#StudyAbroadBecause the world is worth it!

by Stasia Lopez / Mar 06, 2015 /
Stasia Lopez's picture

Josh Trach is a junior marketing major at the University of Pittsburgh. In the fall 2014, he studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain. Other than having the absolute best time of his life, he learned an incredible amount about the world and even more about himself. His hope is that this interview article can help to inspire students who are on the fence about studying abroad to take the leap, and also bring joy to students who have already studied abroad. Josh is open to having people reach out to him through email (jtrach22[at]gmail.com), Twitter: @djTrachstar, and Instagram: letmeputmypicturesinyou (which he comments “it’s a Blades of Glory movie reference and not meant to be inappropriate”). Read more about his experience below:

 

Josh in Florence. #StudyAbroadBecause... the world is worth it!

In Florence, Italy.

 

Were you always interested in studying abroad? What motivated your decision to go abroad?

Yes. My interest in studying abroad emerged from my intrinsic curiosity and desire to travel. As an incoming freshman to the University of Pittsburgh, I knew in the back of my mind that no matter what major I chose, or organizations I joined, I was going to make sure that I studied abroad at least once. I would have to say that the majority of my motivation is intrinsic, due to my fascination with the act of traveling and exploring. Although, due to the beauty of technology, I was able to feed my fascination by researching various locations around the world and put them on my travel bucket list.

 

What was your study abroad experience like?

After trying to figure out the perfect way to put my study abroad experience in words in order to answer friends, family, and the occasional stranger, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to describe the level of enjoyment my experience brought me is to imagine the last day you had where at the end of it you thought to yourself, “Man, I had an amazing day.” Now think about saying that to yourself for four consecutive months (that was essentially the duration of my time abroad). During my semester, I was enrolled in four courses: International Marketing, Spanish Contemporary Art, Behavioral Incentives: The Case of Soccer, and Entrepreneurship and New Venture Creation. All of my courses were taught in English since I was not required to take any Spanish courses while abroad. One of my favorite aspects of my courses was the amount of diversity within the classroom. There were kids from Brazil, Germany, Sweden, Uruguay, and Austria, among other countries. This diversity provided me with an incredibly unique opportunity to interact with and learn about different cultures and education in various countries.

 

Sunset in Barcelona. #StudyAbroadBecause... the world is worth it!

Sunset in Barcelona

 

What skills did you develop from your experience abroad? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?

I greatly enhanced my ability to lead, network, navigate, adapt, be self-reliant, and contrary to that, to trust others. I feel changed from my experience abroad mainly in terms of my perspective and overall attitude. Studying abroad opened my mind to aspects of the world that I had never considered before. I feel that I learned something new, either about a culture, language, social norm, etc., every day. The culmination of learning something new every single day caused my perspective of the world to change drastically. Additionally, I feel that I am now more willing and able to step outside my comfort zone. Doing so has allowed me to feel relaxed and confident in foreign situations and circumstances.

 

What were some challenges that you observed that happened on your study abroad experience?

One of the biggest and most recognized challenge any study abroad student faces is learning to adapt to a new culture, and possibly language. For me personally, I had a few friends who studied in Barcelona the semester before who wrote up mini “survival guides” for me to utilize while abroad. These guides definitely helped me feel more comfortable when I arrived, and provided me with the names of awesome bars, restaurants, and sight-seeing hotspots to check out. Another challenge (or opportunity depending on how you look at it) I observed while abroad is what to do with all of your free time. Although I was taking four classes, the course load provided me with a large amount of free time. I looked at this as an opportunity to explore my host city and travel as much as possible. I especially challenged myself to do something different every single day. Additionally, there were a multitude of clubs, intercambias with local students, and intramural sports I had access to.

 

How did you prepare to go abroad? What steps did you take that really helped you? What advice would you share with other students? Did you have to attend a pre-departure orientation?

In preparing to go abroad, I made sure that I was extremely proactive in handing in all the required documents in order to minimize the administrative aspect, and maximized the amount of time I could spend researching interesting places to visit as well as things to do while abroad. My advice to other students would be to be proactive, and to do a little bit of research about your host city and country in order for your transition to be smooth and not overwhelming.

 

Sunset, Marseille, France. #StudyAbroadBecause... the world is worth it!

Sunset, Marseille, France.

 

Many students worry about the cost of going abroad. How did you pay for you study abroad experience? Were there any scholarships and grants available? Any tips you would recommend to students who’re interested in going abroad?

I used money that would have gone toward my semester at Pitt to pay for my academic and housing costs while abroad. I personally was able to liquidate two grants I normally receive at Pitt, which I was then able to use toward traveling expenses. I would advise future study abroad students to definitely explore all of the options with other organizations that offer scholarships and grants, too.

 

Did anything about your study abroad shock or surprise you? If so, explain. Do you have a favorite memory to share from your experience abroad?

There were definitely a variety of cultural differences in the various places I traveled that surprised me. One of which was the sense of city, cultural, and national pride the majority of people had. It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite memory from my experience; however, one of the highlights for me personally was when I went to a Turkish bath with some of my friends in Budapest, Hungary. As I was soaking in an extremely warm 40 degree Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) thermal bath, I stepped outside my body for a moment and thought about how absolutely incredible and unique that experience was.

 

Once you returned from your experience, how did you reflect upon your study abroad experience? 

I reflected by first reviewing the personal stories and quotes digital notebook I created. (I would highly suggest doing that. Every few days I would recap on various small, big, funny, and exciting events that took place and would document them.) Having said that, in addition to posting pictures and videos on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter while abroad, I have continued doing so since I have returned. A pain point for me personally, and I know some of my fellow study abroad peers feel the same way, is that there isn’t a specific platform for study abroad students to continue to connect with one another where they can relive semantic memories together and stay in touch without having their feeds clogged by their one thousand other Facebook friends. This is a pain point I’m personally working on lessening.

 

The Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain.  #StudyAbroadBecause... the world is worth it!

The Bernabeu in Madrid, Spain.

 

Did your study abroad experience ever come up in a job interview? If so, explain. Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

Not yet. I definitely foresee it coming up in an interview, and I have made it visible and prominent on my resume (something I would encourage all study abroad students to do). My experience abroad has hands down helped me get to where I am today (even though I’m only three months removed from being abroad). After returning to Pitt this semester, among other things, I have found my desire to continue traveling and learning greater than ever. My experience networking, connecting, and befriending complete strangers (who ended up becoming dear friends) has made me much more outgoing and determined going forward.

 

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

International education has enabled me to not only explore and learn about other people’s cultural identity, but also to explore my own. My perspective regarding my cultural identity has changed in the sense that although I am an American, I’ve realized that it’s possible to travel and not been seen as one, if that makes sense. For the most part, I was seen simply as another person. Having said that, throughout my experience I have definitely been able to identify amazingly unique and interesting differences between cultures that form their own identity. I think that it is imperative for especially people at a young age be exposed to these different cultural identities so that they can see the positives every culture has to offer, and to discover that deep down we are all so similar. I believe that having that true exposure at a young age is imperative in defeating biases and cultural stereotypes shaped by negative exposure in the media.

 

Anything else you’d like to share?

I just want to add a few quotes that I think are relevant to the study abroad process, and especially to students who are on the fence about studying abroad, but are having doubts about if it’s feasible.

•    "Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome"- Samuel Johnson
•    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”- Mark Twain
 

 

The gorgeous town of Manarola, Italy. #StudyAbroadBecause... the world is worth it!

The gorgeous town of Manarola, Italy.

 

#StudyAbroadBecause... the world is worth it!

 

 

Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.

 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Josh Trach