#RealTalk: Studying Abroad

Students share overseas experiences

By LORI JONES
Contributing Writer
[email protected]

By now, we’ve all heard many times about the benefits of studying abroad: Gain a bit of living experience in a new place, and get a chance to witness a different culture, all for a great price and several credits. We’re also familiar with the other hooks: New friends, new places, adventure and intrigue.

Catchphrases about how beneficial studying abroad can be are so often thrown around online, by administration, and in brochures everywhere. But according to three Allegheny students that have studied abroad, those catchphrases aren’t entirely exaggerations.

International Studies major Robert Raimond, ’12, spent a year abroad for independent study. His fall semester was spent in Spain and his spring semester was spent in Egypt, where he witnessed history unfold in the form of the riots of the Egyptian revolution. Raimond and several of his peers were staying in Cairo, and wound up getting caught up in the action.

“You could see it from our apartment window: the police and the rioters going after each other,” said Raimond. “We could smell the tear gas, so we decided that since a couple of us were decently skilled in first aid, we’d go down there and see what we could do. We went down there and handed out bandages, and did that all day. We ended up marching with the protestors. It was an amazing experience.”

It wasn’t his only experience.

“There were some really scary times in the protest, and some really happy times, too. Some guy pulled a gun on us, the military escorted us from the protests, and we were even accused of being Israeli spies at one point,” Raimond said.

“There were other times where it was like a big carnival, and people gave us free food, and came up and hugged us. It was really, really extreme.”

Raimond was in Egypt from the start of the riots, when the protestors demanded President Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak to end his 30-year-long reign. While in Cairo, he learned a lesson in perspective, as well.

“Being over there, it was hard to gauge what the reaction was here [in America]. My parents were calling me every couple of days, and they’d say, ‘CNN’s reporting that there’s no food or water.’ And no, we had food and water, just not a lot of it,” Raimond said.

“I think the media made it seem a lot more dangerous here. Really, walking around the streets of Cairo, none of us really felt like we were in danger. Overall, we all felt safe,” he said.

Raimond was also there when Mubarak stepped down. “It was incredible. People were shooting fireworks, and there was dancing and singing. It was a massive celebration. It was like nothing I’ve ever seen,” he said.

International Studies major Maddie Rumbaugh, ’13, spent her fall semester in Cologne, Germany. She stayed with a host family and commuted by train to classes every day, which was a two hour round trip. She admitted that it took some getting used to, but she did enjoy it.

As it turns out, Germany isn’t without its quirky experiences, either. “I got asked on a date by this guy, and he seemed nice at first. But, as the night went on, I came to find out he was an illegal immigrant with fake papers. He tried to convert me to his religion, and he’d given me a false name,” Rumbaugh said with a laugh.

But the experience wasn’t without its high points, too. When asked about the highlight of her study abroad experience, Rumbaugh mentioned the tour she took of der Dom, an ancient cathedral and symbol of the city of Cologne. Rumbaugh went all the way to the roof of the cathedral and looked down onto the city.

“You could see the river cutting through, and the city all around you, and down below, there were Christmas markets. There were Christmas trees everywhere. …We were the only ones up there,” she said.

Should you choose to major in International Studies, studying abroad is required. Professor Mattiace, associate professor of political science in the International Studies department, stressed the importance of studying abroad.

“It’s really important. So important that we published a new curriculum that states that all of our [International Studies] majors must study abroad,” Mattiace said.

This change in the curriculum was only introduced three years ago. The choice to study abroad as an International Studies major will be gone completely with this year’s graduating class.

Mattiace, who studied abroad in Mexico, explained the reasoning behind this change. “We felt that not only as a matter of principle was it important to study abroad, but that the students who didn’t study abroad were not able to demonstrate the proficiency in the language that we require,” she said.

Rumbaugh and Raimond are both International Studies majors, but it is not a requirement to be one in order to study abroad. English major Simone Feigenbaum, ’13, spent last semester studying at Lancaster University in England.

She said that stepping out of your country and into the space of another gives you the opportunity to not only experience and learn about another culture, but to learn a lot about your own strengths and weaknesses, and improve on them.

“I’m way more forthright with people [now]. Before I left, I was really afraid to speak my mind to people,” said Feigenbaum. “I’ve gotten much better at just saying what I think.” Rumbaugh expressed similar sentiments.

“I’m more confident. Having to deal with stuff like getting lost in a city or speaking when you don’t understand what people are saying or they don’t understand you… it makes problems here seem a lot more minor,” she said. “Knowing that I can deal with stuff over there makes me a lot more confident that I can deal with whatever’s here.”

Rumbaugh also expressed pleasure in having experienced education from a different perspective. “There’s definitely a lot of problems with the American education system. Not just in terms of lower education, but higher education,” she said. “No system is perfect, but I think it definitely did me good to experience education in another country.”

She also attested to the value of experiencing another culture as opposed to learning about it.

“There’s much more value in having real world experience and dealing with real life situations rather than just sitting in a classroom and talking about it,” she said. “There are some things people could’ve explained in a classroom a thousand times, and I never would’ve gotten it if I hadn’t experienced it myself.”