Elizabeth Kay '12
---Why do you want to serve as an International Ambassador at Santa Clara University?---
I would like to serve as an International Ambassador at Santa Clara University because I had such a positive experience in my study abroad program and country. Through my various experiences, I learned so much about myself and other cultures so I can offer great advice to prospective study abroad students. I would love to share my experience with others to encourage and guide students to do study abroad. Also, the European Summer Program I did in Lille, France is less well-known than some of the other programs offered at SCU and because of my positive experience, I would like to make this opportunity more well known to students.
---What were the deciding factors in choosing your study abroad program-location?---
I chose to study abroad through this program in France for five main reasons. First, I learned basic French conversational skills through various high school and college classes. Thus, I wanted to utilize what I learned as much as possible and enhance my French linguistic ability. This ties into my second reason, which is that I purposefully chose a city where English is rarely spoken (it is not full of tourists either) so I could fully immerse myself in a new culture. Third, I had never been to France prior to this program and I wanted to explore an unfamiliar country and culture. Fourth, this program was relatively inexpensive and fit my financial budget. Lastly, at first I was nervous because I did not know of any other Santa Clara students doing this program at the same time I was, but now I believe it actually worked out for the better. This (and the small size of the program) forced me to reach out to students from other cities, countries and cultures and also focus on exploring the French culture.
---Describe a defining moment in your abroad experiences and how that experience(s) has affected you personally, intellectually, vocational, spiritually, or academically.---
A defining moment in my abroad experience was when pickpocketers targeted my friend and I. We were amongst a crowd of thousands at the Eiffel Tower at a concert, waiting for fireworks to celebrate Frances Independence Day. Although the lawn was completely packed, we found a spot close to the tower. I noticed a family (three men, one woman and two little girls) in front of us who kept looking back at our belongings and us. I was not aware that they were a pick pocketing family but my instincts were telling me that something was off. Even though I felt uncomfortable, we did not leave our spot for a couple hours for two reasons. First, my friend did not have the same suspicions that I immediately had. Second, we had a sense of false security because we thought that being surrounded by thousands of others (including tourists) would somehow protect us. We eventually decided to move to the far-away restrooms but the family was so close to us that they overheard our conversation and beat us there. We headed straight to the exit and I felt better because we found an equally beautiful (and far away) spot to enjoy the fireworks, a much friendlier crowd to sit with, and we had a quick exit plan if needed. This experience helped me grow both intellectually and personally. It helped me grow intellectually because I had never encountered pickpocketers before and I learned that many of them are aggressive, travel in families and follow their targets. Looking back, I realize that the reason we were so lucky to find a close-up spot in a crowded lawn was because many French civilians probably recognized subtle signs that the men sitting in front of us were not trustworthy. This taught me to be more aware and investigate my surroundings in a foreign country. I also grew personally as I learned that even in an unfamiliar culture, I should trust my instincts and respect my feelings. We should have left right when I felt uncomfortable and vulnerable and we should have told security, something I had also been pushing for but second-guessed myself. This experience helped me gain confidence in my judging ability and learn to trust and respect myself, especially in sticky situations. I learned so much about myself and another culture from just this one experience, and it is a great story to tell!
---What advises, recommendations would you give to prospective study abroad students? In retrospect, how would you prepare differently to maximize the study abroad experience?---
I can offer a lot of advice to prospective study abroad students. The first is to trust your instincts no matter where you are. Second, I recommend that you are open to fully experiencing, learning and immersing yourself in the culture. Whether it is taking the metro or walking to a market every morning, there is so much you can learn. Absorbing the culture was so important to me because I was able to compare and contrast my lifestyle to the French lifestyle. I noticed that no matter where I was in Lille, every person was very social. Unlike coffee shops and cafes in the U.S., no one had a laptop or was preoccupied with a Bluetooth. In addition to learning about the country you are living in, you are given the opportunity to meet and learn about so many different kinds of people. I encourage students to be open to befriending people from other schools and countries. Half of the students on my trip were from China and I learned so much about their country and the differences and similarities between students in China and myself by simply sitting down with them for lunch! I also created really strong bonds with Australian students as well as those from different parts of the U.S. I found it really neat to be able to connect and relate to peers that live either hours away or halfway across the world from me. Also, dont be afraid of getting lost. Getting lost usually proved to be the most enjoyable and memorable parts of my trip!
In retrospect, the main way I would prepare differently to maximize the study abroad experience is to look into local activities and surrounding country explorations in greater detail before you leave. I did not research this in great deal beforehand. Luckily, some people I met there (and through some research of my own) knew about local activities to do like renting bikes, concerts in the park, popular French restaurants, etc. so I did not miss out on those. But there was so much to do that I wish I looked into it earlier so I could not only experience it but also experience it for the least expensive price possible! Researching activities before you leave will also give you more time to explore the country you are in and it is much less stressful than trying to find everything last minute.