Summer 2018 Abroad Reflections – October

Below are reflections from two SMU students, Elena Skaribas and Dylan Furner, about their experiences abroad this summer. These students went to very different places and had completely unique experiences, yet both grew tremendously from their unforgettable time abroad!

Elena Skaribas

Majors: Psychology & Biology

Program: STEM Summer Research – Glasgow, Scotland

What life lessons and skills did you learn while abroad?

I never thought I would travel abroad during my time in college, and taking the step to apply for a research program abroad was a huge step outside my comfort zone. Being left to my own devices in a foreign country was intimidating at first, but I made some amazing, life-long friends who helped me feel more comfortable and adjust quickly. I made sure to make the most of my experience abroad: traveling, exploring, shopping, and taking lots and lots of photos to document my time. I had to learn how to travel around and between cities using public transport as well as learn how to organize my time between doing research at the University and exploring Glasgow. I would say that researching abroad made me more mature and independent by making me step outside my comfort zone and pushing me to enjoy new experiences.

Was your abroad experience impactful? Why?

On an academic level, the research I did was very impactful because it taught me an entire skill set I hadn’t known or used before. I was able to study and use fMRI data and complete data analysis using programs like Matlab and BrainVoyager. At first learning these new skills was hard and overwhelming, but the support I had from my professor and the graduate students over-seeing my lab helped me gain confidence and eventually master high-level data analysis. Now I have the knowledge and foundation to carry out even more neuropsychology research on my own, given the skills I obtained during my research experience abroad.

Did you adopt a new favorite activity that is unique to Scotland? 

During my time in Scotland, I traveled up to the Highlands with a group of other students in my program to attend the Highland Games. The Highland Games are events that are held in Scotland during the spring and summer during which people participate in traditional Scottish/Celtic sporting events and dance. It was very exciting to attend a traditional festival to understand more of Scottish culture and the people there welcomed us warmly. During our time in the Highlands, we also toured Loch Lomond and learned more about the history of Scotland.

Dylan Furner
Majors: Computer Science, Mathematics
Minor: Economics
Program: SMU-In-Costa Rica. Located in Heredia, Costa Rica
What life lessons and skills did you learn while abroad?
I learned quite a few. I learned how to handle myself in a room where I don’t speak the language and I learned how to survive in a country completely foreign to me. The lifestyle I lived in Costa Rica was completely different from anything else in my past, including time spent living in Hong Kong.
Was your abroad experience impactful? Why?
My Costa Rican ‘parents’ were some of the best people I have ever met. They welcomed me into their home, cooked my meals, tutored me through my classes, and taught me more Spanish over the course of dinner every night than I could have ever learned in a classroom. I try to carry their unapologetic kindness with me as I move my life, and I will never forget how incredible they truly were.
Did you adopt a new favorite activity that is unique to Chile?
I only watch Netflix in Spanish now. Although Netflix and Spanish are definitely not unique to Costa Rica, if it were not for my Study Abroad experience I would never have achieved the level of understanding that I have today in Spanish.

Highlighted Student of the Month – October

Lili Johnston

Major(s): Finance and French

Semester Abroad: Fall 2017, junior year

Program: Institute for Field Education, Field Studies Program, Paris, France

Why did you want to study abroad?

I wanted to go abroad because of my interest in traveling, to learn more about French culture, and to advance my French language skills in an immersive environment.

Does French society have any major differences to the United States? Was it challenging to adapt to the differences?

I think most people think that Western Europe and France are similar to the U.S., and they are in many ways given that they’re both some of the world’s most developed countries. However, they are still very different and I faced many daily challenges that I don’t face here in the U.S. It was challenging to adapt to the differences, but I also went abroad because I wanted to be challenged.

Would you recommend your program & country to those interested in studying abroad?

I would say that my program isn’t for a student who wants a light-hearted experience abroad. The classes were long and hard, there were a lot of educational field trips, I was working full-time at my internship while taking night class, and had to write a 30 page dissertation. That being said, I loved the immersive nature of the program. My French improved so much, and the challenging nature meant that I matured and grew so much and gained immense self confidence. Looking back, I’m somewhat glad I chose such a challenging, demanding program; even though I had to struggle in the short term, it means that I have gained skills that will last forever.

What new skills or strengths did you gain while abroad?

How to deal with uncertainty, how to make the best of what you have, independence, and learning how to spend time alone.

How has study abroad impacted and added to your college experience?

Studying abroad has infinitely added to my college experience. I can tackle my French classes with ease, and my cultural sensitivity and I’ve been able to apply the experience I gained from my internship in the U.S. Trade Department at the U.S. Embassy in Paris to my business coursework. I think my experience abroad has impacted my life beyond college, as my international business experience and foreign language skills have been attractive to employers. Those are tangible impacts, but the more intangible impacts, such as the amount I grew and the experiences I gained, have also been great, too.