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Lauren – Tropical Island Ecology (St. John, Virgin Islands)

“Being a student athlete, I really did not think I would be able to study abroad. Pursuing a Biology degree is time consuming enough, but when you also add a D1 division sport into the mix it almost seems impossible to study abroad. I always thought it would be beneficial to study abroad because not only are you receiving credit for a course that counts towards your degree, but also because it gives you the opportunity to explore a place that you might otherwise not be able to.”

Being a student athlete, I really did not think I would be able to study abroad. Pursuing a Biology degree is time consuming enough, but when you also add a D1 division sport into the mix it almost seems impossible to study abroad. I always thought it would be beneficial to study abroad because not only are you receiving credit for a course that counts towards your degree, but also because it gives you the opportunity to explore a place that you might otherwise not be able to. You get to experience other cultures and learn about local history regardless of the course you applied for. So when I found out that there was an opportunity for me to apply for a study abroad program that not only fit into my schedule but also was with one of my favorite professors, I immediately began to fill out my application.

Money was another issue that my family and I were concerned about and kept me from looking at a lot of study abroad programs. Fortunately, Georgia State University offers multiple opportunities to receive financial aid. Any amount helps so I applied for as many scholarships as I could and was fortunate enough to have received some financial aid that allowed me to be able to attend the study abroad program that I wanted.

The study abroad program that I was accepted in was the Ecology course in St. John and St. Thomas under the head of Dr. Chapman. It was basically a 3 credit hour crash course over Spring Break. For soccer we would get the week of Spring Break off so this was a perfect fit into my schedule and how often do you get the chance to get a 3 credit hour course done in a week. Yes it was a lot of information to cover, but honestly did not phase me because of the fact that I was able to explore a place that I would probably never have visited if it were not for this program.

I cannot stress enough on how much I really enjoyed this study abroad trip. From exploring the whole island of St. John to having guest speakers that included locals and national park service members and even being able to explore the British Virgin Islands. One of the most memorable speakers that I thought we had was Ital. He is a local and you could instantly tell how much pride he has in his heritage and where he is from just by the way he presented the plants commonly found on the island, sang his song that he had written about St. John, and how he taught us how to blow a conch. But by far my favorite activity that we did was sail to Virgin Gorda to walk through the batholiths (“Baths”), one of the most famous attraction sites in the Caribbean, and listen to the guides on how they were formed. The amount of information and experiences we were able to do in a span of a week was unbelievable.

Overall this was truly an experience that I will never forget! It has impacted me on so many levels. Personally, I was able to meet people that were interested in similar things that I am, and honestly if it were not for this program probably would have not have met. Georgia State is a large school and is only continuing to grow, so the possibility of me gaining the friendships that I have formed from this trip would be slim to none if I had not gone. Professionally/academically it has opened up a lot of doors for me. It is one of the things that I get asked about constantly on my applications, whether it is for a job that I am interested in or when applying for graduate level programs.

If on the fence about studying abroad, I highly encourage it. Take the time to research up on different programs. Not only are there plenty of scholarship opportunities to help financially, but it is a chance to get to learn outside of the everyday classroom and lecture hall. Out of all of the courses that I have taken during my undergraduate studies, the Ecology course in St. John is the one that has stuck with me the most.