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Connor Gemmell '13
Why do you want to serve as an International Ambassador?
I remember being really nervous before leaving for Spain. Even the process was difficult, picking a location and getting classes approved, to the point where I almost decided not to go. Even so, I stuck with it, because I was motivated by the stories that I had heard during orientation and from other friends who had gone abroad. I ended up having a great experience, and now I'd really like to be able to share that with the next wave of abroad students, both to reassure them against concerns they may have and to plant that excitement for the experiences they have waiting for them.
Deciding factor for studying abroad?
Ever since I was young I've been interested in Spanish culture. My family has some obscure roots there, but it really came to play in my step-dad, who is half Spanish. I was particularly interested in the cuisine and the arts in Spain, two things that I believe most reveal the roots and character of a culture. What one must consider is that Spain is a very diverse nation, in which no two parts are entirely the same. I wasn't interested in spending my time in a big city like Madrid or Barcelona, because while they are certainly Spanish, they both fall victim to the busyness and predictability of large cities. I wanted to go to the roots, to get an intimate feel of Spain where its origins were strongest, and the only place for that is Andalusia. And, of course, no city can make this claim o9f historical and cultural heritage better than its capital, Seville. I knew that I wanted to be in Andalusia, and most importantly living in a homestay; I firmly believe this is the absolute best way to deeply integrate with the local life and culture. Seville offered me all of this, so naturally I leaped at my opportunity to go.
Defining Moment Abroad?
Interestingly, the moment that comes to mind happened not in Spain, but during a trip my program organized to Morocco. We were up in a tiny mountain village, sharing lunch with a small family. We had brought along some fruit and a salad, but they had cooked an incredible meat tajine for our entire group of 20 people, easily enough to feed the family for a week. After that they sat down and ate with us, then we talked about differences in American and Moroccan culture, and heard the father's life story. We then hiked out across his farm up into the hills to enjoy the landscape, when I struck up a conversation with the eldest son. His English was less than perfect but with a little effort we were able to communicate clearly. We got to talk more in depth about preconceptions and stereotypes that pervade the media and the views of the people, about conflicts between Islam and Christianity, and extremism. More specifically, we discussed how they come from a distorted viewpoint and distance between the groups; if they would simply come together and interact like he and I, they would see that we really aren't that different. It stuck with me for the rest of that trip and even now, months after, my mind still comes back to that experience constantly. It opened my eyes to a whole world full of people that I hadn't thought about before, that I shared connections with and could learn from. It was a shocking view into the heart of humanity, and it's not an experience I think I shall ever forget.
Advice to Prospective study abroad students?
Be prepared to be uncomfortable at first, because these people, be they European or no, come from a very different cultural background than you. Try new things without hesitation. You will find opportunities that you will be less than enthusiastic about, but a critical part of learning a new cultural is doing as the locals do. If you find you don't care for it, fine, but give yourself time to adjust to it before you make a decision. Rejecting something without trying it is both close-minded and rude. If your destination country doesn't speak primarily English, be prepared to be thrown by that. Reviewing at least the basics of the language before you go is a must, but when you're immersed in the language it becomes a whole different ball game. If you work hard you WILL see your language skills develop significantly, but put in the work up front and during your time there. Don't be put off by the initial difficulties or failures, these only make your eventual successes even sweeter. Don't stress too hard about school. SCU offers tons of great classes, so if you're going there just for academics you may as well stay home. Take the time to get out in the community, explore, learn how your foreign country really feels and works instead of hitting the books every night. Get involved with the locals, whether through clubs, meeting people on the street, or exchange programs. They know the culture and the city you came to discover, and that interaction will be the most valuable benefit you can gain from your trip.