“College is a culture shock,” I anxiously told my mom over the phone at the beginning of freshman year. I had not yet adapted to my roommate’s habits or Saga’s meals. But those who dare to go abroad experience this culture shock two times over: once in college and again when they start a semester overseas.
For those who are eager to travel, experience a different culture and be thrown outside of their comfort zone, studying abroad is the obvious choice. Wheaton’s Global and Experiential Learning (GEL) staff created a chart analyzing the percentage of Wheaton students up until last year who went abroad, sometimes for credit and sometimes not for credit. Twelve percent of Wheaton undergraduate enrollment from 2014-15 studied abroad for credit.
According to the World University Rankings, 90 percent of American students spend zero time abroad, which makes Wheaton right about average for study abroad students. Students across Wheaton’s campus decide to go abroad for different reasons, either for a language, anthropology requirements or maybe to experience something new. Every Wheaton study abroad student has their own exciting story about their travels. Here are a few of their stories.
Mary Pettit (Barcelona, Spain):
Senior Mary Pettit’s mom largely influenced her decision to go abroad. Her mom went abroad while she was in school and told Pettit that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Pettit was all for experiencing something new and was excited to experience diversity through her semester abroad. The Spanish culture had always intrigued Pettit, and she was interested in studying somewhere in Europe so she could travel easily while there.
Pettit’s dream became a reality when she was able to travel somewhere new almost every single weekend. Whether it was to another city in Spain, the Amalfi coast or Paris, Pettit experienced and tasted the culture in each city she visited. As Pettit explored more than 14 cities with friends in a short period of time, her study abroad experience was truly once-in-a-lifetime.
From adventuring to Portugal and staying in hostels to eating the world’s best pastry in Barcelona, Pettit summed up her experience abroad as “one of the best decisions” she has ever made. “There is no better way to immerse yourself into a different culture. It was awesome to appreciate a different style of living and get to know other students from around the United States.”
Patrick Dunn (Wheaton in Mexico):
Senior Patrick Dunn’s passion wasn’t necessarily traveling. Rather, he hoped to master the beautiful Spanish language. He dreamed of becoming fluent by the end of his sophomore year, and he knew immersing himself in the culture would help him meet that goal. And it did.
Dunn traveled to Mexico his spring semester of sophomore year with a group of Wheaton students. Upon arriving, Dunn didn’t hold back or let the barriers of language separate him from the Mexican culture.
He joined a church, a martial arts fighting club and even helped teach a class to Mexican students. Dunn stayed with a host family and loved every minute of it. Dunn made friendships with the people he met in Mexico that he knows he will have for the rest of his life.
He has already been back to visit and looks forward to visiting again. Dunn noted that studying abroad was not a part of his life that would come to an end, but that he will continue to grow with the relationships he made. He also looks forward to immersing himself in new cultures upon graduating. He grinned as he recalled his trip as “the best four months of my life.”
Kelli Manning (Seville, Spain):
Thanks to her anthropology major, senior Kelli Manning pushed herself outside of her comfort zone upon traveling to Seville, Spain. Anthropology was not the only influence on her decision to study abroad though. Manning yearned to experience something different and to escape the “bubble.”
While in Spain, Manning learned about and experience the Spanish culture first hand –– all while living with a host family. Manning notes that this semester abroad taught her more than any other semester at Wheaton has.
She learned more, not in an academic sense, but in a way that Wheaton cannot offer. She no longer had the comfort of friends, the accessibility of calling her parents or the familiarity of her own culture.
Manning remembers her experience abroad and how “you don’t have a comfort there, nothing is yours. You’re really being stretched.” Being an anthropology student, Kelli notes that studying abroad helped her experience discomfort and learn to appreciate the differences of cultures while adapting to them.
Jordan Bear (Rome, Italy):
Senior Jordan Bear has a wanderer’s heart. And in her words, traveling abroad was never an “if” but, rather, a “when.” Bear chose to go to Rome because she wanted to go through a Christian program and travel to a country where English is not the primary language.
Developing friendships with students from other Christian and state schools in the United States and in Europe, Bear formed strong cross-cultural relationships with people she would never have met otherwise.
Bear sums up her time abroad, noting that it “opened my eyes to the beauty and uniqueness of God’s kingdom. I developed a greater understanding of the diverse world God has created while also growing in understanding of myself. I learned to question everything we do, in a good way. I gained independence through travel, academics and living on my own in a foreign country. It was the most uncomfortable, scary, formative and exciting four months of my life thus far.”