By David Carder
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Imagine being born in Western New York and experiencing the cold, white winters and the beautiful, blossoming springs. Although there may be seasons that are preferred over others, the beauty that each season brings keeps you cemented in Western New York.
You may visit various states as life progresses but, for the most part, New York is the only place that will ever be considered home. Dreams of flying around the world and visiting some of the most astounding places - the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Eiffel Tower and the Sydney Opera House - always seem to be just that: dreams.
Some of one's wildest dreams may seem far-fetched when, in actuality, they are easily attainable. Traveling to different countries is a dream that many people harbor throughout life. Fortunately, colleges have presented opportunities for students to continue their education while striving for once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Mykayla Biechy never originally thought studying abroad would be something in her future. As a nursing major, it was highly discouraged to take time off from strict academia, as it would prevent her from graduating in four years. The classes she was offered were only available at specific times throughout the semester due to the design of the program. While in the program, it was almost impossible to transfer credits in that would be equivalent to courses offered within the curriculum. Taking any semester off would set back the nursing majors a full year due to when courses were offered.
Despite wanting to travel, Mykayla saw that as a dream that may never come to fruition.
However, "When I switched majors, studying abroad became an opportunity that was feasible without delaying graduation," Mykayla said.
She switched majors from nursing to business management and saw an opportunity present itself. Her boyfriend at the time had always expressed interest in studying abroad, specifically on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. After he presented her the opportunity to travel with him and study abroad, positive research and overwhelming support in favor of the idea pushed Mykayla to tackling this chance head-on.
"I had never been more than 40 minutes away from home before. I had never been out of the country, and this experience could allow me to get out of my comfort zone and grow as a person," Mykayla said.
Studying abroad is a perfect opportunity for Mykayla and others to achieve these simple desires.
Going abroad to various countries allows students and individuals to experience different aspects of the world. Every country showcases a large variety of cultures, people, attractions and more. Studying abroad not only allows individuals to continue their studies, but also provides an opportunity to branch out from one's typical surroundings.
Despite many college students struggling with the fight against procrastination, staying on top of classes and credits can really be beneficial.
Jamie Magone found this to be true as he was ahead of schedule with the amount of credits he had taken, so studying abroad in the spring semester of his junior year was an excellent opportunity that presented itself.
Going to school in Niagara Falls allows many students the opportunity to venture up to Canada when there is free time available. This was the only country Jamie had visited up to this point in his life, so studying abroad was his chance to finally venture outside of North America.
"The idea of being so independent and living in a new, big city for the first time was too exciting to pass up," Jamie said.
Studying abroad provided him the opportunity to grow as a person by creating a higher level of independence.
Being thousands of miles away from home for an entire semester is a daunting and anxious task for people. For Jamie, this opportunity was one that could not be passed up. While studying in London for the semester, he had the ability to visit other magnificent countries and tourist sites due to the close proximity England is with other European countries.
"Being in London put me in an ideal location to travel to other countries over weekends and breaks, as well. I visited Madrid, Rome, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Edinburgh twice, and several places in Ireland," Jamie said.
While some of these places may not have been on his initial radar before starting his semester abroad, being placed in an environment where the opportunities are endless is something unique that studying abroad provides for students. Apart from the opportunities studying abroad provides in terms of leisure activities, the academic aspect of studying abroad is certainly one of a kind.
"Study abroad is not merely a travel experience, but, first and foremost, an academic experience in an international setting. Our world has become increasingly interconnected and learning about globalization and intercultural perspectives is necessary for success in our communities and workplace," said Dr. Deborah Curtis, executive director of the International Relations Office at Niagara University.
With the way the world is developing and becoming more diverse and technologically advance, it is crucial for students to learn in a variety of capacities. Learning about how different cultures interact with one another as well as how different cultures operate within the workplace is an important skill that students can learn while abroad. Diversity on all fronts within a professional setting is prevalent more now than ever, which puts an increased importance on being capable of working with people from different backgrounds, cultures, etc.
Tyler O'Meal also visited the Sunshine Coast and studied at the University of the Sunshine Coast for a semester. Australia's natural beauty and culture is immersed throughout the country in various shapes and forms and that is what attracted Tyler to studying in Australia. Although he had wanted to visit the country as a tourist for many years, the knowledge of a study abroad program with one of Niagara University's partner schools helped develop what once was just a dream into something tangible.
"Academically it was different. For each class we only had three or four assignments and tests for the whole semester. Each class had a lecture section one day and then a lab or tutorial section on a different day, with various tasks that were given in those sections," Tyler said. "Having minimal, largely weighted assignments helped manage my time a little better, because they required more work than some assignments at Niagara."
One way to diversify your skills as a student and as an individual is by taking in studies in different formats. Australia showcased a format of learning that was widely different than what was typically experienced in Tyler's studies stateside.
Taking in content and material in formats that one typically does not handle will build upon academic skills and create a better-rounded student.
Maybe studying abroad for an entire semester is not the best route for you, and perhaps the idea of being away from home and out of your comfort zone for that extended period of time is too much to handle while still in college, no matter what year you are. Fortunately, most schools will provide an opportunity for a shortened experience that still provides a well-rounded and diverse experience.
"My study abroad opportunity took me to three different countries over the course of two weeks - Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. ... After a few weeks of studying abroad, I was ready to be back home. The two weeks is a perfect time length, because you get to see the culture of different countries and even meet people from all over the world - even if it's just a short amount of time," Bryce Guerrie said.
Studying abroad during a winter break or summer program is a more condensed option for students. These programs are usually associated with a class taken during the semester with the trip abroad associated within the curriculum.
Bryce was enrolled in a World War II class, so his trip abroad was focused around attaining a deeper understanding around events during that time period.
"The trip really made me feel more culturally knowledgeable," Bryce said.
Studying abroad is truly an experience of a lifetime. From being immersed into different cultures, visiting exotic and historic countries, and being educated in a manner unfamiliar to some, going abroad during college as a part of your academics is something every student should consider.
Mykayla discussed how studying abroad goes beyond experiencing different countries and cultures. It helps one discover more about oneself. Studying abroad allows you to grow as an individual and become more independent, responsible and prepared for the workplace.
"Students who participate in a meaningful international experience commonly refer to it as an astounding, life-changing experience, above and beyond the initial expectations of the participant. An experience that will challenge you, change you, and motivate you, study abroad is well worth the time, money and effort," states the Niagara University website.