By Perla Ramos '14
As a transfer student, I knew I had a very limited time to complete my graduation requirements and give myself the most authentic college experience at the same time. Near the beginning of my final year, I realized that I had already completed the majority of my core classes and would be finishing a quarter early because of it. I had to make a decision between taking it easy the final term or using the extra time for something else. I remembered countless alumni panels, mentors, teachers, and coworkers all tell me about their study abroad experiences (and those who regretted not going in the first place). Those conversations gave me the motivation to at least try to get into a study abroad program, since it would be my last opportunity to do so before graduating. I’m eternally grateful I made the decision to apply and that I was accepted to such a unique study abroad program.
Months later I found myself in Edinburgh, Scotland interning for a Member of the Scottish Parliament. On a typical week, I worked at the Scottish Parliament building from Monday through Thursday and then I would have class on Fridays at the University of Edinburgh campus. Working in politics was especially interesting this term because of looming Brexit concerns, which Scotland had voted against. Every day was full of tasks like writing newspaper columns or letter responses and getting to watch politicians debate over issues and vote on policies that would directly affect constituents across Scotland. I also got the opportunity to see how politics operated in England, since our program organized a trip to visit the Supreme Court and Westminster. There, we got to speak with a Member of the House of Commons, and it was very eye-opening to hear about his unorthodox path to politics and what role he wanted to play for his country. Because the program didn’t offer housing, I had to coordinate with other students to find a small cheap apartment, which made for several hilarious deadline nights and post-work bonding experiences, as well as lots of pub and hiking trips. Beyond knowing my flatmates, I also got to meet other students in the sister programs that stemmed from mine. While they were not internship students, they still went to school at the University of Edinburgh so there were plenty of opportunities to go out and explore the city together.
Beyond that, I think one of the most memorable parts from this experience was during the breaks, when I planned my own trips and got to experience Scotland as a lost American. As an introvert, this was probably one of my favorite parts of being abroad because traveling by myself was a mix of running to catch the train, freezing in 30 degree weather, walking along freeways, meeting strangers, and trying new foods. There’s a sense of freedom I never got to experience even during undergrad that I found in Scotland, because not even my parents could call me overseas. I was truly left to fend for myself and found the challenge so exciting, having to figure out my own way to and from different destinations and getting happily lost along the way. The thing I would emphasize to someone considering study abroad is that there will never be a more opportune moment as right now. I had friends who pushed it off, saying things like “I’ll go when I have a job and I have money” or “I’ll go when I get married because it’ll be more fun with someone.” It is my belief that being an undergrad student provides the most freedom with relatively low responsibility and after graduation, those proportions begin to switch places. And once that time is gone, it becomes harder to put life aside--debts, vacation days, family/kids, etc.--to take a trip that could have happened during college. Something that I really liked about study abroad is that there are so many different options for programs that I never realized existed. My program was an internship, but there are also volunteer and research options, university and home-stay options, multi-city programs, extendable programs, etc. It leads to an experience that can be tailored into a particular direction so that it feels a bit less daunting. While there are several programs in different languages, if that seems too nerve-wracking, there are plenty of English-language programs for those who prefer to focus on other aspects of the study abroad experience. It’s scary and takes time for adjustment; there will always be a low point and I definitely hit mine at the middle of my study abroad term. That being said, I don’t regret going. It allowed me a unique environment to grow on a personal, academic, and professional level that I never would have have gotten at my campus. I will always look back at my study abroad experience with the fondest memories of self-discovery, gained perspectives, new connections, and a newfound desire to explore the world.