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Study abroad office prepares students to travel in spring

By Callie Jennings – [email protected] – Staff Writer | Nov. 5, 2014 |

As the spring semester quickly approaches, the study abroad department remains busy aiding more than 40 students who will be traveling overseas come January.

“We are covering the globe. This year students will be going to Hong Kong, Malaysia, Japan, New Zealand, Senegal, Spain, the Netherlands, Turkey, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Denmark, Cuba, China and Austria,” said Bonnie Parker, director of study abroad.

According to Parker, in order to study abroad students should prepare themselves sooner rather than later. Usually freshman year should be when students begin thinking about planning and putting the most effort into researching programs as far as the application process goes.

“We love to have students see what’s out there,” Parker said. “We encourage them to make appointments with us and to go to our study abroad fair in the fall.”

Parker said the next step should be to meet with an academic adviser and pick out classes available to fit within the student’s major. In order to understand how to study abroad, Parker refers to their website.

“We have a good section called ‘Steps to Study Abroad’ and it’s laid out in chronological order of things that you need to be reminded of or thinking about planning out and doing,” Parker said. “As far as preparing them for what to take and how to deal with homesickness, we require all students to take part in a predeparture orientation.”

Orientation gives students the opportunity to talk to other students, both international and those who have already been abroad, in a panel setup. It also helps them first start learning and immersing themselves in the culture of their corresponding countries and how to deal with initial culture shock, as well as other activities.

“Sometimes students who have already been overseas don’t think they will experience any sort of culture shock, but it’s important for us to discuss that because nine out of 10 times they will go through it. You’re there for an extended amount of time so you’re going to have that fluctuation in how you feel in your experience,” Parker said.

When students return in July, a re-entry gathering will be conducted after their experiences. The gathering helps students talk about their experiences and any similarities they encountered.

According to Parker, this gives a way to share the experience and use it for job searching, a resume or future volunteer work.

Emily Ackley, a 19-year-old sophomore, was accepted after turning in her application and will be heading overseas for the first time next semester to Chester, England.

“Well, the first step was applications. The process was very long – I remember I had to sign my name a bunch of times. Now I am just excited to get out of my comfort zone and doing something with my life,” Ackley said.

Ackley leaves in January, so currently she’s reading the manual the study abroad office has sent her on what to pack, she said.

“They said I would only need one pair of pajamas. That’s insane. I am going to figure out what I actually need versus what I don’t actually use. I just need to pack everything as I would and then unpack to pick out what I don’t actually need, which is something they suggested,” Ackley said.

Ackley admits she isn’t quite mentally prepared yet for going abroad. She has not had orientation yet, which is supposed to help her prepare for her departure.

“I think it’s easier to figure it out once you’re in it than freaking out beforehand,” Ackley said.

Kayla Nelson, a 20-year-old student from UNC Charlotte, said she felt the same way before her trip abroad to Rome, Italy.

“My program was five weeks long over the summer, and of course the first step was finding the program and then the application process. Although, my process was fairly simple and it was more based on first come, first served,” Nelson said.

The second thing Nelson had to do was take classes to prepare her for this new adventure.

“When it came to preparing for homesickness, we were told to not dwell on it, find something else to preoccupy you. So for me, when I found myself missing home, I would quickly FaceTime the family and then immediately after get out of my apartment and just explore,” Nelson said.

As far as culture shock, Nelson noticed it straight away, but says it was easy to get a grasp on quickly.

“When you first arrive it is truly a shock, people looking at you differently, everything just being different in general. But honestly just prepare yourself before leaving. Understand their culture before leaving America,” Nelson said. “If you do that, it comes as less of shock and more just something to get used to. Overall I felt like I was prepared in advance, so I wasn’t the completely obvious tourist. I tried to dress, eat and speak like the Italians. Just stand your ground and you will be perfectly fine.”

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