Cultural Experience | Ohio

Hit the tarmac, now! Why studying abroad is the best part of college

Explore the opportunities for study abroad during International Education Week.

I was asked to answer a few questions for a blog post featuring different leaders across campus the other day, and one of the questions stopped me dead in my tracks: What has been your best memory at OHIO?

My immediate answer? Studying abroad.

This may not seem to make sense, as studying abroad took me almost 3,000 miles away from the college town in Southeast Ohio that I am more than happy to call home. But it really was. Spending four months in Ecuador changed me for the better – it opened my mind to new ideas and a different way of life. It forced me out of my comfort zone every single day, from trying to navigate the city when I first arrived to living my life in a language other than English, and while I’m elated to be back in Athens at at Ohio University. I now live in a house off campus with two of my best friends in the world, and yet it seems like every other day, all I want to do is grab my passport and head to an airport…and this week the feeling is stronger than ever.

Why? Well, this week is International Education Week. I work for the Institute for International Journalism at Scripps, where I do mostly administrative work and write blog posts every now and again. It’s a fun job – I get to interact with people from all over the world and work to plan cultural exchanges. Yesterday, I set up and manned a booth about different international opportunities that students have, and was able to talk to people about my various experiences abroad. It was a very nostalgia-inducing activity, but one that I had a lot of fun with.


My host brother took this photo of me when the family went to El Cajas, a national park near Cuenca.

So here’s a task for you: study abroad. If you didn’t already want to do that, then here’s my somewhat-stereotypical list of the top five reasons why you should buy a plane ticket and hit the tarmac:

1. There is nothing like waking up before 6am in order to get to school.
I’m chronically early, which I suppose isn’t really a bad thing in the long run. When I would walk to school in Ecuador, I would wake up around 5:30am (eventually, it was natural) to get ready, eat some breakfast, and start the walk from my host family’s house near el mercado 12 de abril to the center of the city and CEDEI, my school. Was it agitating sometimes to be up that early? Yes. But walking through the market as vendors were setting up shop isn’t something I can do in the US.

2. The food.
If you like to eat, leave the US. Though there are many communities that use a lot of locally-grown and/or organic foods (Athens is one of them), there are so many places that aren’t quite as sustainability-focused. While there are definitely some great processed foods (peanut butter, nutella, and the like), you haven’t really eaten until you’ve eaten abroad. Especially in Ecuador. I bought strawberries for $1 per pound – and they were bigger, healthier, and more beautiful than any $5 box I have purchased in the US since.

3. Personal growth.
Living in another part of the world will really open your eyes and open your mind. I thought that I was both of these things before I left, but I had to stretch it even farther. I learned a lot about another culture, another way of life, etc., etc., but the thing I learned the most about was me. I know who I am, and I am a lot more confident now that I have had to figure myself out.

4. Friendships.
Everyone I have talked to who has studied abroad has said that some of their best friends in the world are people they spent time abroad with. Before I left for Ecuador, I didn’t really know anyone in the group I would be spending four months with. The seven people from my school on the trip had spent some time together at orientations, but once we arrived, some of us stuck together and some of us branched out. I now have more best friends from around the globe, none of whom I would have met without the Ecuador program. Having lived with a host family, I now also have another family, which is equally amazing.

Some of my best friends in the world are the people I spent four months of my life with in Ecuador. | ©KateHiller 2014

Some of my best friends in the world are the people I spent four months of my life with in Ecuador. | ©KateHiller 2014

5. Studying abroad is FUN.
Yes, there IS work involved…a TON of work. Learning a language as you’re living a life in it is hard. School (in said foreign language) is hard. Finding your way around a city using the not-always-reliable bus system is hard. Traveling around a foreign country by yourself is hard. Homesickness is real, and can be very hard. But while schools focus on the academic aspects of a trip, there is a whole lot more than just reading and writing papers. Going out to a discoteca, to a bar, to pole dancing class, to bailoterapia (dance workout similar to zumba), joining a crossfit gym, and making friends while doing all of the aforementioned activities are fun things that happen with every study abroad. You have to get your work done too (trust me, your home university will NOT be happy if you don’t), but studying abroad and learning also comes from day-to-day activities.

You get out what you put in, and personally speaking, studying abroad gives back even more. So apply for those scholarships, save your money, and hit the tarmac as soon as possible. You won’t regret it.

Kate Hiller

Ohio University | 21 stories

Kate Hiller is a Dec. 2015 graduate from Ohio University, where she earned a B.S. in Journalism and a B.A. in Spanish. Over the last two years, Kate has lived and studied in Ecuador, covered the World Cup in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Belgium, worked with the Young African Leaders' Initiative Connect Camps in Namibia and Rwanda, spent time doing radio production with students from the University of Leipzig in Germany, visited family friends in Norway, and spent 10 days on a research exchange in Hong Kong. When she isn't planning her next adventure, you can find her taking photos, getting lost, pretending to be athletic, or cooking something that usually includes noodles. Follow Kate on Instagram @kmhiller527.

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