By Jeanette Grider, Senior Media Relations Specialist, Saint Louis University
This spring, hundreds of Saint Louis University (SLU) students from the University’s campuses in St. Louis, Missouri and Madrid, Spain, embarked on an academic adventure to broaden their view of the world.
Study abroad programs offer students opportunities to experience other campuses, countries and cultures while continuing their educational journey. From Europe to Asia, Africa to Central America and beyond, students with majors as diverse as business, STEM and the humanities – and sometimes those who are still defining their future path – leave not only home, but also their home campus for a semester. But how does a student prepare for that experience?
Margaret Kessler is a Study Abroad counselor at the St. Louis campus, who helps guide students as they prepare for their semester abroad. She was once a study abroad student herself, and observes how students can use the experience to step out of their classroom setting and use the world as their textbook. She says, “Whether it is practicing language skills with locals, seeing (with their own eyes) paintings and architecture that they have only seen in their textbooks, or participating in service learning or immersion experiences, students can grow and transform from their experiences abroad.”
Kessler says that sometimes she is totally surprised at the impact of studying abroad. One student who came to her for guidance, had an interest in visiting another country but was unsure about what kind of program would best suit him. A quiet student with decent grades, he needed a push; he came home a different person.
“After his semester abroad, he came back to see me and I could not believe he was the same student,” Kessler says. “He was very outgoing, very loquacious, and even decided to volunteer with our international ambassador program. He knew how hard it was to be abroad and wanted to be there as a support to our new students at SLU. The transformation he made always sticks with me as a reminder of how much our students grow and learn while they are abroad.”
At SLU Madrid, counselor Kate Brooks shares a similar view about the transformational power of the study abroad experience. “My favorite part about working in study abroad is connecting with the students after they have returned,” Brooks says. “Students come into my office, without even the self-assurance to apply for a passport on their own. They return with the self-confidence to do anything in the world. They’ve mastered navigating public transportation systems, figured out which places close during siesta, and found positive ways to deal with homesickness, culture shock and the stress of everyday life abroad.”
Brooks continues: “Before students come to Madrid, they think they have all the time in the world to accomplish their goals. When they return, they realize that they’ve only had a taste of Spanish life and culture. They wish to return to work on their language skills and spend more time with the people of Spain.”
Spain is just one of the many locations where SLU students study abroad. Sophomore Noah Bodimer grew up in St. Louis and is an international business major with a minor in French, now studying at the Catholic University of Lyon, France, this semester.
“I wanted to truly immerse myself in another culture and country to further my education and cultural awareness,” Bodimer explains. “Lyon offers a setting where I can improve my French abilities and work with students from around the world, granting me unforgettable insight into how to work in a global and ever-changing environment. My program allows me to dive into what my future career very well may end up [looking] like: where no person in my group is from the same nation, or we all come from drastically different economic or social backgrounds.”
He adds, “I have been able to make friends through finding things we have in common, and discovering Lyon together as we explore a new and exciting city with a vibrant nightlife and lots of history.”
Flannery Harman, a sophomore majoring in public health, who chose to study at the SLU Madrid campus, says that she wanted to see the world and experience a culture other than her own.
“Studying abroad was the perfect opportunity to understand another culture, see the world and still keep up with my academics,” Harman says. “I hope to learn about myself and the world. I think that going to another country and living life differently to what is ‘normal’ for you can be very uncomfortable at first, but you learn to adapt and you see challenges you can overcome. It is a huge confidence boost.”