What I learned from studying abroad

Posted on November 20, 2017 by Natasha Spradlin
Natasha Spradlin

Natasha Spradlin, Reporter data-lightbox='featured'
Natasha on her trip to Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Natasha Spradlin

Article contributed by Natasha Spradlin, The Vanguard

I started my undergraduate career in 2012 with a dream to study abroad, but as a first-generation college student from a low-income family, my prospects seemed dim. My freshman year, I could not help but wonder how I could pay for a trip abroad, let alone afford to study in another country. My financial responsibilities made it difficult to entertain the idea that I could achieve my goals.

“People like me don’t study abroad,” I said. “I’ll never be able to save enough money.”

Self-doubt is a powerful, crippling emotion. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was selling myself short. I assumed I was being realistic; it was better to accept my fate than work unnecessarily hard for an improbable outcome. In one year I talked myself out of studying abroad. Self-doubt caused me to make excuses instead of find solutions.

Graduation rolled around faster than I thought it would and by my junior year, I felt lost. One day, I sat down and wrote a list of my long-term and short-term goals. In bold letters, study abroad stared me in the face.

I’d be lying if I said I no longer felt self-doubt when I solidified my goals in writing. The difference was I decided to stop letting the word “no” dictate my life. I quit calling study abroad a dream because it wasn’t a dream.

My grandmother always told me, “Make a plan and work the plan.” Study abroad was a plan and I was going to work it! If one program did not work for me I looked for another.

I started to consider questions such as whether I wanted to satisfy credits for my major or my gen-ed requirements while abroad. I looked for shorter programs because I knew a semester or year-long program was not a feasible option for me due to work. I set a budget and searched for programs that fit in my budget. I applied for scholarships and I wrote essays. I bookmarked programs that gave me the option to apply my financial aid to the cost. If a program included meals, airfare and/or housing it became a top contender on my list. If it did not, I let it go.

I am proud to say my plan worked. In May, I studied abroad for the first time. I chose to go on a USA faculty-led Biology program with Dr. Mata in Costa Rica and I had the time of my life. The opportunity to learn biology in the rainforest vs. a classroom was an invaluable experience. I gained a better understanding of the world. I made lifelong friends. I discovered new and exciting foods.

However, the greatest lesson I learned while studying abroad is I can do anything I set my mind to. I found myself again through leaving my comfort zone and if you ask me, you can’t beat that.

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