Harrison – Policy Studies in Europe

My international study abroad was a life changing experience. Seeing that this was my first trip overseas, I had a lot to learn about the world and other people and their cultures. I had never been to Europe; however, I have always had such a great admiration to European culture. I have always seen pictures of Europe, along with portrayals of it in movies and TV, but I always thought it seemed like one of the most beautiful places on earth. Because Europe has also had so much history, I’ve often found myself mesmerized by hearing anything to do with European culture. Going on this trip, I could witness first had exactly what I have always dreamed of witnessing. Due to such exposure, I have been able to grow as a person, student, and professional. I have learned a tremendous amount of the things about the world, and myself, that I will be able to take with me in the future and apply it to my daily life.

When it comes to my personal growth, it was the meeting of people from all over the world that changed how I viewed the world and other people. Seeing that I had never been overseas before, the only thing I knew about people from other countries were things that I have heard from other people. Most of what I heard was that most Europeans hate Americans and that I would have difficulty in Europe because of that.  I ended up having a completely different experience once I arrived. The people in Europe could not have been friendlier to me than they were. The European community is exactly that, a community based culture. American tends to be more individualistic. Because of this. I experienced people being friendlier to me, and helpful overseas, than I typically experience here in the United States. I remember walking around and random people coming to talk to me to ask about my day or if I needed help with directions (because I clearly looked like a lost American most of the time). Upon talking to a few of the locales while in Strasbourg, France, I was told how community oriented that Europeans were, and that they really did care for others around them. This was very touching to hear. This is something that I greatly admired when it comes to European culture. Most of the time, when people in American see someone on the street that may need help, we keep walking and ignore them. Now, I will stop and help anyone when in public that may look like they need help with anything, something that most Europeans do.

At times, I did end up meeting a few people who were not the friendliest. On one occasion, my group met the owner of a restaurant who was very friendly at first meeting him. Eventually, the restaurant owner asked where we were from. Once he found out that we were American, he was very nasty a rude to us all afterwards. Situations like this happened only a few times, however, it is a reminder that no matter where you go, its important to be aware that not everyone around you may be kind, but to always be the bigger person and treat them with more respect than they give you.

There were also several other international people who would stay at many of the facilities were slept at overseas. Because Berlin, where we stayed for a few days, is such a tourist city, we ran into several people from other countries in the hostels we stayed in. What was interesting to me was that I realized that I was very quick to judge other people. When I would see people a few of the people who looked and dressed differently from me, I sometimes would think to myself that I probably would not end up being friends or having much in common with some of those people. What ended up happening was completely opposite from what I had originally thought. I ended up having conversations with many of these people, and quickly becoming friends with them. It was then that I realized that I could not judge a book by its cover. Even today, I still talk to many of these people whom I did not think I would end up having relationships with. Taking this back with me to the united states, I will now not go in to any situation and judge others who I don’t know. Beforehand, I would see people in different “cliques” or “social groups”, and think that I probably wouldn’t have much in common with them, now, I will be more open and quicker to get to know to those that I would originally think that I would not have much in common with. This is something that will greatly benefit my life from here on out.

When it comes to my academic growth, I have my professor to thank for that. During our trip, we were assigned to write a blog several times a week to discuss things that we have learned while abroad. I have done a lot of writing in the past, but this was more writing in one time than I have ever done before. Because my teacher really wanted us to grow academically, she really critiqued our blogs as thoroughly as she possibly could. It was important for my professor to push us academically as possible. I greatly appreciated this drive. Because of this, my writing skills were able to improve for the better. Being in graduate school at Florida State University, this is something that I am currently appreciating. I have been able to see my growth in my current writings from all the work I did while in my student abroad program for only three weeks.

Additionally, my academic growth was also induced by the course content that was studied during this three-week period. My program consisted of traveling all over Europe to hear guest speakers from different organizations and departments in the European Union. We heard speakers from the European Parliament to the European Council and beyond. These European Union government officials engaged with us as if we were their peers. It was such an amazing opportunity because I could utilize all my previous knowledge in political science and put it to the test for the first time. Engaging in conversations with such prestigious men and women about serious world policies not only broadened my horizons, but also strengthened my confidence level of knowing that I am intelligent enough to engage in such conversations with men and women of their caliber.

This study abroad program boosting my confidence level in regard to political knowledge also increased my professional abilities. Because I eventually would like to go into politics, this program has given me more of an idea of what it takes to succeed in the political realm. Being able to speak with the prestigious men and women I spoke with and engage in conversation with them as if I was a peer, told me that I was better prepared to be just like them one day.

In general, I also learned how big the world was as a result of taking this trip. This sounds crazy for an adult to say; however, I didn’t realize it on a much bigger scale. I knew the world was big, I just didn’t know exactly how big. Sometimes it’s hard to fully understand things by actually seeing or doing it. When I was planning my trip, Europe didn’t see that big to me. Once I started planning trips when I was over there, that is when I got a much better understanding of the size of Europe and the world itself. Essentially, I found out how huge Europe is. What is crazy for me to think about now is the size of other places like Asia and Africa. If Europe is as big as it is, then other places like Asia and Africa must be massive.

Overall, this study abroad program was a life changing experience. Being able to witness and see things that I have never been exposed to before is something that I will always appreciate. Luckily for me, the IEF scholarship was there to help me be able to afford such a magnificent trip; I would not have been able to afford the trip without the scholarship. I am very thankful I was able to successfully complete my first experience abroad and to also be able to grow personally, academically, and professionally as a result.