Emily Benson

MAJOR: Justice Studies/Criminology
PROGRAM: ISEP Direct – American College of Thessaloniki, Greece
EMAIL: emily.benson@sjsu.edu

BIO: Hello, I am Emily Benson. I am currently a junior at San Jose State, majoring in Criminology. I am a hard-working individual who is passionate about community involvement. I have spent many years volunteering for my local Police Department in San Diego, holding a variety of leadership positions involving myself and philanthropic work. I wanted to study abroad to expand my experiences, meet new people, learn about a different culture, and develop my global citizen awareness. I have wanted to study abroad in Greece since I was a freshman in high school and knew that I would experience studying abroad in college.

GOALS: The main goal I wanted to achieve in studying abroad was to immerse myself as much as I could in the daily life of a Greek citizen in the 3 1/2 months I spent in Thessaloniki, Greece. Studying at the American College of Thessaloniki(ACT) has been described as taking the road less traveled, being that it is a smaller city in northern Greece and is not the typical destination of metropolitan Athens. Although many people would choose to study in Athens, the largest city in Greece, my goal was to live and experience life in a smaller town rather than a tourist destination. Studying at ACT gave me that opportunity. I lived in an apartment right in the heart of town with local residents in the building and had firsthand experience with the local culture every day. Academically, I wanted to maintain high standings with my home and abroad university. I wanted to expand my knowledge of the region that I was in. I sought out community involvement through my academics. It was important to me that I fully immerse myself in Greek culture, and I did this by taking 10 hours of Greek language and culture a week. I wanted not to be a tourist but rather a guest in the country I was studying in. I felt as though I achieved this goal substantially and fully spoke, ordered, and communicated in Greek while I was there. I took an intensive conversational Greek language class which helped me excel and learn a language. I learned so much about the Greek language and culture and felt very connected to the community. Greek culture and language are all around us in America, so many of our words originate from Greek origin. Professionally, I wanted to network and meet people from all different walks of life. I was able to work with a diverse group of people from all over Europe in my classes, and also in an internship I had while in Greece.

PERSONAL GROWTH: The biggest impact my study abroad experience had on me was my understanding of the world. My time in Greece was truly transformative. This experience is something I will treasure forever. Being immersed in another country and society is something I needed to experience. I have felt a tremendous amount of personal growth in my short time here. I have truly learned so many valuable lessons and insights. Learning about Greek history, society, and culture my international compass has expanded greatly. I have learned the importance of living a fulfilling life in my short time here. In Greek culture and most cultures in Europe, your leisure is prioritized. Specific hours are set aside each day for rest and family time. You work, but you also rest, which creates a happy, healthy community and family life. This is something I have never experienced. In America, our society and big corporations work you to the max. Working 12-hour days with little to no breaks. If you’re afforded a break, it will be an hour for lunch. Our society does not incorporate leisure into the weekdays. Even on the weekends, many are still working and do not get to fully enjoy their leisure. I appreciate how Greeks care for the well-being of their society members. Being immersed in a culture that isn’t controlled by the clock is such a privilege. The clock is not the master, is something my Greek professor said to me that I will always remember. The clock is used to control my life with deadlines, time commitments, and time-sensitive things. I have acknowledged how less stressed I am now that I am no longer a victim of the clock. I think the reason the stress levels are so high in America is the pressure of not having enough time and the amount of stress put on us by society to get everything done in a certain amount of time, which is often very unrealistic. I find myself enjoying my days to a greater extent and being present. My overall takeaway is that I have become for the present and now prioritize my leisure. I have never felt more present in my mind, body, or soul ever before in my life. I don’t feel a sense of urgency to get everything done in one day and stress about future events. I enjoy and express profound gratitude for every peaceful day I was granted in Greece. Being present is so important. I have struggled with living in my mind rather than living in the present. Living in Greece has strengthened my ability to be present every day and express more mindfulness. I feel much happier and calm as I appreciate being present. I find my stress and anxiety decreasing as I am not so fixated on the future and future events and things that are not under my control. This skill is something I will never unlearn and something I will take with me forever to apply to my everyday life.

ACADEMICS: How would you describe your academic experience abroad? My academic journey at the American College of Thessaloniki was exquisite. I selected courses that were diverse from my normal class schedule. I chose courses that were unique to the American College of Thessaloniki. I was fortunate enough to take a Greek language class, a Greek culture class, a sea sailing course, a politics course, and an internship course. I had fantastic professors abroad. I took my Greek courses from a local Greek woman filled with knowledge and experience. She changed the trajectory of my academic journey at ACT as she made all of the American students feel so connected with Greek culture and tied together the similarities in both American and Greek communities. One of my favorite classes at ACT was the introduction to sea sailing from a Greek professor who had a profound knowledge of sailing. This class was taught in a local marina near my campus, and it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. We worked together and demonstrated the art of sailing through a new language, a new skill- set, and hands-on experience. Every professor at ACT deepened my understanding of a variety of topics from a new perspective. The structure of the courses is very similar to a course taken at San Jose State University but feels less intense. The classes are smaller, which allows students to get more one-on-one time with the professor, which I felt was very effective. The professors incorporated many breaks and prioritized our well-being during learning, which was very effective in my academic journey in Greece. I completed my semester with over a 3.8 GPA and did not fall behind in any course abroad. I prioritize my course load with traveling and was sure to consistently work hard, after all it is called STUDYING abroad!

CAREER: What skills did you learn / sharpen during your study abroad experience? The most formative change in my 20 years of life has come from my study abroad experience. I developed a new skill set and sharpened my interpersonal and networking skills while abroad. Everything I knew about living in America was flipped upside down and then flipped over once again from the language, the time zone, the customs, and the quality of life. The biggest skill that was built was my ability to learn and apply a new language and alphabet. This is the third language that I’ve learned and by far the most challenging. I learn to deal with the change and communicate with locals. This came with being flexible and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. When I would speak to locals, my pronunciation was off and I pushed myself to refrain from speaking English and strengthen my Greek speaking skills. I was able to relate to people from different backgrounds. My classes were full of people from all over Europe, and it was fascinating to hear other students’ perspectives, and listen to them speak from experience from their countries. Through the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP), I applied and was selected for a content Creator position. I was tasked with compiling pictures and videos of my everyday life in Thessaloniki and capturing my lifestyle of myself and friends. I love this position so much and knew I wanted to continue this working experience at home. I have an eye for photography in this position to help me strengthen my skill set and give me the opportunity to form a connection with employees at ISEP. I made connections with my professors and boss at my internship that I will forever maintain. The boss at my internship offered me to continue helping her while I’m in America. I am in communication with her and lucky enough to form an active networking connection.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: How has your immersion impacted your perspectives on the world? I was granted the opportunity to hold an internship position through ACT. The organization that I intern for is called NAOMI, a non-profit organization that specializes in Ecumenical Workshops for Refugees in Thessaloniki. After the Syrian war, thousands of people flooded through Greece. Many refugees have traveled back to their home country or sought out a home in other parts of Europe, but many refugees live here in Thessaloniki today. Naomi wants the refugees to become acclimated to Greek culture and language, their goal is to support refugees and provide peace for all. By doing this, they have workshops that entail refugee learning, basic Greek, learning how to use specific machines(like sewing machines), And practice with soft skills, ECT. Prior to this internship, I didn’t realize what a problem refugees were in Europe, specifically in Greece. Naomi comprises two parts: the production part and the social justice part. The production part of the organization focuses on sustainability. The second part of Naomi is the social justice department. This department focuses on rights and job equality for all refugees who are not afforded the same rights as citizens. The part that I intern for in Naomi is the social justice side. I work with the head of the social justice department with designated tasks, such as looking over newsletters that were once in Germany, translated to English and needed a proofread, taking photos of the refugees, workshops, and events, and crafting the newsletter for this upcoming month. I have gained experience with preparing a Newsletter on Naomi’s current events and textile department. The work I have done at this job has given me a sense of responsibility. I haven’t had a job or position where I felt like I was actively making a significant change. The skill set I now possess is something I will take with me forever. This internship opportunity has given me valuable skills that I will never unlearn. I haven’t worked in an office-like setting, and this gave me experience with great responsibility. Some of my key takeaways don’t only come from the work that I have done but also from the work ethic that I have seen in this community. Being an intern at this organization has forever shifted my perspective on life. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of an organization that does so much for the community. The knowledge and experience I have gained from this community will forever resonate with me and significantly depend on my international community involvement. I now have a burning passion for international work, and think this is something I will continue to do throughout my life.

FUTURE: How has study abroad prepared you for your future? My Study Abroad experience has shaped my worldly perspective and prepared me to think about things from a different perspective. This perspective change will help not only me personally but professionally in the future. In my early 20s, I have seen the world. I have experienced several cultures and am open to so many new experiences. Life experience shapes who you are as a human being. I was granted a variety of experiences in all of Europe that altered who I am today.

TIPS: What advice would you give to future Global Spartans? I would tell future global spartans to be open-minded and open to learning new things about the culture, even when it’s challenging. Be prepared to use the local currency, phone, and transportation system. Be aware of the differences, but also learn to cherish them. English is widely spoken in some countries, but take the opportunity to learn the community’s language and don’t be afraid to use it. In Greece, the locals were so thankful and appreciative that we took the time to learn their language and apply it in our daily lives. Do absolutely everything! Go to the city’s landmarks and learn about the city, history, and heritage. Take advantage of the chance to travel through your host country and other surrounding countries. You will learn so much on those trips and through the people you meet. I am the biggest advocate of telling everyone in my life that they need to study abroad. I wish I could convince every college student to go abroad and be immersed in another culture in such a formative part of their college years.

Spring 2024 Deadlines Extended

We are extending the Spring 2024 & Calendar Year 2024-2025 study abroad application deadlines for the following SJSU Exchange, CSU IP, and ISEP opportunities in many parts of the world. Please click on the links below to review the program brochures and apply by the respective new deadlines.

SJSU Exchange



International Student Exchange Program (ISEP) is still accepting applications until October 1st, 15th, and November 1st for many of their direct enrolled universities in Argentina, Australia, Botswana, Brazil, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Scotland, South Korea, U.A.E, and many more.

Need to talk?

Book an appointment with Julie Lucas or Vidalino Raatior to discuss your options.

Katherine Huang

NAME: Katherine Huang
MAJOR: Business Administration/Marketing
PROGRAM: ISEP Tokyo National University
EMAIL: katherineh885@gmail.com

BIO: Please tell us about you and why you chose to study abroad.

I’m Katherine Huang, and I studied in Japan in Fall 2022 as a third year business marketing major. I came to SJSU the fall of 2020 when life was heavily impacted by Covid-19. My first two years of university were compromised due to the pandemic. Going into my third year, I was set on taking opportunities whenever I could. After talking to a few friends about their amazing experiences abroad, I only grew more excited. Eventually, I chose Japan, because I have always been intrigued by their culture, such as their food, car scene, cultural festivals, public transportation, nature/national parks, etc. I wanted to put myself in an unfamiliar environment to see what I’m capable of and to challenge myself to grow. Spoiler alert: I grew. A lot. And now I have precious memories of my time abroad. It was a lot of work, but I don’t regret any of it. I would do it all again in a heartbeat! It was truly one of the best choices I ever made for myself.

CAREER: What skills did you learn/sharpen during your study abroad experience?

Reflect on how your study abroad experience and the skills, knowledge, or networking has enhanced or contributed to your life back on campus or home.

I was placed in an environment that pushed me to grow my soft skills. The saying is true: You get out what you put in. Once you’re abroad, you have to put yourself out there and take risks. I was nervous about making friends and building a community with people so different from me. I didn’t want to miss out though, so I took opportunities to talk to people in the dorms, in class, around campus, and even when I ran into them at the train station. I was able to meet people from all walks of life—people from other cities, states, and countries. We still keep in touch, and there’s a mutual understanding that we’ll be there to help each other if we’re ever in the same area.

Additionally, I still keep in touch with a professor! We bonded over a shared passion for Japanese sports cars, and he introduced me to another student who showed me around the local car scene. Being able to talk and network is a skill that I was able to hone, and it is arguably one of the most important skills for marketing majors. Now, I feel much more comfortable and confident initiating conversations.

GOALS: What were your goals for studying abroad?

Reflect on the personal, academic, and professional goals that you had set out to achieve on your study abroad experience?

Personally, I wanted to branch out and meet new people. I was looking forward to a different pace of life and connecting with a new community. I didn’t just learn about Japanese culture, I met people who taught me all about their cultures and countries. It was a beautiful bonding experience meeting people and celebrating our differences just as much as similarities.

Academic-wise, I was excited about being on a completely new campus with new faces, new professors, new faculty, and courses that aren’t available at SJSU. For example, I was able to learn about Japan’s culture and society. Not only was this course fun, but it was also very helpful. I plan on working in Japan in the future, so learning about the culture was insightful.

Regarding professional goals, I was interested in observing Japan’s work culture first hand. There is no doubt that the work ethic in that country is well known, and I wanted to experience it and become inspired. Before I went abroad, I felt pretty burnt out in a lot of areas, including with my career. My goal was to come back to the states with renewed vigor, ready to give 100% to my career and education.

PERSONAL GROWTH: What was the biggest impact that your study abroad experience had on you?

I truly feel like I came back wiser and braver. Being abroad pushed me to be fearless and spontaneous. I’m graduating next spring, and the reality of adulthood is starting to set in. The unknown is daunting, but I feel brave enough to face it. Japan started off as completely new, unexplored territory for me, but within four months, I was calling it home. My experience in Japan has taught me that I’m capable of much more than I had ever imagined.

I also have a newfound gratitude for things in the US that weren’t in Japan. For example, drive thrus! And In-n-Out. Costco $1.50 hot dogs. And ranch!!! I missed ranch so much. It’s my favorite sauce. In all seriousness though, I really do appreciate everything I have now.

ACADEMICS: How would you describe your academic experience abroad?

Share what courses you chose to take abroad and the strategies you used to ensure your academic success. How has the experience impacted your academics now that you have returned to SJSU?

I took four courses: Leadership, Creativity, and Organizational Renewal; Japanese Society, Social Media and Business; Business Communication and Productivity. First and foremost, I made friends in class. Having friends can help hold you accountable and incentivize you to come to class. Moreover, being familiar with classmates can make group projects much more smooth and enjoyable.

I also made sure I was recognizable to professors. I participated, asked questions, talked to them after class, and built a relationship with them. Establishing a connection with professors is imperative to academic success. It’s easier to ask for help when you’re familiar with your teachers.

Now that I’m back at SJSU, I still strive to be present and engaged in class for my peers and professors.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT: How has your immersion impacted your perspectives on the world?

Studying abroad helped me discover a happiness I’ve never known before. Despite this experience being for me, I didn’t feel like the main character—and that’s a good thing! It felt so freeing to decentralize myself; it made my worries feel much smaller. I was more intent on learning about other people and other cultures; learning more about myself was just a byproduct of the process. Every individual I met is so unique and has a story that has impacted me. I am a mosaic of everyone I met; I carry little pieces of them with me.

Since coming back, I still keep that open mind and eagerness to learn about others. It’s amazing how much you can absorb when you listen more and talk less. Going abroad has humbled me and reminded me that I’m a student of life above all else. The vast world has so much to offer, and there’s always opportunities to learn and grow if you’re willing to look and listen.

FUTURE: How has study abroad prepared you for your future?

I’ve always been in a rush to grow up and reach the next milestone, but being abroad has taught me to really slow down and smell the roses. Not having a car in Japan meant I had to walk most places, and although I didn’t like it at first, I grew to enjoy it. Walking allowed me to take the whole world in, soak up the sun’s warmth, and appreciate the journey.

I also grew more conscious about financials, and financial literacy is such an important skill for adulthood. Being abroad made me aware about currency exchange rates, my spending/saving habits, how much I’m willing to pay for experiences versus material items, and more.

TIPS: What advice would you give to a future Global Spartan?

Take a leap of faith. If you are on the fence, just go for it. You have a community of people who will support you and welcome you with open arms, whether that’s Study Abroad Alumni, SJSU faculty, host university faculty, host families, the local community, other students, etc. You are never alone in your endeavors, and you have so many resources available to you! Put in the work, and your efforts will come to fruition. I hope you study abroad; it’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

Celeste Sandoval-Chavez

Celeste Sandoval-Chavez

Celeste Sandoval-ChavezCeleste Sandoval-Chavez
Major: Human Factors and Ergonomics
Term Abroad: Fall 2019 and Spring 2020
Program / Location: ISEP: Bradford University, England

Why did you want to study abroad? 
I knew since I started college I wanted to study abroad, and it wasn’t until I actually researched and applied to do it. I knew I wanted to experience a new culture, country, and uni experience and studying abroad was something that was able to do that for me.

What has been your most surprising, positive, or challenging experience abroad?
My most positive experience from studying abroad is being able to make new friends, become a local of Bradford City, and become independent by experiencing living alone for the first time ( I am an SJSU commuter and still live with my parents). I loved my experience so much studying abroad in England that I have been planning to find a way to work and settle permanently in England! I definitely left a part of me in England that yearns to go back! 🇬🇧 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 I’ll be a long journey to get there but I know it’ll be worth it because I am determined to go back ❤️

How are you managing your academic success abroad during the pandemic?
Balancing my social and academic life was something that worked for me. My friends were both on the same course as I and therefore would always hangout at each other’s flats but also organize study groups and prepare for lectures and exams.

What are some ways that you are interacting with the local community ?
Making friends who aren’t international students is was how I was better to learn first had how British culture is. They became my friend group and taught me the ins and outs of what it is like living in England.

What are some tips for managing your health and safety while traveling during the pandemic?
Please make sure you have school insurance and or global insurance. Take precautions like washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing (do not use your hand). Seek medical attention if you are in serious pain.

Any advice to potential study abroad students?
1. Make friends who are from the country you are studying in so you indulge in the culture more authentically.

2. Even if you aren’t able to make friends that is OKAY, being able to travel solo in the country that you are in is also really nice and you have more flexibility to visit the places you want to go to.

3. Be involved in the uni activities and clubs!! that is also another great way to meet knew people, start a new hobby, and be informed of trips or activities planned

4. GO SIGHTSEEING!! As much as possible and take those photos for memories!!

Michelle Law

Michelle Law

Michelle LawMichelle Law
 South Korea
Program: ISEP/Ewha Womans University
Term: Fall 2021-Spring 2022 Academic Year
Major: International Business with a concentration in marketing.
Year:  2nd year

Why did you want to study abroad? 
I wanted to study abroad because I’ve always wanted to see the world outside my home. When I was young, I traveled to many other destinations with my parents, but I never got to see much. I’ve always wanted the chance to explore a foreign country on my own pace.

What has been your most surprising, positive, or challenging experience abroad?
I think getting accustomed to my new surroundings was definitely the first challenge. When I first arrived in South Korea, I felt out of place. Even as an Asian person myself, I wasn’t used to seeing so many other Asians all in one place. Sometimes, I faced some discriminatory comments and was judged by how I look Asian, but cannot speak Korean. Even so, I gained many precious memories during my time abroad. I met many international friends, from places like South America to Europe. I got to witness many different cultures, opinions, and habits all in one setting. I also got to immerse myself in a foreign society, learning and imitating daily routines from the majority. I think the most interesting thing that happened to me was being able to experience “day trips”. By train, I traveled to different cities located across South Korea and experienced the best of both worlds, countrysides and cities, all in one day.

Any advice to potential study abroad students? 
To future study abroad students, I have a few tips. First, try to learn a bit of the language before going abroad. Whether it’s conversing with the taxi driver or asking for basic directions, learning a few Korean phrases certainly helped me get around. Second, search and download commonly used applications before you go. It will help relieve some stress in finding information abroad. Lastly, do not be afraid to ask for help. I know the fear of being judged, but that’s all part of the challenge. There are many people who are glad to help and who knows, you might make a new friend along the way.

How are you managing your academic success abroad during the pandemic? 
I try to take 5 classes maximum because I know I want to balance the time spent between academics and traveling. Before traveling, I make sure to finish assignments and stay caught up with lectures and announcements. Before midterms, I start a study week with friends and we usually meet up at cafes. Not only is it great for having that social time, but also for having accessibility to a source that can help with studying.

What are some ways that you are interacting with the local community?
Meeting new people was one of the major goals I had, so I applied to a few mentoring programs and clubs. There, I met many locals who were enthusiastic about meeting foreigners, so we often set up lunch and dinner appointments to talk about our culture, opinions, and differences. I also met many locals through classes. Groups would often meet over dinner to talk and discuss about class projects and that led up to friendships.

What are some tips for managing your health and safety while traveling during the pandemic? 
Staying safe is very important and the most important thing is following guidelines. That means wearing a mask at all times, try avoiding crowded areas, and getting vaccines. While studying abroad, people were required to have vaccine passes to eat at restaurants and use local facilities.