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Kerrie Bell, a senior Spanish major from Carmel, Ind., spent Summer Study Abroad in South Korea and Chile.
Running through each day, I forget to pause and remember the little things in life, things that we take for granted – the joy of walking into a warm house, the fact that lights turn on with the flick of a switch, the ease of communication. Studying abroad has helped me to appreciate the little things in life and to attack each challenge with a positive attitude.
Prior to studying abroad, I was nervous and scared of leaving my comfort zone here in the U.S., but after my first study-abroad experience in South Korea, I was excited for round two: finding a program the following summer in Chile. Each experience was completely different and taught me not only how different each country in the world can be, but also how similar they are.
For me, the study-abroad experience was daunting, and after arriving in the new country, I was immediately pushed far outside of my comfort zone. I learned to create a new comfort zone, one that has tripled or quadrupled since starting college three years ago. Each day as a foreigner presented itself with new challenges and a new understanding.
In South Korea, the biggest challenge for me was learning how to communicate without speaking the language, but this challenge has helped me to be a more patient person when communicating with others. There were times when I had to be creative in my communication skills, creativity not being my forte, yet the other American students and I were able to work through each interaction. Every new experience was one step closer to the inevitable feeling of comfort that came after immersing myself into the culture. Learning how to use the public transportation and figuring out cultural norms were also among major challenges.
In Chile, one cultural norm was that of being energy-conscious. Learning how to live life and being energy-conservative was a challenge, as living there during the winter with minimal heat and lighting was a change from my life here at home. The little frustrations in life to which I adapted served as reminders to not stress the small things. Little things like lighting a match to heat my shower was a difficult task for me to become accustomed to, but this challenge was beneficial in my own personal growth.
Returning back home to the U.S. at the end of each study-abroad experience was bittersweet, leaving amazing friendships and host families, yet reuniting with old ones at home. For me, my study-abroad experiences were truly beneficial. They were challenging and allowed me to learn more about interactions with others, and I had an amazing time with an abundance of memories! I have also become more understanding of those U.S. citizens who may not speak English as their primary language and whose cultures are much different from our own. In that way, as a future health care professional, I know that I will be able to better serve my patients by applying key lessons I learned while studying abroad.
Dr. Brian Keas is an associate professor of biology currently serving as assistant vice president for academic affairs/faculty fellow. His responsibilities include overseeing the Study Abroad Office located in Lehr Memorial 122. He can be reached at email@example.com or 419-772-3156.