Returning Radford students reflect on their semesters abroad
To enrich their undergraduate experiences, four Radford students spent their fall semesters at international universities.
Back now on Radford campus, the four – senior political science major Elliott Smith, senior sociology and international studies Cara Myrtle, sophomore journalism and English major Abigail Fullen and senior political science major Genevieve Carrasco– all agreed that their semester-long exchange program was invaluable.
Smith, Myrtle, Fullen and Carrasco were among ten Radford students who spent their fall 2016 semesters in long-term study abroad experiences.
“In a deeper way, the experience opened my eyes and my heart. I have a much more empathetic view for others living differently than me. And I learned to love and appreciate another culture,” said Myrtle, who studied Russian culture, history and language at the Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University in St. Petersburg, Russia, during the fall 2106 semester.
On another continent, and in a different climate and culture, Elliott Smith spent the fall semester at Universidad Adolfo Ibanez in Vina Del Mar, Chile.
“I found I could live independently and in depth. It was an amazing experience. I learned about a new culture, a new environment and myself,” said Smith.
To Fullen, who took three literature courses, the academic pace seemed intense.
“There was a weekly one-hour seminar in addition to six meeting times. The courses were deep and the faculty was very particular about our knowing and understanding the material,” she said.
While Fullen was adapting to a culture with a deep history and a climate that was a damp, chilly change from her Southwest Virginia home, she also navigated to and from university with 25-minute, or 17,000 Fit-bit step, walking tours of Glasgow.
Myrtle relied on public transportation to get from the home she shared with an extended Russian family to the campus in the St. Petersburg suburbs.
“My family host was a grandmother whose granddaughter lived with her and her daughter also occasionally stayed in her apartment. They all made me welcome and made special room for me,” said Myrtle. “I realized just how adaptable I can be as I saw how they lived and how openly they shared with me.”
Smith laughed about “playing charades” with his multi-generational host family by which he made himself understood until the Chilean language came easier to him.
“I was embraced as part of the family. Family there was appreciated and valued, especially at meals, which lasted for two hours,” said Smith. “I never really realized how fast-paced my own culture is until I saw how laid back the Chileans are.”
Carrasco, who studied at the International House of Barcelona had to be treated for an allergic reaction to a bug bite and get her laptop hard drive replaced while in Barcelona – all in her second language.
She reflected on her self-reliance, saying, “I was living in Spain. I had to make it my home. I was free, but there was no security blanket. It was an incredible opportunity to grow and get past my own comfort zone.”
No dust settled on the Radford students during their semester abroad. During free time while in Barcelona, Carrasco visited Morocco, the beaches of Southern France and Monte Carlo. While in Chile, Smith explored the Atacama desert and Andean mountains of Chile and Argentina. Fullen took advantage of the convenience and affordability of continental travel to see London, Marseille and the English and Scottish countrysides. In her spare time, Myrtle explored Moscow, Germany, Finland and Estonia.
Not only did the students study, they made friends with students from across the globe and enjoyed novel experiences. Among Myrtle’s new acquaintances were students from Switzerland, China and Kazahkstan. Smith climbed to the top of the Villarrica volcano and looked into a maw of an active volcano. Carrasco watched the Catalan independence movement assert itself while Smith watched as Chileans celebrated their own Independence Day.
“There were a lot of “wow” moments. The difference in technology and the degrees of affluence all made me appreciate what I have,” said Carrasco. “Now that I am back, I am more patient and want to learn more about everything.”
Fullen said the chance to be on the outside looking in was helpful.
“I think it is good to step away from your own culture. I know I am proud to be an American, but you should see how proud the Scottish are of Old Scotland.”
Of Chilean Independence Day, Smith said, “Now, that is a party.”
For Myrtle, the benefits of a semester abroad were a deeper appreciation for art, a sense of freedom and confidence that comes from traveling on her own and friendships borne of her faith.
Fullen said her semester abroad experience came as a result of an impromptu visit to the International Education Center (IEC).
“I was just passing by and thought I would see what they could do. They helped me pick a destination, find ways to pay for it and then made it work,” said Fullen.
Fullen and Myrtle were recipients of 2016 McGlothlin Travel Grants. They were among 11 students who had $1,500 awards applied toward their individual foreign study experiences. Funding for the McGlothlin Travel Grant program is supported by the McGlothlin Endowment, created by a contribution of more than $1.5 million by alumna Sally Ann Cook McGlothlin's family for the advancement of international programming at Radford.
For the upcoming year, nearly 300 Radford University students have applied for an international study experience – a 33 percent increase over last year, said International Education Center Paul Currant.
“Very importantly,” Currant said, “we work closely with faculty and academic advisors to develop a plan of study to allow a student who wishes to study abroad to graduate on time.”
Through the IEC, Radford University students can study abroad for a semester like Carrasco, Fullen, Myrtle or Smith. They also can study abroad for an academic year or on one of many short-term programs. The University’s expanding list of partners include France’s Blaise Pascal University, Kassel University in Germany, Japan’s Kansai Gaidai University and the University of Glasgow in Scotland, Fullen’s international alma mater.
Smith, Myrtle and Carrasco were matched with their international universities by service providers with whom the IEC collaborates.
For more on study abroad opportunities, visit the IEC online, drop by the IEC office at Cook 105 or call 831-6200.