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Sarah Tkach '12
Why do you want to serve as an International Ambassador at Santa Clara University?
I talked informally with students who had been on my program the previous year, and their honest feedback really helped me make an informed decision. However, there were no official International Ambassadors from my program, and I would like to change that and be a resource for interested students and promoting my program. I love sharing my abroad experiences and would be thrilled to help others navigate the sometimes difficult study abroad process, particularly if they are interested in smaller, newer programs like SCU Burkina Faso.
What were the deciding factors in choosing your study abroad program-location?
I wanted to study somewhere where I could practice my I wanted to study somewhere where I could practice my French, so I had always imagined myself studying in France. I had heard about Burkina Faso in Prof Gray s World Geography class freshmen year, but had only vague dreams of visiting someday. Entering my senior year and having been blessed with the chance to visit Europe and travel on short term immersion trips, I found myself wanting to experience someplace different, someplace that would be an adventure. I was ultimately deciding between the direct exchange to Lille, France and SCU Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso won out because of the small size, the program support with accommodations and activities, the ease of receiving course credit, and, most importantly, the opportunity to experience life in a very different part of the world. Many people wondered why I wanted to go to a developing country instead of Europe, and not everyone was supportive. I was nervous about going to Burkina Faso, but I am so glad I took the leap and decided to go!
Describe a defining moment in your abroad experiences and how that experience(s) has affected you personally, intellectually, vocational, spiritually, or academically.
There was a small kiosk maybe 50 feet from the student house, and I got into the habit of buying baguettes there every weekend. The man usually charged me the nassara price (foreigner price) of 150 CFA, or $0.30 per baguette. In contrast, when the house guard offered to buy bread, the vendor charged just 125 CFA, or $0.25. I knew that the vendor was overcharging me, but because the amount was so small and the man was somewhat disagreeable, I did not bother to bargain the price. The last weekend, I went to the kiosk again, swinging my bread bag, and bought two baguettes. I handed the man a few coins and did not look at the change. I thanked him and walked home. When I emptied my pocket I realized that I had finally accomplished the near impossible I had been charged the Burkinabè price. While this event was small, it represented how far I had come in immersing myself into Burkinabè culture. I could navigate the culture well enough to earn the respect of the bread vendor and be treated like a local. [And to not give the wrong impression, most Burkinabè are very friendly.]
What advises, recommendations would you give to prospective study abroad students? In retrospect, how would you prepare differently to maximize the study abroad experience?
Spend a lot of time reflecting and really thinking about your reasons for study abroad. Think about what YOU would like to get out of study abroad, and then try to find programs that match those goals, rather than trying to fit programs to you. It is easy to be distracted by the glossy brochures and web pages, or persuaded into choosing a place where friends are going, but not every program will be a good fit for your personality, level of independence, academic plan, foreign language background, and finances. Also, if studying in a developing country or less-traveled location interests you, listen to that gut instinct and pursue it! Having to get travel vaccines is nothing compared to the AMAZING experiences available in a less common study abroad location. College is a great time to be courageous and try new locations you had never thought you would visit. Living and studying in another country is inherently unpredictable; you cannot prepare for everything, so prepare well for what you can and be flexible about the rest. For me, knowing more about a place helps me feel more at ease, so I prepared well for study abroad by talking to others who had studied or worked in Burkina Faso and Africa. I also took the steps outlined in my program s pre-departure handbook. I would have brought more hard copies of photos and other mementos to share with the Burkinabè people because they were very curious about my life in California. I would advise others that the preparation was much more extensive and time-consuming than expected because of the range of things to plan for: budgeting, course planning, housing when you return, doctor appointments, flights, visas, pre-trip course readings, paperwork to turn in, assembling things to pack, shopping for any special travel gear, brushing up on foreign language skills, etc. The experience is worth the preparation, but you should allow plenty of time for the many things to do. Once you are abroad, make the effort to keep trying new things rather than shying away from what initially seems too different, or slipping into the familiar student mode identity of studying all the time (or party mode and partying all the time, if that is the type of program you chose). For instance, students in my program took dance and drumming classes, even though most people had no prior background. Also, speak the local language as much as possible, be patient, and have a sense of humor when things do not go as planned which usually happens, but which also usually works out okay.