Study Abroad- Robert McGowen

The following is a study abroad perspective written by Robert McGowen: 

Have you ever been curious about studying abroad? Have you ever been one of those who may have dismissed the opportunity because you thought it was too expensive? Well I am here to tell you that there are plenty of resources out there for college students who have a desire to study abroad, whether it’s for a semester, or a short term 4 week trip. I will elaborate further on that near the end of this article.

I have had the privilege and honor to study abroad not once, but twice during my time here at NCU. The summer of 2017, my sophomore year, I went on a faculty led study abroad trip to Italy. Our trip took us to Rome, Florence, Venice and a 3 day stop in Paris, France at the end of the trip. One of the highlights for me was our visit to the Roman Colosseum (or Colosseo in Italian). During our tour, I was like a kid on Christmas morning, I was telling everyone in our group the history, fun facts and everything in-between. In all my excitement and information dispensing a group of people started following us around. As it turned out the people that were following us thought that I was the tour guide. I never told the group that I wasn’t a tour guide, we all just rolled with it because we all thought that was humorous and memorable. Some other highlights included visiting Vatican City, Lido Island, The Pantheon, The Duomo, the ancient city of Pompeii, a hike up an active volcano (Mt. Vesuvius), seeing an Italian opera, and climbing the Eiffel Tower. In total we were in Europe for approximately 26 days.

After that summer, I had finally traveled somewhere and had visited some of the oldest places in the world. It was like a dream and that was when I fell in love with traveling. I knew that I had to go back and not long after I decided to study abroad again, this time through a third party organization, on my own and for an entire month in one place. I chose to go to Italy again for familiarity. I was in Rome for 5 weeks this time. I took two classes, Elementary Italian and Environment Science, at the American University of Rome.

Still not convinced yet?  Studying abroad comes with many perks. You get the chance to see the world, take classes at a foreign university and learn about the local culture and customs while there. I have been to 7 countries the past two summers, learned how to speak elementary Italian, learned how to use 4 different monetary systems, successfully navigated confusing public transit systems, and a deeper more well-rounded culture lens. Here’s another fun story: During one of my last days in Rome, I was asked by an American tourist how to get to the Trastevere train station, but they asked me in broken Italian and I answered them in Italian. They thought that I was a local Italian. I got really tanned this summer and I did my best not to standout as your stereotypical American college student tourist. This an example of cultural blending. You will enjoy the study abroad experience better if you don’t standout and your relationships with the locals will be better as a result too.

I have been telling you a lot about the positive experiences that have made studying abroad so great, but it is also important for you to know that it can have a downside. There are many things that could happen that are beyond your control, like public transit, late flights, and people leaving a bag unattended. I encountered many of these issues on both trips. During our trip in 2017, the biggest thing that happened was when we were at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris getting ready to catch our flight back home. Somebody in the airport had left a bag unattended which resulted in a tense situation. The airport officials had announced on the intercom that the airport needed to be evacuated; however, the intercom wasn’t very loud, the instructions were not communicated clearly and only about half the airport went outside. They did a controlled detonation of the unattended bag and there was a loud noise which caused those of us still inside to freak out. It turns out that there was nothing in the bag and soon after we were allowed to go to our gate. Everyone was sprinting through the airport like that scene from Home Alone. That summer almost all of my flights with Ryanair were very late. These are potential scenarios that could happen and the moral of this story when abroad expect the unexpected, be flexible and just roll with it. Yes, it can be tense, irritating or frustrating, but look on the bright side, you’re studying abroad.

I would like to conclude with how  studying abroad can be easier for you monetarily. Two of the biggest resources that study abroad applicants use is the Gillman or Generation Study Abroad Scholarship. These are not the only opportunities available, but they are the main ones. If you are not sure of a destination that’s okay too, there are opportunities everywhere, both semester and short-term, through NCU or third-party organizations, and you can discuss options with our Off-Campus Study Programs Coordinator, Lauren Riley.

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