Sunday, July 5, 2020

Column: How my study abroad trip shaped me

August 29, 2019
<p>Annie Barker (left), Haley Sinclair (middle) and Alyte Katilius (right) sit together in Prague on their photo communication in Europe study abroad.</p>

Annie Barker (left), Haley Sinclair (middle) and Alyte Katilius (right) sit together in Prague on their photo communication in Europe study abroad.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

In a matter of weeks, we’ll all be settled into our new semester routines. Familiarity and structure can be immeasurably valuable going into the fall for those of us who have part-time jobs, attend clubs or spend time volunteering. Structure can sometimes be needed during summer, but it’s not mandatory.

Now is the perfect time to reflect upon your summer. What was worthwhile, and what wasn’t? Did you achieve everything you wanted to? College serves as a platform in which we propel our careers. It is also a time where we confront what we want to do in the future. Granting myself the opportunity to learn in an unconventional way this summer drew me out of my comfort zone and into the graces of my ever-changing career path.

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Often, we use various mechanisms to occupy our time over summer break that can sometimes fall short even though that was never the intention. Opting out of your everyday routine can provide you with that much-needed spontaneity that, without, might be holding you back from learning your area of study in a deeper, more fulfilling way. 

This past month, I flew back from London to mark the end of my photo communication study abroad after my month-long trek across Europe. Committing to studying abroad was a big step for me. Truthfully, the cost was unsettling at first, as I support myself through college. 

Despite financial concerns, students should consider studying abroad. I was able to receive a small scholarship to attend, which covered roughly the cost of my round-trip flight. Don’t be closed off to new experiences. I recommend attending informational sessions held by the MSU Education Abroad Office or planning a visit to talk with them about ways to fund a trip.

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I embarked on my quest knowing that I was among at least two people I work with at The State News. For me, that eased the nerves of living with 10 other people I didn’t know. All skill levels were allowed on this study abroad. As a newbie, that helped and harmed me. I was among other students who were skilled and learning at a different level than I was. Seeking out help during shooting days often fell flat due to time constraints. I had to put in extra effort to reach a place where I was happy with the work I was doing. 

Study abroad is no vacation if you want to come back with skills you can refine to work with your career aspirations.

My best photos came out of fleeting moments. Developing a connection with the people I photographed was crucial to my growth throughout the program. As a timid, new photographer, I struggled with that at first. It’s tempting to stay within the confines of your comfort zone, but experiencing moments with your peers and strangers is the real beauty behind studying abroad. 

Over time, you have the opportunity to connect with everyone. You can learn so much from living with a small group for a month. Artist studio visits, lectures from people within the field and access to photography exhibits were included in our program. 

For me, the one thing that separated this study abroad from going to Europe and taking photos independently was the lectures. Try to research what you’re getting out of your program before committing. There was a consensus among our group that there were some lectures that were not beneficial compared to others.

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I was stunned by how many people were willing to talk and get to know you. People from different countries would ask us about American customs, politics and music. Living in a youth hostel was an eye-opening experience. Chatting with people at the hostel was so easy.

Staying safe while on study abroad is serious, and I advise to never go anywhere without someone else. Realize that there are cultural differences wherever you travel. And consider the opportunity early on in your college career because I know people who regret not studying abroad.

In the aftermath of the study abroad, I am striving to continue to put myself in a vulnerable place and to continue creating art I am proud of. I feel accomplished for a photographer who started less than a month ago. Taking a program that is related to your area of study sets you up to build long-lasting relationships with professors and mentors.

My outcome would have been vastly different if I stayed in East Lansing, Michigan, or even the United States. Acting on those opportunities are crucial to getting the most out of your college experience. East Lansing has always provided me with endless new opportunities, but with study abroad, I felt as if I was able to see the world through many different lenses.

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