One of the things that Kerry Gonzalez, Asst. Director of the Office of International Programs (OIP), finds most interesting when students go abroad is “how much they learn about their home country.” When Gonzalez herself studied abroad, both in Belgium and in Portugal, she, too, began to reflect in the ways that many Whittier students do after they return from their trip. Questions like ‘Why do I do what I do?’ and ‘Do I agree with what I do?’ are some of the most common when a student begins to compare their Western culture to the culture they were previously immersed in.
“You go abroad and spend so much time explaining who you are [to others], as far as your nationality goes. You spend a lot of time discussing what makes you you, and studying abroad helps you [do that]. It helps you cement an identity that you often don’t think about because you get to grow up in this [specific] culture,” Gonzalez explains. “I studied abroad in high school and I know when I came home, that was one of the things that I really took away – how much I learned about my own country while I was gone, and I hear that a lot from students. It’s not something that you expect.”
Gonzalez’s study abroad experience, which involved a summer in Belgium when she was 16 and a year in Portugal when she was 18, “defined [her] career goal, that [she] wanted to work in international education.” After studying Portuguese for a year, Gonzalez decided to minor in the language in college, and this was just one way studying abroad helped her “narrow the scope.” Gonzalez “kind of had an idea beforehand that [she] wanted to work in the international arena ... but [she] hadn’t defined it.” It wasn’t until she studied abroad that Gonzalez “really cemented [her] desire to be more involved in a more multicultural environment.”
Learning a new language is just one possible benefit of studying abroad. Depending on your interests, major, and grade level, the OIP will surely help you find your best bet. With the Faculty-Led Programs, which Gonzalez is in charge of, students are guaranteed Whittier College credit because they are directly associated with the College. These programs, which are often more economical, might fit into students’ schedules better, because they occur within a smaller time frame, whether they be during JanTerm, MayTerm, or Spring Break. “For students who might be hesitant to go abroad by themselves for a semester, this seems like a better possibility for them ... [because] they are going with people from the college,” said Gonzalez.
This upcoming JanTerm, the OIP has six different Faculty-Led trips planned. The destinations include Greece and Rome, London, Mexico, Myanmar, New York City, and Spain. The OIP will be hosting their first ever Faculty-Led study abroad trip during Spring Break next year to Australia. More information about this particular trip, and the trips taking place during MayTerm will be available next month.
In terms of traditional semester study abroad programs, “there are so many choices out there,” and the OIP is willing and able to help here as well. “[Students] can go to so many different countries,” said Gonzalez, and the “reasons why they [choose this route] are varied.” Some of these reasons include wanting to simply travel somewhere new and interesting, or wanting to explore a major or class not offered at Whittier. “We’ll definitely help student think through the options,” said Kerry. “A lot of times, students have more of an idea than they think they do, they just need some help defining that idea.”
The biggest hindrance that many students experience when beginning to research study abroad programs, whether they are Faculty-Led through the College, or semester programs through an affiliated company, is affording the trip. The total cost of a study abroad program can be discouraging, but before you rule out the opportunity, consider applying for scholarships and speaking to the OIP about payment plans. “The Global Poet’s Scholarship is a $2,000 scholarship that students may use once while they are enrolled at Whittier,” said Gonzalez, “and the earliest [students] can use it is in the JanTerm of their sophomore year.”
If you are interested in studying abroad in China or Hong Kong specifically, the OIP offers a special scholarship for those students, whether it be a semester program or a year-long program. The OIP also offers an additional scholarship to African-American students that can be used towards any program of their choice.
“I am more than happy to try to make it work for you,” said Gonzalez. “You just need to come and talk to me about it.” The OIP wants to encourage all students to study abroad, considering the benefits of the experience and the financial help available. “Fortunately, with the scholarships and the payment plans that the Office provides, we have very few students that tell us they can’t afford it. We do try to make it as financially feasible and easy for students as possible,” Gonzalez said. “My door is usually open. I am not the type of person that requires you to make an appointment. As long as my door is open, I’m more than happy to have students pop their heads in and out to ask a question or take 10 minutes to sit and chat.”
If you ask around campus, whether it be to your professors, fellow classmates, or Gonzalez herself, you will find that the study abroad experience is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. No matter where you choose to go, you will encounter people, foods, customs, belief systems, etc., that are new to you, and this discovery will only further encourage your critical thinking skills and your overall experience as a person in the international system. For Gonzalez, study abroad gave her the confidence that she didn’t know she was lacking. “I came back and went to college, and everyone seemed a bit younger,” she said. “Even now, 20 plus years later, I still think about things that happened while I was abroad and I’m still learning.”
For more information on studying abroad opportunities, scholarships, and which program might be the best for you, make sure to visit Kerry Gonzalez in the Office of International Programs, which is located in Platner Hall 205, or the OIP’s website at goabroad.whittier.domains.