Studying Abroad

Eliza Badiozamani, Staff Writer

The opportunity to go to another country and engage in academic endeavors while experiencing cultural differences has always seemed very intriguing to me. New food, architecture, and ways of living are more accessible, and studying abroad provides an opportunity for students to not be completely thrown into living on their own in an unfamiliar place. According to NAFSA article “Trends in U.S. Study Abroad,” on average about 332,727 United States students go abroad for credit during college years, approximately 1.6 percent of all enrolled in higher education. I was interested to find out if any students at Issaquah High School planned to study abroad or had studied abroad in the past, and if so, what their experience had been.

Most Issaquah students interviewed had not been to any learning program outside of the country, but claimed they would not be against the idea, most likely during college. Sophomore Warren Singer said, “I have not and I am kind of interested, but I don’t know if i would actually go through with it,” when asked if he was planning to study abroad. Two Issaquah seniors had been to a program. Senior Shayna Wagner described the experience as “very eye opening,” and said she chose to go in high school because “I was getting bored in high school and I wanted to try something new. I could learn while getting a new experience.” Senior Alexander Bogobowicz has been to three study abroad programs in two countries since beginning high school, visiting Peru and Spain. Bogobowicz said that the hardest part of the experiences was “getting used to the subtle cultural differences,” while the best part had been “getting to experience the new ways of life and putting yourself out of your comfort zone.”

Around 50 percent of students in the United States that study abroad during their higher education go to some nation within Europe. According to NAFSA, the second most popular region for these programs among U.S. students is Latin America, with about 15 percent, and the third most popular choice of region is Asia, with about 11 percent of students. This was largely reflected in the interest of students at Issaquah. Freshman Nick Imler said he would choose to go “somewhere in Europe, maybe like Germany or something.” Junior Joshua Lee said he would choose Iceland, and junior Diane Lee said, “I want to go to England.”

Language barriers are one of the most discussed issues in a study abroad program, as blending in with and learning the culture can become even more difficult if one has a hard time knowing how to sufficiently communicate with the majority of the population. Many students were open to but would prefer not to go to a country where they had no knowledge of the language. For her study experience in Israel, Wagner said, “when I went to Israel I knew a bit of the words and had heard the language many times before, but I wasn’t fluent, so I guess I’d go to another program if I knew a bit of the language.” Bogobowicz said, “I would definitely be open to go where I didn’t know the language, to make it a more enriching experience.” Singer was also open to going where he didn’t speak the same language, “I would probably go, if I didn’t go somewhere like that, all I could go to would be England and Spain, so if you don’t you are much more limited in options,” says Singer. In contrast, Imler, Lee, and Sun said that they would prefer not to go where they did not know at least a bit of the language.

Students were also asked their opinions on whether living in another country would be more enjoyable or valuable as an adult or while still in school. Singer said, “I think school, you can still connect with people and you’re more social so that probably helps.” Freshman Julia Wood said that she would possibly live somewhere outside the United States as an adult, but “not live there permanently. For a couple months when I can financially support myself.” Wagner also felt that school would be the best time to move to a new country: “I think whenever is best for someone financially and time wise, school is usually better because some people can’t make it work when they have a career.”

Fear plays a large role into why many students would choose to not study abroad. Not knowing a language, not knowing the customs, and not having any friends immediately with you can create a massive hurdle that many choose to avoid. These things may have been scary at first, but during her time in Israel Wagner found comfort in these issues and how they helped her grow: “the hardest part was maybe being so far from home. For example, if I wanted to be on my own and be somewhere familiar to kind of collect my thoughts, I didn’t have that option.” However she agreed that it was worth it to get out of the “bubble” that living in Issaquah can become. Sophomore Mimi Takemura felt the same, saying, “We are pretty secluded here, so it’d be good to see a little more of the world at some point.”

Those who chose to study abroad see it as a way to expand beyond the culture and everyday ways of life that they have become comfortable with. It provides a way for many students to force themselves out of safety and learn more about themselves and their place in the world. It comes with a variety of hurdles and fear inducing situations that can be relatively lonely, but those who were interested in going abroad, or who had already done so, agreed that these challenges contributed to a much more meaningful experience in the long run that was worth the discomfort.