Tag Archives: #advice

Skills Beyond Your Study Abroad Program

Figuring out ways to communicate the impact of studying abroad beyond “It was AMAZING!” can be tricky. By the time I returned to the U.S. and particularly by the time I graduated, I found it difficult to articulate the skills I gained and why my experience abroad as a Gilman Scholar was so life changing.

After a few Gilman webinars, workshops, and Alumni Ambassador training, I have narrowed it down to the 5 most impactful “soft skills” that I gained from studying abroad. And to be honest, I am not a fan of the term “soft skills” because they are not something to scoff at—they are invaluable and highly marketable skills that help you thrive personally, professionally, and academically.

  1. Problem-Solving
    Studying abroad encourages you to navigate new and sometimes challenging situations on your own, and, you guessed it—problem-solving. What am I going to do now that I am lost in a country where the official language is not English? I am going to get creative and figure it out because I can’t NOT do something.
  2. Adaptability
    You learn to accept and handle change when you find yourself in a new country, new culture, with a potentially new language, and when things inevitably do not go as planned. Reflecting on my experience with culture shock was helpful in identifying and articulating what adaptability is for me.
  3. Intercultural Communication
    Immersing yourself in a different culture is eye-opening—you gain a sense of humility and awareness of different politics, lifestyles, privileges, and histories. This pushes us outside of our ethnocentric bubbles and helped me become more open and patient when communicating with people from different backgrounds.
  4. Independence & Self Reliance
    I spent a lot of time alone when studying abroad, which helped me become more comfortable with myself and confident in my abilities. I am also a firm believer that your study abroad experience is what you make of it. I pursued things that interested me by taking part in different activities that weren’t available back home, such as volunteering and traveling, which helped me realize just how well I can figure things out for myself.
  5. Curiosity
    Most of my learning while abroad happened outside of class in the form of cultural immersion, asking “why”, problem-solving, and saying “yes” to opportunities outside of my comfort zone. I wanted to learn and absorb as much as possible and I enjoy fueling my curiosity by pursuing new paths (like learning Arabic now!).

The challenge is identifying the skills you gained and figuring out how to communicate them outside of the realm of study abroad.

For me, my adaptability allows me to function with a high level of ambiguity and handle stress. My intercultural communication helps me to take on new perspectives and establish rapport quickly. My problem-solving skills enable me to learn through listening and observing, process information and organize and prioritize work.

I would encourage you to take some time to be introspective and unpack your experiences. Think about how you have grown because of your study abroad experience and how you can extend your skills beyond the scope of study abroad. And then lastly, I would challenge you to think of how you can use these skills not only to advance your education and career but to give back to your communities.

Being a Gilman Scholar is a lot more than receiving a scholarship because it connects you to a global network of ambitious students, mentors, and peers. It pushes you to think critically about your study abroad program before you even set foot on the plane. Gilman gives you the opportunity to utilize the skills you developed abroad and to pay it forward as part of this international network in your future careers, at your school and in how you grow as an individual.

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Eight Remarkable Characteristics of Ghanaian Culture

As I approach my first month here in Ghana, I have had the chance to witness and be a part of many central features involving Ghanaian culture. Absorbing and observing another culture other than one’s own is an awe-inspiring experience, and for that reason I’ve shared some parts of the culture here that I’ve found pretty cool.

1. Community. Is. Everything.
Ghanaians share an immensely powerful bond with each other, and it is evident all throughout the country. For example, if a person was eating next to a total stranger who did not have anything in front of them, it would be customary to say, “You are invited.” Everyone shares, and it makes my heart warm to see such a simple kindness between two unrelated individuals. Complete strangers may show up to funerals, weddings, or any other ceremony because all are welcome.



Some of the international and Ghanaian students out for a Friday night.


2. Systems Don’t Work, People Do
I have been told this several times over the course of my time here, and I believe that I am starting to get better at accepting it. In summary, this motto is a way to say that face-to-face interaction is more effective than any program or technology. Efficiency comes second… always. Many of the international students are used to time being associated with money and productivity, so taking it slow is an alien concept.

3. People Adore Dancing
I have yet to find a person here who detests music and dance. Music floods the university, the hostels, and downtown. Also, people just naturally have rhythm and are familiar with at least a few traditional dances. A favored pastime of numerous college students involves visiting a local nightclub to listen and dance along to the popular Ghanaian artists.

4. Greetings are Imperative
Basic conversation is expected in most environments, especially when asking for something. It is considered impolite to get straight to the point, first one should question the other on their day and well-being. When a person asks a question, they often start it with ‘please,’ as the person answering is performing a favor when doing so. Closer friends frequently use a local handshake, a kind of snap between one’s thumb and middle finger for casual greetings.

5. Soccer, Soccer, Soccer
One of the first nights at the hostel, I heard intense screaming throughout the building. In a moment of confusion, I rushed outside to see what was causing all of the commotion. It turns out that half of the hostel was upstairs watching the African Cup, cheering for the record-holding Ghanaian Black Stars. Besides watching soccer, one can see students enjoying an afternoon game after school, or visiting the Accra stadium to watch the local Ghanaian teams.


Some of the Black Star players prior to a big game. This year, they made it to the semi-finals, but ultimately lost against Cameroon.


6. The Way You Dress Matters
After coming from a university where sweats and ponytails are the norm, it’s a bit refreshing to see that mostly all students will put time in their appearance for lectures. Going to college is both a privilege and a sign of adulthood, and individuals in Ghana believe it should be represented as such. Besides the classroom, one can find that different occasions call for assorted attire. Happy occasions demand white, while funerals are filled with black or red. As for everyday apparel, colorful (and usually handmade) clothing fill the bustling crowds.



On a trip to Kumasi to visit the Ashanti King, we had the chance to see the unique wraps of kente cloth (a type of hand stitched fabric) among important officials from the palace.


7. Bargaining is an Art Form
Unless someone wishes to pay a ridiculously overpriced amount for a possession, bargaining must be used. The two main markets in Accra, Madina and Accra Central, are extremely crowded streets filled with booths selling various goods. From fresh produce to a new cellular device, the markets are the place to get a deal. The only catch is you have to bargain for it… and do it well. If a person does not know the correct price range for a product they run the risk of overpaying. In addition to this, patience and skill is required because bargaining is a process, not a quick action with a time frame.

8. Language is Fluid
When I say that language is fluid, I am struggling to express my best explanation of how locals interact with each other. Although English is the official language and most people can speak it, it is mostly used for formal settings. In the markets, vendors and customers mostly speak Twi, one of the many local languages here in Ghana. Sometimes, people will casually switch between the two. Pidgin is also an accepted way of communicating, a kind of broken English most commonly spoken between younger adults and friends.

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Filed under Africa, Coryl in Ghana

10 Study Abroad Tips – South Korea

Here are 10 tips I found useful in my time studying abroad that can be used anywhere, but especially South Korea!

  1. Research your host country

Before you 100% commit to your study abroad destination choice, do some research on the country, culture, schools, and other things to ensure it is somewhere you truly want to study abroad. With so many great cities around the world, it may be difficult to choose just one! When starting my study abroad journey, I wanted to go to so many places. I recommend considering which places you would want to spend a vacation for a few weeks in, and which you would want to live in for several months. Also, make sure you are going for good reasons that you can learn from. Studying abroad in South Korea for several months just because you may see your favorite k-pop idol or drama star may not be the best idea. I chose South Korea because I’m really interested in the culture, language, history, and many other aspects.



Many of the streets in South Korea are quite crowded with people and shops!


  1. Packing – No need to pack so much!

Make a list and plan out what you will pack before you start. You definitely do not want to over-pack otherwise you’ll end up with too much stuff and need to throw away items or pay for extra baggage when returning home. Even if you do not plan on buying a lot of items abroad, you will accumulate things throughout the semester and wonder at the end how you got so many new things. When out and about you may see some random neat things or school gear that you’ll purchase along the way. During my semester, I bought several school apparel items, including a letterman jacket! I packed enough clothes that could last around 1-1.5 weeks and was able to fit everything into one 29” suitcase. I bought several new pieces of clothing when shopping with friends around Seoul. Find out what the weather is like in your host country and pack accordingly. Most importantly, pack comfortable shoes! In South Korea, you will walk and use the subway to get everywhere with the occasional taxi ride.

  1. Search for information about your school

Most if not all study abroad institutions with have information for English-speakers on their website. Usually it can be found on the ‘Office of International Affairs’ page. Google will be your best friend before studying abroad, especially when it comes to South Korea. When I was doing my research I found it wasn’t as easy to find information on studying abroad in South Korea as it was for a destination such as London or Paris. It’s getting better as more students study abroad and post media of their experience abroad, so with some time and effort, you can definitely find blogs and some videos online that will greatly help prepare you for the semester. Some important things to research are the dorms or living arrangements, majors and classes offered, curfew times, location relative to subway, and anything you want to do. When I asked students what they wanted to know prior to their arrival, the number one thing was the dorms: how big they were, what they needed to bring or buy (buy all your dorm needs at Daiso or Home Plus), and what it looked like. Another top thing they wanted to know was how the classrooms were as far as size and setup.



Korea University OIA website.


  1. Search the school website for class information

Registering for classes was perhaps the biggest headache I came across in South Korea because I wasn’t fully prepared for it. They use a different system than I am accustomed to. For Korea University, there are only two week-long periods during which you can register for courses. Furthermore, there were additional restrictions such as registration by grade level, semester specific courses, and a limited amount of international student spots in classes. Every school has a list of majors and courses offered so you can get an idea of what you’re getting into. Afterwards, the school website, your study abroad program, or home international office should have information on courses that are taught in English. I would advise you put in the extra time to look through all the classes and try to make a list of which courses you want to try to enroll in. Another thing that caused many students problems was that Korea seems to predominantly use Internet Explorer as their main browser. Make sure you have it installed on your laptop for school use to avoid any problems during registration. If you have all of these things prepared ahead of time and are ready and waiting for registration time to open, you should be good to go!



Korea University class registration page.


  1. Learn Korean

While there were many students who did not know any Korean before arriving for their study abroad experience, it can only make your experience better if you know the basics of the language before you arrive. Prior to going to Korea, I utilized the months before to learn some Korean on my own when I had spare time and it helped me significantly. It makes ordering food or coffee much easier and when you do, you feel very accomplished! Luckily, many if not most Korean students speak and understand English enough to communicate so don’t fear if you are a beginner. Korea University also has a fantastic program called Korea University Buddy Assistants (KUBA) where each native Korean student is paired with several international students to your buddy for the semester. Many students become very close friends with their buddy and keep in touch even after the semester and program are finished. The KUBA buddies are there to help you with anything, setup KUBA events/activities, practice Korean with, or simply just be your friend. Some helpful and free korean language learning sites that I love are talktomeinkorean.com and howtostudykorean.com


Learn Korean!


  1.  Make friends!

It can be easy to fall into a routine and only hang out with your friends from your home university or students you meet upon arrival that speak the same language as you. This is great and all but I highly encourage you to talk to and make a lot of friends outside of your immediate social circle. Schools such as Korea University have a large international student base- just in fall 2016 there were around 2,000 international students! This is a great opportunity to meet new people and learn about even more the world’s cultures. Plus you never know when you’ll travel to different countries in the future and it’s good to already have some friends there! Within the first week, I had made friends from all over the world who spoke many different languages. It was great hearing the diversity of spoken languages such as Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese, and many more!



Make friends from all over the world!


  1. Go out of your comfort zone -Say yes and try new things! 

You are in a new place and might not know even a single person there. Time to get out of your comfort zone that you are used to and try new/different things! There will be plenty of things to do and students doing many different activities. While you don’t necessarily have to do every activity that comes up, you shouldn’t hide in your dorm! A new country will have a different culture than you’re accustomed to and could be very enjoyable. Now is the perfect time to live a different lifestyle and learn not only about a new culture, but you can learn a lot about yourself as well. Maybe you’ll pick up new skills or find a new hobby that you love. You’ll never know if you don’t try! South Korea has so much to offer from gaming and sports, to language cafes, to hiking or exploring beaches in Jeju. There have been many occasions where I’ve felt tired, lazy, or not really interested in something. But I push myself to go and afterwards I’m usually glad I went as it was so much fun.



We traveled 3 hours to Jinju for the lantern festival!


  1. Do not neglect your studies

While being abroad and experiencing new things with new friends, you’ll be having an abundance of fun, however you must not neglect your studies. It’s important to do well not only to uphold the standards of your host university, but also to ensure you are still on track at your home university. It would be terrible to have graduation delayed or financial aid removed because you had too much fun and didn’t work on your studies. It may not seem like it, but if you plan well and study hard, you will always have time for fun and exploring the city. Since Seoul is very connected with the subway system, you can get to so many places in a short amount of time so there isn’t a need to worry about accounting for extensive travel time. The key is utilizing your time well and making sure you have your priorities in order! In Korea, students take their studies very seriously and study hard to get into some of the top universities. They also make plenty of time for fun, so it’s a work hard, play hard life.

  1. Record videos, take pictures or write!

Not everyone is a natural when it comes to recording a vlog, taking nice photos, or writing. However, you should still make an effort to do one or all of those things while you are abroad. Whether you are an aspiring YouTube creator, and want to make vlogs abroad, or simply want to share with friends and family back home, documenting your experience in some form of media is great to have and will be even better down the road. The key thing is to not be afraid or hesitant to start. Many students aren’t used to recording vlogs, taking pictures, or writing down their thoughts or daily recap. This is okay! Everyone must start somewhere and you will only get better with practice. I’ve seen students who are shy or hesitant to whip out the camera and record or ask someone to take a picture of themselves and they regret it later on. This is also a great chance to get creative with your media and who knows, maybe you’ll create the next great YouTube or photo idea that will take the internet by storm!

  1. Embrace and adapt to the cultural differences.

You are in a new country with a different culture. The best thing to do is observe and adapt to try and fit in. The worst thing to do is to expect the people in your host country to change and adapt to you! South Korea will be quite different from what you’re accustomed to. They speak a different language, live a different lifestyle, and eat different foods that you are used to. It can be difficult to make the change from your home culture but if you give it a chance and really make an effort, you find a new appreciation for things you’re used to at home and find out more about yourself. You also may enjoy some of the new cultural things you learn from South Korea that you wish you had back home. Like karaoke rooms with friends and 24 hour Korean barbecue places!

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Filed under East Asia, Jeff in South Korea

A World of Firsts

Making the decision to study abroad wasn’t an easy one. Going abroad meant I’d be further away from my parents than I have ever been. When I was deciding what college to go to,  I chose one close to home so I could make it back to my parents whenever they needed me. My parents and I were used to being able to seeing each other weekly, so the idea of going 4 months without seeing each other was scary. But it was my parents who in the end pushed me to go. They knew it was an experience I would never get otherwise. So off I went, ready for an adventure of a lifetime that was both exhilarating and terrifying.

Being a first-generation college student means that all of my college experiences were firsts. So when I was applying for study abroad programs, I didn’t have anyone to tell me what the best countries to go to were or to help me with the process of getting my visa. I was on my own. My parents supported me in any way they could, but in the end it came down to me doing everything independently. No one in my family knew anything about Belgium, so I had nothing to go off of besides reading what I could off of Google. I think this is the biggest thing that sets me apart from other students studying abroad. I had to try and figure everything out myself. Though going through the process of applying, choosing a program, and getting ready to study abroad was definitely a growing experience for me. It made me become more independent and grow more confident in myself.

I knew my parents couldn’t come to visit me half way through like most of my friends’ did. I knew I would be without family for the entirety of my abroad experience. I see a lot of my friends get excited that their family will be coming to visit and I know that that will never be me, that I will never fully share this experience with my own family. That being said, it didn’t mean I wouldn’t try to take them with me! I had an idea of taking family photos for every new place I visited. So, I went to Hema (it’s like Target but smaller) and printed out 3 large photos of my parents and brother and took them with me around Belgium and to a trip out to Luxembourg! My mom got the family photos after all!!



Me and my family in Arlon, Belgium! Arlon is the smallest town in Belgium and right near the border to Luxembourg.


A panorama of Luxembourg! So pretty!


A photo of houses in Luxembourg City.


To any first-generation college student thinking about studying abroad, I would absolutely say do it if the circumstances are right! The fear and uncertainty that come with studying abroad dissipates as soon as you get settled in your home abroad. When things get overwhelming, take a deep breath and remember what your goals are. Filling out dozens of papers and going through hoops and obstacles to get your visa will be worth it in the end. Things will be crazy and you will go through a whirlwind of emotions, but once you feel settled, you’ll look around wherever you are and you’ll see how it was all worth it. For me, I knew I wasn’t studying abroad for just myself; I’m studying abroad for my parents too so they can see glimpses of the world through my pictures and they know I’m taking Europe on for them!



Duck faces with my family in Luxembourg City!


Tot ziens! Until next time!

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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Peru

Peru hosts some of the oldest civilizations in the Western Hemisphere and is celebrated for the capital city of Cuzco which was built by the ancient Inca empire six hundred years ago. Peru is also home to the largest lake in South America, Lake Titicaca, and the mysterious Nazca Lines. Although there are many incredible sites that should be seen and explored in Peru, the places listed below is a condensed selection of sites based solely from my own personal experiences as a student studying abroad.

#1 – Iquitos and the Amazon Jungle/River

Prepare to view (in person) all the amazing wildlife you got to see through a TV screen as a child on the National Geographic channel. Imagine waking up to see squirrel monkeys swinging through the trees in your backyard that happens to be the Amazon Jungle. Become one with nature while you explore the jungle at night and experience just how much Mother Nature can provide when you need food and water. During a jungle night hike, our local tour guide offered us live termites to eat and fresh water to drink from a long vine. Being the daring and adventurous girl that I am, I naturally agreed to everything he suggested for us to try. The termites tasted like smoked seeds and the water was super fresh and natural tasting. I hope that by sharing this experience, my peers will be encouraged to remain open-minded and explore outside of their comfort zone when presented with new and different things.

While in Iquitos, I had the privilege of visiting a wildlife preservation space that nurtured baby animals until they matured and could be released into their natural habitat. In addition to viewing different species of monkeys, turtles, and fish, the caretakers allowed our group to feed and pet some Amazonian manatees. Later while traveling on a boat along the Amazon River, I got to see pink dolphins play with each other, hundreds of great egrets fly above and around us, a king fisher, sloths, and many different kinds of fish. I even got to try fishing for piranhas with some of the locals. This is the kind of experience you can look forward to when you travel to the Amazon and Iquitos. Before you leave, make sure to pack long, lightweight pants and shirts and buy extra mosquito repellent!



About to load into the boats on the Amazon River.


Feeding and petting the Amazonian manatees.


#2 – Ica and Paracas Bay

Along with my study abroad program, I traveled south of Lima to the Ica region in the middle of the Peruvian coastal desert. On the first day, I was taken on a sand buggy tour of the sand dunes and oasis. The ride on the buggy felt more like a roller coaster at times than a peaceful tour of the sand dunes, which of course made the ride ten times more fun! I was also able to try sand boarding, a sport I quickly found out only works well if the beginner lies flat on their stomach instead of standing upright like one would when snow boarding.



Getting ready to slide down a sand dune penguin style.


On the second day, my group traveled to the Paracas Bay where the Ballestas Islands are located. These islands are home to herds of sea lions, flocks of cormorants and other coastal birds, as well as acts as a natural stop for migrating birds and a winter refuge for the Antarctic humboldt penguins. In addition, I was able to view the remnants of the guano industry that used bird manure for fertilization. I learned that this industry flourished on the coastal islands of Peru during the late 19th and early 20th century.

Later for lunch, our group was taken to the historical house of Hacienda San Jose, a 17th century sugar cane plantation that used to be worked by many slaves. During my two day adventure, I learned about the African-Peruvian culture and its contribution to Peru in terms of music and gastronomy, the haciendas, the old agricultural methods in coastal Peru, and the biological diversity of the Peruvian coast.



Some of the sea lions we encountered on the boat ride in Paracas.


#3 – Cuzco and Machu Picchu

I was lucky to view the city of Cuzco as it was preparing for a weekend of parades in celebration of its anniversary. At night, the main plaza was alive with bands and Peruvian dancing. The streets were full of people socializing and enjoying the preliminary parade. During the day the shops were open, guinea pig meals were served, and people from all over the world were gathered to view the show. My experience in Cuzco was a nonstop parade full of colorful costumes, singing, and traditional dances. I sincerely loved every moment and I am confident future study abroad students will enjoy the city as well.



My friend and I posing next to some of the dancers who were practicing during the preliminary parade in Cuzco.


Close to the city of Cuzco lies Machu Picchu. The view of these mountains is beyond spectacular and altogether an unforgettable experience packed with rich history and culture. Anyone interested in history, adventure, and travel should take the opportunity to see these majestic landscapes. Getting to view the Inca ruins was incredible and mind blowing all at the same time. It was unreal to think that my feet were standing in the same places ancient Incas used to walk around every day. It is important to note that there are different Inca trails that are available to visitors. Some hikes must be reserved months in advance and could take up to four days to complete! My advice to other students would be to pack hiking boots, sunscreen, and a rain jacket because some walks–like the walk to Intipunku (Sun Gate)–is a good upward trek of uneven ground and ambiguous weather.



The spectacular view looking down from the Sun Gate.


#4 – The Miraflores District in Lima, Peru

There are a ton of things to do in the District of Miraflores! Have fun exploring the shopping center, watch a movie, play games at the arcade, view the ocean, try new kinds of foods, go parasailing, and much more. My favorite experience in this district was learning how to surf. Even in winter, the beach shore is lined with tents specifically set up as “surf schools.” Although it is tempting to pay at the cheapest vendor, I highly recommend paying a little extra for a school that is better quality and more widely known by locals. For 100 soles or $30 US dollars, I was provided a complete set of surfing equipment, a quick lesson (Surfing 101 for beginners), and received one hour worth of one-on-one personal training out on the ocean waves.



My friend and I after an exhausting, yet really fun, hour of surfing.


Even though I was unsuccessful at standing on my board for the first couple of tries, my coach and other surfing students present that day were all extremely positive and tried to help me out as much as they could. I loved the personal environment that was created and I began to feel a certain bond that made me feel included as part of their surfing family. Through surfing, I was able to break past any language and cultural barriers that existed between us. I am happy to share that after two failed attempts, I successfully was able to stand on my board and surf a wave. Surfing a few waves was honestly one of the greatest achievements I have made in life so far. Give surfing a try and I guarantee the experience will be an unforgettable one.

#5 – The Historic Center in Lima, “Plaza de Armas”

Walking through the Plaza de Armas for the first time gives you a real sense of the European influence in Peru. The architecture is simply breathtaking and many of the buildings are preserved just as when they were first built. This is a hot spot for taking pictures and buying all sorts of trinkets and gifts to take back home. Tourists and locals alike visit the street vendors that are located in nearly every alley and corner, shop name brand and Peruvian brand stores, eat delicious Peruvian cuisine, and buy fresh fruit at the nearby markets. One may also look forward to the live music and dancing performances that seem to take place almost every day. The Plaza de Armas is an excellent place to experience the historic, cultural, and social aspect of Peru all at once!



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Filed under Isabel in Peru, south america