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OHIO students share their study abroad experiences at Global Diversity Panel

Studying abroad isn’t just an academic experience or a cultural experience, it is a life-changing experience.

That was one of the messages shared by a group of Ohio University students and one alumnus at the Global Diversity Panel on Friday, April 15, in Baker University Center.

The event, which was part of OHIO’s International Week activities, featured students Hector Toledo, Sasha Estrella-Jones, Adrian Shelton, Anastasia Fitzroy, Jessica Baroncini and Kevin Hill on the panel discussion

“It opened my eyes,” Baroncini said about her trip to Costa Rica. “There are so many people out there who live differently than we do. There are so many ways to live your life.”

A junior who is studying biological sciences, Baroncini had traveled with her family when she was younger. The opportunity to study abroad and fully immerse herself in the culture in Costa Rica, though, was completely different.

“It was awesome,” she said. 

Hill traveled to Botswana with the College of Business’ Global Consulting Program for his study abroad experience. The senior, who is a business pre-law major, said he saw plenty of small differences in the way people lived their lives in Botswana. All in all, though, it was much more similar to life in the U.S. than what he had expected.

“I saw it more as, there are differences, but we are all the same,” Hill said.

Toledo had always planned on studying abroad when he went to college, and that was one item he looked closely at with OHIO.

“It had always been a dream of mine,” he said about going abroad. He has actually done two study abroad programs, one student exchange program in Wales and one spring break program in Jamaica.

A third-year student who is studying political science, Toledo said that while he met plenty of people from Wales and Jamaica on his trips, he also met people from around the world who were also there on student exchange programs. He became close friends with students from Brazil, for example, and now is planning on visiting them in Brazil in the future.

“You really grow as a global citizen,” Toledo said.

Shelton traveled to China as part of a Department of State Critical Language Scholarship Program. Her language skills improved quickly during her time in China and she enjoyed learning about and being a part of the culture.

“It was absolutely amazing,” Shelton said. The experience forced her to open up a little bit, and it definitely gave her a different outlook on life. A senior who is studying playwriting, Shelton encourages OHIO students to take advantage of the study abroad opportunities and to be open to learning more about different cultures and customs.

“The biggest thing is being committed to learning someone else’s culture,” Shelton said.

Fitzroy encouraged OHIO students looking to study abroad to learn about the different locations available and to research the places that are the best fits. For example, the city in Italy where she studied abroad had a few other universities and it was nice to have college students and other people her age to interact with.

A junior who is studying marketing, Fitzroy knew that the opportunity to study abroad would help her in her major and help her prepare for her career. She learned the language quickly while she was in Italy and said that if students make an effort, they will learn a great deal.

“You have to be open to it,” Fitzroy said.

Like many OHIO students, Estrella-Jones applied for and received some funding to pay for her trip. The junior who is studying anthropology took her funding a step further, though, and went around to different offices on campus to see if they could also provide assistance for her program to study for the summer in Senegal.

“You have to sell yourself,” Estrella-Jones said, adding that by putting in some extra work, she did find additional funding for her trip.

Estrella-Jones advised students to learn about the cultural customs of the areas they are interested in studying in. It is important to learn about the countries before you go and to be prepared for the differences, she said.

Her experience in Senegal was very positive, and it changed the way she looks at the world.

“I’m a citizen of America, but I’m also a global citizen,” Estrella-Jones said.

After the panel discussion ended, students in the audience talked via Skype with OHIO alumnus Mikaila Johnson who discussed her study abroad experience and how it impacted her career.

“It was an experience of a lifetime,” Johnson said. “I learned so much.”

Johnson, who graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s of business administration in management information systems degree, works today as a business and system integration consultant for Accenture, a global management consulting company in the information technology areas. While she was at OHIO, Johnson took part in a study abroad opportunity in China and had numerous experiences that she will never forget. The opportunity to study abroad helped her prepare for her career, and also helped her when she was applying for jobs and meeting with potential employers.

“It immediately got their attention,” Johnson said. “It’s a really, really nice selling point.”

She is now working in a position where she travels internationally and works with people from around the world. Her study abroad experience was key for her, and she encourages all OHIO students to study abroad and to gain this experience.

“You meet people you might never have met if you don’t step out of your comfort zone,” Johnson said. 

The Global Diversity Panel was coordinated by the Office of Global Opportunities (OGO) and the Office for Multicultural Student Access and Retention (OMSAR), with grant funding provided by Diversity Enhancement Fund. 

For more information on study abroad opportunities at OHIO, please visit the OGO website at www.ohio.edu/global/goglobal

This article was provided by Ohio University’s Office of Global Affairs and International Studies.