#StudyAbroadBecause You Build Your True Self

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

My name is Mariah Robinson and I am a 21 year-old US university student completing my last two years of undergrad through study abroad programs around the world! I am enrolled at the University of Miami, Florida, but I have completed a Fulbright student program in the UK, spent semesters at universities in France and Australia, and am currently completing my degree in International Studies and Environmental Science at the Universidad de Belgrano in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Find me online at http://onewildblog.com/

Hiking in Spain between my programs in the UK & France. Mariah Robinson: #StudyAbroadBecause You Build Your True Self
Hiking in Spain between my programs in the UK & France

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
For me, studying abroad wasn't a question of "if" but of "for how long?" I knew that I wanted to be an exchange student even before I began my freshman year at University of Miami, and finding my place there as an International Studies major just confirmed my longing to study abroad. I wanted an experience that would allow me to live in multiple countries in very different areas of the world, push me academically, stretch me outside of my comfort zone, and - of course - allow me to still graduate in 4 years! Some countries I chose very deliberately - like Argentina, to improve my Spanish and experience a homestay in Latin America -and others just simply fell into my lap - like my Fulbright program that took me to London to study social change with other international students. 

Visiting Paris during my semester in Reims, France. Mariah Robinson: #StudyAbroadBecause You Build Your True Self
Visiting Paris during my semester in Reims, France

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
The friendships I've made, places I've visited, and experiences I've had studying abroad have made me realize just how incredibly different and also incredibly the same all of us humans really are. Every country, nationality, and university is unique and unexpected, but also full of the same challenges, struggles, and beauty as my own country, my nationality, and my home university.

Some of my favorite memories from studying abroad are participating in a Model United Nations in Nice, France - being surrounded by incredibly intelligent, politically passionate young people from all around the world - and work exchanging on a permaculture farm during my semester in Sydney, Australia - an experience filled with more goofy stories and outside-of-my-comfort-zone memories than I thought possible.

As an introvert, the biggest challenge for me has been learning to find quiet and peace inside myself even when I am in incredibly chaotic situations and surrounded by people for long periods of time. When you're studying and traveling abroad, the daily routine and time for oneself that I think a lot of introverts crave can be impossible to find. It's been an incredibly important learning experience for me to find a balance between pushing myself out of my comfort zone and knowing when it's time to turn down an invitation or an experience because - it may be incredibly fun for someone else - but it's not right for me.

Traveling in New Zealand during my semester in Sydney, Australia. Mariah Robinson: #StudyAbroadBecause You Build Your True Self
Traveling in New Zealand during my semester in Sydney, Australia

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad?
Beyond the typical (but very true!) response that studying abroad has made me more open-minded and culturally aware, studying abroad has taught me to ask for what I want and create the opportunities and experiences that I dream about, even if they don't yet exist. People often ask me about my "two-year-exchange-program" and how my home university is able to offer it, but - the truth is - my home university doesn't offer this type of program - I've pieced together my two years abroad through multiple exchange programs and scholarship opportunities. It's been no easy feat juggling student visa applications, academic transfer credits, and a new advisor and exchange coordinator in every new country, but it's forced me to become incredibly independent, to speak up when things are overlooked, and to always always ask if something I want is possible - I've been surprised how many times the answer has been "It's not typical but, yes, it's possible."


Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 
My study abroad experience is probably the only reason that I am on the path I am today - heading towards graduate school for creative writing/arts-politics. What I'm looking to study and do for my future career - impact social change and politics through writing and the creative arts - is entirely different than the future I imagined for myself - going to graduate school for political science and working straight out of school for the US government. My passion for politics and social justice issues has only grown stronger over the past two years, but my study abroad experience has opened my eyes to new avenues for creating social change and helped me find the courage to go after my passions in non-traditional ways, regardless of cultural expectations or societal pressures. 

Visiting Stonehenge during my Fulbright program in London. Mariah Robinson: #StudyAbroadBecause You Build Your True Self
Visiting Stonehenge during my Fulbright program in London

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?
I think the perceived costs of traveling can hold a lot of students back from seriously looking into study abroad programs. As a student who relies entirely on academic scholarships, financial aid, and student loans to get me through school, I completely understand how intimidating a study abroad program fee can seem or how limiting and "stuck" your financial situation can make you feel. At the same time, though, money should never hold you back from the academic experience that you want to have. There are mountains of scholarships available for students wanting to study abroad and most universities allow you to apply your financial aid towards your exchange programs. It's a matter of doing your research - look up federal scholarship programs like Fulbright or Boren that will fund an entire year of foreign study, and go talk to someone at your study abroad office in person to find out what specific scholarships you can receive through your school - and then sitting down and doing the work - applying for every grant and program you can, finding your own budget housing, flights, and insurance, and - if need be - taking out student loans. Some students won't even have to think about finances when deciding if they should study abroad, and that's wonderful! But, just because your family cannot fund your abroad experience does not mean that there are not options for you if you're willing to put in the extra work!

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
As an International Studies student, I have now taken politics classes in the US, UK, France, Australia, and Argentina. As you can imagine, the exact same political and historical issues are presented in completely different ways in each of these different classrooms. This has been the most eye-opening experience and has influenced my identity as an American more than I ever imagined it would. It's an interesting experience to constantly hear your homeland criticized and torn apart in different countries (and different languages!) everywhere you go in the world, and it's humbled me and made me a more critical and discerning interpreter of news, narratives, and even my own history books! At the same time, however, it's made me realize the importance of national pride and has paradoxically made me more loyal and proud of where I come from. It's easy to criticize the US - I know because I'm a master at it - but holding one's country accountable for its actions and identity is important for every citizen in every nation. Studying abroad has made me realize that, often, the people who are the most outspokenly critical of their own country are the ones that love it the most and are the most committed to helping it grow and become better.

#StudyAbroadBecause you build your true self from every fear faced & every stereotype shattered 

Mariah Robinson: #StudyAbroadBecause You Build Your True Self

All photos courtesy and copyright Mariah Robinson