ve saved a lot of money but also lost an incredible experience and missed out on the best summer of my life. There is no way to immerse yourself in a culture or understand a group of people different from the people that you are used to without visiting them and living the way they live. My trip was 100% worth it for me, and I’d do it again.
What advice would you give to outbound study abroad students to help them make the most out of their study abroad experiences?
If you’re not sure if you need that specific item of clothing that you keep debating on, the answer is no, you don’t need it. Suitcase space is precious, use it wisely. Don’t be afraid to eat street food sometimes, on the same hand don’t be afraid to splurge on a meal every once in awhile. You’re in another country, remember you can get McDonald’s at home. Explore, get lost, it’s okay. Ask people for directions. Even if everyone seems to speaks English, put some effort in to learn the language of the country you’re visiting. Ask your waiter/waitress for their favorite local bars/hangouts/places you should see before you leave. Make friends with the people on your trip. Always know where your wallet is and on the first day, find an ATM close to your hotel/apartment.
Share an experience where you interacted with someone in your host culture in a way that taught you something.
On the first day of class we went on a tour of the red light district with “homeless Eddie.” Eddie speaks perfect English and is no longer homeless because of his rapidly growing tour business, but because of his past, he was able to show us his perspective of the city of Amsterdam, which turned out to be extremely memorable for me. We walked passed lit up windows with red curtains where the prostitutes or “window girls” were working, he explained to us that human trafficking and hard drug use were huge issues for these women and that very few of them wanted to work this way. Later on in the week, we were given a lecture by a former sex worker that explained to us that she worked in the windows and for escort services completely of her own free will and only stopped because she was aging and because of the stigma it had for her family. These differing perspectives that were both willingly provided for us by our professors were not only interesting in themselves, but they allowed us to form our opinions on the truth.