NAME: Rahel Adebabay
MAJOR: Global Studies
PROGRAM: Ireland, SJSU Exchange – University College Dublin
I am a first-generation Ethiopian-American college student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies and three minors in Philosophy, Legal, and African American Studies at San Jose State University. I want to utilize my educational background to work towards my vision of building a prosperous, united Africa, emphasizing creating strong educational infrastructures.
Through this program, I came intending to gain a new perspective on the world. Traveling to another country and experiencing a non-American curriculum made me decenter from the American political perspective.
Through decentering from the American perspective, I viewed the world in a much different way. This is especially important as a scholar in the field of International relations because this challenged my political beliefs, worldviews, and personal values. International Affairs cannot be seen from only one perspective, and acquiring added perspective will make me more analytical and critical in nature. In addition, acquiring such attributes and experience will make me an attractive candidate for my future educational pursuits and later professional life.
Because I am just finishing up my term abroad, I have yet to see it being applied to my life on campus. However, I without a doubt believe having an added perspective will make me a much better student in my Global Studies major courses.
Broadly speaking, my goal going into my experience was to be bold and brave. I wanted to try new things and immerse myself in different cultures.However, in retrospect, going into my study abroad experience I had a very uncompromising view of how my life should be during and after my experience. I knew I wanted to graduate within 3 years, take the LSAT in the summer, and do well in all nine classes I was enrolled in during my spring semester. My goals, although achievable, needed to be more flexible and restrictive.
Although I initially intended to study abroad solely for academic purposes, I did the opposite. This experience made me realize I must slow down and take in life’s pleasures. This semester was the first time since sixteen that I have not worked. Along with the absence of work or pressures to keep me financially afloat, the workload at my school was significantly smaller than my usual course load, even with nine classes. This gave me the time to get to know myself through solo travel and do activities that I loved and previously did not have the time to attend to. Because of this experience, I’ve become more eager to travel in the not-so-distant future, and I know that my future career should have travel embedded into it. In addition, I realized that I perhaps want to live abroad as I feel the way of life in the United States is not sustainable compared to life in Ireland. Living in Ireland has exposed me to what life should be like, as I’ve never felt so safe, healthy, and happy.
My academic experience has been frustrating at UCD. Not so much because the content was challenging but because it was much different from what I was used to in the United States. None of my classes had homework or constant learning checkpoints. In addition, with my major being small at SJSU, with an average of 15 students, I was surprised by the hundreds of classmates I had. Because of this, I noticed a culture of not having strong interpersonal relationships with professors. This was very unusual to me as in nearly every class I’ve taken at SJSU, I’ve been in constant contact with my professors and even have developed those relationships beyond the course I’ve taken with them. However, I am very fond of UCD and all that it has to offer; I’ve never felt helpless because of the endless resources the school provides.
Apart from my academic life, I did a lot of solo traveling during my time abroad. Since my start, I have been to 7 countries I have never visited. Some I did not know much about prior to traveling there. Not only did I learn and immerse myself in the cultures that I encountered, but I pushed myself to engage with the community at every opportunity I had. I tried new foods, learned about different cultures and customs, made friends with locals, etc. Most importantly, I learned the values of self-sufficiency and independence while also getting to know myself better. Six of the seven countries I’ve visited are not English-speaking countries, and through that experience, I became a more effective communicator and navigator.
The most prominent lessons I’ve learned from in my study abroad experience have been through my solo travels. I exclusively did solo travel as I felt this was fundamental to getting to know myself, and I did precisely that. Solo traveling throughout Europe has made me an effective communicator and navigator. For example, I spent three weeks in Central and Eastern Europe, where people did not know fluent English, and I had to navigate that, whether that was by using context clues, reading facial expressions, or pulling out google translate! In addition, solo traveling in non-English speaking countries has made me comfortable with being uncomfortable. I surrendered expectations and the constant need to stay within what was familiar to me.
- Apply to every scholarship available, no matter how impossible it seems. This was my experience applying to the Benjamin A Gilman International Scholarship. Because I decided to study abroad last minute, there was only one scholarship available to me which happened to be the most prestigious study abroad scholarship. I won the scholarship, although I applied just two hours before its deadline.
- Try to make a friend in every country you visit! Understand the local way of life.
- Take advantage of your school’s resources.
- If you are attending a European university, use a planner/tracker as the curriculum is primarily autonomous learning. Constantly new ways to engage yourself in your academics.
- Research the country that you are studying in. Understand lingo/language, customs, and political system. Three months before moving to Ireland and even before I went to a new country, I watched youtube videos that described social do’s/don’ts.
- Get to know and use public transportation. Across almost all European countries, transportation is reliable and safe.