Gain New Perspective With Study Abroad

Make your way through New Delhi in a rickshaw, go to a music festival in France or ride a camel across the Indian desert — and you could be developing your academic skills without even knowing it. 

UIC’s Study Abroad Office helps students find an international program that will benefit them, understand what is valuable about their experience abroad and market their cross-cultural competency, adaptability and interpersonal skills to a future employer.

"There are direct benefits and collateral benefits of studying abroad — you make connections and may learn another country's language, culture and ways of doing business, but the adventure also takes you out of your element and into situations of uncertainty and risk that you would not experience otherwise,” said Jeffrey Gore, UIC’s global learning coordinator.

On a larger scale, there’s been an increasing emphasis on international learning at UIC and throughout the United States, Gore said.

“We are trading words and money internationally, and in order for America to be an international player, we need global learning,” he said.

Gore teaches UIC’s Global Learning Certificate Program, which focuses on global perspectives, international media and economics.

“We plant the seeds for students who are interested in studying abroad,” he said.

“The fact is that any student really can study abroad, they just have to plan ahead — find out about scholarship opportunities and talk seriously to your parents about it."

Here are the experiences of three UIC students who studied abroad over the summer.

Broadening cultural perspective
After three years of French classes at UIC, Katie Matanky wanted to see the country for herself. 

Upon arriving in Aix En Provence, she noticed a clear difference between conversational French with native speakers and learning French in class.

"At first I thought they were just trying to get me to speak French, but I eventually learned that the family really didn't speak English,” said Matanky, a senior in psychology and French.

Overcoming the language barrier was difficult, especially in large groups, she said, but her conversational French improved drastically.

“I had been learning about France and French culture for years, but learning about it in France was an entirely different experience,” she said.  

When she was considering study abroad, “I had reservations about being able to maintain my religious guidelines,” said Matanky, an Orthodox Jew, but the UIC office found a family of similar background.

“Know that it’s possible and you can go anywhere in the world. UIC has the resources and can help you to go abroad.”

Students shouldn’t wait until after graduation to go abroad, Matanky said.

“People say ‘I’ll do it when I graduate,’ but learning in two different places in two different ways broadens your perspective and you learn so much more,” she said.

Deeper understanding of major
Gregg Christian Alfaro spent four weeks on a faculty-led program to India, learning about labor, food and gender issues.

When the 10 students and two faculty members arrived in New Delhi, the group spent time getting oriented to their surroundings, did some sightseeing and worked on their Hindi.

Anna Guevarra, associate professor of Asian American studies, and Gayatri Reddy, associate professor of gender and women’s studies, led the trip.

"I had the opportunity to study what I want to do in the future — that is, to help with research concerning gender and power relations,” said Alfaro, a junior in gender and women’s studies.   

Students and faculty members stayed in a hotel, using one room as a classroom.

One focus of the class he found particularly interesting was the relationship between food and gender issues. 

"Here, one may not draw connections between these two issues with supermarket cultures and such, but in India, when we went into the field and visited rural areas I noticed that most of the people working in the fields were women,” Alfaro said.

“Women were typically the vendors and the customers were mostly businessmen. It was interesting to see the disparity there." 

‘Try everything’
Jenny Kim, who joined Alfaro in India, recalls some unique experiences she had there.

“Outside of Udaipur, there was a desert and a lake, and it only cost $2 for a camel ride, so my friend and did it,” said Kim, a senior in communication.   

One part of the trip in particular stands out — when she noticed a wedding outside the hotel.

“We went outside to see what was going on and they invited us to the wedding,” she said. “It was amazing, there were hundreds of people there partying."

Students who want to go abroad should learn about the culture of the place where they want to go — Kim had to adapt to Indian women’s conservative dress, for example.

“Be open to try new things — try everything,” she said. “We get stuck in a bubble here and it's good to see what's going on in the world and broaden your mind.”

UIC Study Abroad is celebrating U.S. International Education Week this week, which recognizes the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide.

By: Stephen Ragalie, UIC News