#StudyAbroadBecause it forever changes the way you see yourself

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Stormy Sweitzer is a consultant, everyday explorer, and co-author, with her husband/collaborator Will Swanepoel, of the YA environmental spy thriller The Drowning Shark: A Sierra Rouge Adventure (read our author interview here!). You can discover more of Stormy's writing at StormySweitzer.com.

Stormy Sweitzer - #StudyAbroadBecause it forever changes the way you see yourself

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
High school was challenging for me. I never really felt like I fit in, but I knew I wanted to see the world one day. When I saw a commercial for the American Field Service (AFS) on TV one day, I was completely drawn in. I had to talk my parents into the idea, but when they finally agreed, I applied and AFS gave me two choices: Sri Lanka or Venezuela. I chose Venezuela--because my family originates from Mexico and I wanted to learn Spanish--and then spent my junior year of high school (way back in 1990-1991) in a city called Barquisimeto.

at 15 in Venezuela - Stormy Sweitzer - #StudyAbroadBecause it forever changes the way you see yourself
at 15 in Venezuela 

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
My life in Venezuela was opposite to the one I had in the States. In Utah, I had two brothers, lived in an 800-person conservative, rural farming community near the mountains, and mostly wore t-shirts, cut-offs and sneakers. In Venezuela, I had four host sisters, went to a private school in a city of around a million people, and frequently got dressed up in semi-formal attire and makeup to attend fancy parties. 

One of my favorite memories is of the time when the baseball team from the state that I lived in won the national championship and the streets were packed with people celebrating and having fun. One of the biggest challenges for me was that my mom was deployed to Germany as an army nurse during the first Desert Storm conflict a few months after I left for Venezuela. My family was spread across three continents and I spoke with my mom only 2 or 3 times during the entire year. Not knowing how she was doing was hard.

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? 
I was always a bit of a bookworm as a kid. Studying abroad forced me to break out of my shell. I learned to speak Spanish, but also became more extroverted and learned how to communicate with people different than myself. I became more adventurous, able to navigate a wide variety of situations and places, and I think I’d also say that my cultural awareness and sense of empathy were honed during the year I was away. And, I learned to dance like nobody’s business. The year changed me in ways I still feel 25 years later.

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 
Going to Venezuela prompted me to study abroad again in college and to join the Peace Corps. I fully intended to pursue an international career, but ended up taking a different path. My husband, who is originally from South Africa and is a traveler in his own right, and I have built a life in my home state of Utah. Though we are based in Salt Lake, our life is very global. Many of our friends are transplants, I lead tours of ethnic food markets in my community, and we work remotely from other countries when we can. And, our travels inspire the places, people, and situations we describe in the young adult international adventure novel series we write together. 

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?
I know that we are all wired today, making it incredibly easy to stay in touch with home. But, I would encourage you to fully immerse yourself in your host community and family, and give yourself an opportunity to explore, learn, and grow as an individual. 

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
Studying abroad completely changed the way I looked at myself and opportunities for my future: from small-town girl to global citizen. It opened me up to new ideas, cultures, and experiences. I grew comfortable navigating the unknown and trying new things. And, I made friends for a lifetime that come from all parts of the globe. Most importantly, though, I find that the curiosity and confidence I gained abroad back then still lead me to adventures no matter where I am today.

at 20 in Russia - Stormy Sweitzer - #StudyAbroadBecause it forever changes the way you see yourself
at 20 in Russia



#StudyAbroadBecause it changes the way you see yourself and the world around you for the better


All photos courtesy and copyright Stormy Sweitzer