Study abroad programs foster a new perspective

Imagine yourself in a foreign country standing on a high bridge over a rushing river, wrapped casually into a harness. You are then asked, calmly, to jump. That’s the experience Environmental Science senior Anna Edge recalled during her study abroad trip to New Zealand when she decided to get out of her comfort zone and try something new on a day adventure to Queensland.

“Bungee jumping was scary, but I loved it,” remarks Edge. “As soon as I did it, I wanted to do it again.”

From collecting sediment samples on a boat off the coast of New Zealand, to more adventurous experiences like hitchhiking on a Malaysian tour bus, Edge described her experience studying abroad as “the best thing (she) had ever done for (herself).” Studying with other students around the nation at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, allowed Edge to continue her course studies as well as travel to other exciting sites during her fall semester abroad.

If a semester abroad seems too long, consider a month-long trip like the one Dr. Yaegar takes to Central America during the summer. A professor of archaeology, Dr. Yaegar assists in a study abroad program that works directly with the scientific research at an archaeological site in Belize. Undergraduates and graduates who participate in the program live in a field camp alongside the professors every day during the trip.

“(The program) is very hands on. We tell everybody that you’re going to get blisters, sunburns and possibly dehydrated,” explains Yaegar. “It’s a very different kind of study abroad program. You definitely get to know the city and the people because we work with the men and women (of Belize).”

Some students may worry about becoming homesick, but Yaegar — a study abroad student himself during his undergraduate studies — remarks that the hardest part is actually during the return. After living abroad for a period of time, “it’s difficult to readapt to the U.S. way of doing things,” he explains.

Yaegar recommends that students consider the program’s duration and cost while also finding an experience that suits their interests. UTSA offers a variety of faculty-led programs, exchange programs and third-party study abroad programs like the one Edge participated in. Faculty-led programs do not last as long as most programs and therefore have more emphasis on research and academic exploration.

According to Yaegar, “Some of the most open ended ones are where you essentially go to another university and become a student for a semester.” Typically, students are recommended to travel during their sophomore or junior year. For example, it was during her sophomore year that Edge took her trip abroad. “I was unsure about my major and what I was doing (as a student), so I kind of decided to go just to get away,” she explains. Edge believes she came back from her trip “a more well-rounded person.”

The study abroad experience not only immerses you into a cultural journey, but it is also an almost spiritual transformation. Upon returning to the states, Yaegar went on to describe how many of his students grew into a less judgmental version of themselves. “For me, I’ve really appreciated the sense of celebrating life and to really try to appreciate each moment. To take what comes and really make the most of it,” he explains. “I think by getting to know another culture, you can look back at yourself and find ways for self-improvement.”

Interested students can visit the UTSA Study Abroad Office to learn more. The deadline for a summer program registration is February 15.

“If you’re considering it, do it,” remarks Edge.