Bon Voyage: All About Studying Abroad!


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Sumer Elsalawi, Staff Writer

 Have you seen young adults in TV shows excitedly pack their bags and go on journeys to other countries to pursue their academic dreams? Have you ever dreamt of studying in a foreign country during your high school or college years? Well if you answered yes to either of these questions, then you are familiar with the idea of studying abroad which is something many teens, including myself, hope to experience someday. 

As the world is reopening and finally returning to normal after the Covid-19 Pandemic, there has been an increase in students eager to study abroad. Countries are reopening international travel and are more accepting of having foreign students. This has resulted in higher participation rates and has even relieved a sense of ennui residing in students after the pandemic.  

According to an article from the Council On International Educational Exchange (CIEE), “What is Study Abroad?,” studying abroad is much more than simply seeking an academic goal in a foreign country. Studying internationally “opens the door to an entirely new world and new points of view that foster cross-cultural learning.” This experience allows young adults to expand their knowledge of other cultures, learn to live in new surroundings, and grow out of their comfort zone, which is beneficial in many parts of life. 

One person who knows about being an exchange student firsthand is Mrs. Carolyn Kelley, a PB Spanish and Staff Development teacher who spent two summers abroad during her college years. Her first destination during the summer of her sophomore year was Seville, Spain, a place she recalls as “new, beautiful, and exciting.” This is also the place that sparked her love and interest for traveling abroad and learning about Spanish culture.

The following summer, Mrs. Kelley studied in Puebla, Mexico, which she actually enjoyed more as she had already been exposed to life abroad during her time in Spain. Mrs. Kelley recalls her experiences in these countries as “life-changing, memorable, and adventurous.” She also notes that they play a significant role in her job here at Paint Branch, as learning Spanish in another country was her starting point to fluency and eventually teaching the language. Mrs. Kelley mentions that while studying abroad was truly memorable, she got something even bigger from it: confidence. She notes, “because I studied abroad, it allowed me to be brave enough to move to Chile and teach for a year and a half, and visit other Southern American countries along the way.” To this day, Mrs. Kelley is extremely grateful to have been given the opportunity to study abroad as it opened the door to new opportunities and gave her endless memories to cherish. 

Another PB teacher who knows what it is like to study abroad in Spain is math teacher Ms. Bailey. In fact, Ms. Bailey not only knows what studying abroad is like. She also knows what being a PB student is like, as she was a Panther herself, graduating in 2012. Ms. Bailey enjoyed her high school years and was involved within the school community as a member of the Poms team, enrolled in orchestra, and even assisted with numerous SGA events throughout the years at PB. She notes, “I never really considered studying abroad in high school; but going to Spelman College in Atlanta, an environment where they encouraged studying abroad, did it for me.”

While Ms. Bailey’s study abroad experience was briefer than some – she was abroad for only a month – it was still a great opportunity for her. Regarding her biggest takeaway, she notes, “You really don’t have a good perspective unless you lived or experienced life somewhere else.” 

This is true in many aspects of life, because we as people become so accustomed to our daily routines and surroundings, that we forget that lives exist outside of ours. Though she wishes her schedule in Spain had been less packed and she had been given more time to explore, she still adds that it gave her “another perspective and shined a light on life in a completely different environment.” 

On the side of briefer experiences, Mr. Silsbee, an AP psychology, World History, and Law teacher at PB spent three weeks abroad, mostly in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany during his junior year of college at the University of Maryland. This trip was part of an education program, and knowing he wanted to become a teacher, he decided to take part in this journey to Europe. When first asked about his experiences, he responds with a memory of it being  “extremely cold.” He added that he found some clear contrasts between schools in the U.S. and those in Europe, as the program he worked with emphasized cross-cultural education. An interesting difference he pointed out was that “American schools are better at giving students options and European schools push students more than provide them with resources.” He adds that this is especially evident when having to pick jobs and even decide what schools to attend. When asked if he could have a second shot at his experience abroad, he responds with “Of course. I would also opt to do a whole semester, since I wish I could’ve experienced living as an actual person.”

PB Food Trends teacher Chef Ripley also shared his unique study abroad experience, where he traveled to different parts of France for three weeks while in culinary school. His feelings about the experience were similar to those of the other teachers, as he notes that the experience taught him about an unfamiliar culture and provided “a chance to observe a culture I never really had a desire to see.”  He was able to learn about and cook French cultural cuisines, experience life in a new country, and create memories with his friends also on this journey. His biggest challenge there was knowing little to no French and having a schedule that was too packed. In fact, he recalls “it felt like we were working non-stop, which is another reason why it was so memorable.” Chef Ripley adds that he and his group were given three options when choosing where to travel: France, Italy, and China. He chose France because the majority of his friends picked it; but now he wonders what it would have been like if he chose to visit Italy or China. He mentions, “France feels like a place I could visit any time, but China alone seems like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and would’ve been a completely different experience from France.” He enjoyed his trip abroad and would be interested in doing it again now that he is more knowledgeable in different cultures and cuisines. 

As each of these experiences prove, studying abroad – whether it be for a semester or something shorter – aren’t adventures that are easily forgotten. Spending time in a new country not only serves as an exhilarating getaway, but also allows one to make new memories, learn from the surroundings, and incorporate this knowledge into their lives. Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of studying internationally, as it would give me a chance to step out of my comfort zone, spend time in an unfamiliar place, and enrich my world view in an unbounded environment that is different from what I’ve grown so used to seeing. It would also force me to go out of my way to communicate with new people and converse in other languages that I haven’t thought of speaking before. If and when I get the chance to study abroad, I would definitely seize the opportunity and learn something new from each experience that I can take back with me in my day-to-day life.