Study abroad enriches the learning process

Photo submitted by Marnie Leonard

Photo submitted by Marnie Leonard

Dylan Kleiss

Staff Writer

Going abroad is a great way to get out and experience how the world works. The ability to experience a new culture is something that cannot be taught in a classroom. Studying abroad opens up one’s thoughts of how the world works in more than one way.

College is about experiencing and growing, and Parkland knows that. Students should be able to see what they are capable of outside the classroom and expand their comfort zone. Several of Parkland’s students are international students, as well as local students that end up going abroad.

“Absolutely everyone should go abroad,” says Marnie Leonard, a former Parkland student who went to Seville, Spain, in the spring semester of 2016. “I feel the world is globalized, and now there are so many diverse cultures that surround us. This kind of closeness is not easy for everyone. The program is a good way to get out of your comfort zone. It opens up mindsets in a good way. Going international allows such a great independent experience.”

Leonard feels like students, after they go abroad, come back with an open mind and an urge to continue learning and appreciating cultures around them. Even coming home can be a different experience, making the returning students appreciate things they are already used to in an entirely new way.

Going abroad can be exciting, and equally terrifying.

“It’s a huge leap of faith,” Leonard said.

Of course, choosing to go away for a semester or a year is a big deal. Some people see it as missing out on local and family experiences. It is hard for some to imagine a world outside of where they are from.

Vitor dos Santos is a Brazilian international student on the Parkland soccer team. He has been in Champaign for a little over a year.

“Soccer is a passion for Brazilians,” he said.

Dos Santos comes from a family where studying is important and they see how things are gained from an education. He found one of the only ways to combine playing soccer and going to school was to come to the States.

“Here in America was the only place that I found I could do the two things,” he said.

Before he discovered a Brazilian company specializing in international student exchanges, he never thought much about going abroad. He found out about the program his senior year in high school.

Dos Santos, like many other students before embarking on their experiences abroad, had some ideas about the people that are from his future city. It is very common for international students to have expectations of people and some of the things that they hope to experience while away and abroad.

Many students romanticize the experience as revolutionary in their life, historical, and elegant.

“It has been, like, incredible,” dos Santos says. “Here, people are very polite. Facilities and the country are very nice. Parkland College is a good example for a junior college. It’s one of the best; probably would be better than any university in Latin America.”

Going abroad provides a certain type of challenge that cannot be given through a classroom.

One thing that both Leonard and dos Santos knew was that studying abroad is a great way to learn about yourself and to globalize. By going abroad, you can learn more about humanity and how cultures work. It is something that provides both professional and personal growth.

The abroad experience has several steps, apart from simply applying. Students are typically a little overwhelmed upon their arrival despite all the preparations leading up to their departure. Making new friends, getting to know the landscape, and the hassle of making a new routine, not to mention the culture shock, are all part of this.

The little things from home often become the greatest things that are missed. By missing certain aspects from one’s everyday life, one often sees how other cultures choose to do those little things.

“The friends that are made while on exchange are usually also other international students,” Leonard said. “The connections between you and the other students are strong since you are all having the same experiences. Though you and the other student may be from different places, this only helps you with how to work with other people in a diverse way.”

Getting to know the other students is a great tool in itself. They can provide emotional support through the culture shock, as well as an instant network. Students often stay in touch after their time abroad. Though they travel together, learn and have fun together, they also have the same outside point of view that a student from Parkland going abroad would.

“When I was young I always wanted to go abroad,” Leonard said. “As soon as I got to Parkland, I went to look how to do it. They told me what to do.”

Leonard then found Jody Littleton, coordinator for Parkland’s study abroad programs, who helped her go to Brazil for part of a summer. Leonard then went on to go to Seville. She had never known anything about Seville, though she would love to return.

With all the things to gain, Parkland makes it fairly easy to go abroad for some who might not get the experience outside of school. Parkland seems to understand that some aspects of going abroad can be extremely intimidating. Whether or not learning a new language makes you nervous, anyone interested can still experience a new culture.

“A lot students want to use a study abroad experience,” Littleton says. “They use it to study languages. We have German, French, Spanish, and Chinese. You can go and study a language which is really great because it’s such an intensive experience.”

Parkland’s abroad program emphasizes to immerse oneself with the local culture.

“A lot of the abroad locations are home stays,” Littleton says. “So, you are living with a family in Spain, with a family in Costa Rica. You are having to speak the language with the family in the home, at school, on the street.”

For those that are more daunted with the language difference aspect, Ireland and England are also offered. Those two locations are great as well as several students may have family history in origin.

Going abroad is always a personal decision, but there are so many benefits in doing an international exchange.