Food. That’s what Beau Buchanan, a junior who studied abroad for six months, named as the biggest difference between the United States and Japan.
Raw Chicken. That’s what Buchanan named as the most unusual dish he sampled but also the meal he enjoyed the most.”It was so good, seriously,” said Buchanan, who studied at Kansai Gaidai University in Kyoto.
In fact, it was food that sparked Buchanan’s interest in Japan.”I eat sushi a lot,” he said. “I would see the culture (of the Japanese) at sushi bars and I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting.'”
After returning from his six-month stint on the other side of the world, Buchanan said he learned about a lot more than food, namely himself and his country.
“I think about it every day,” Buchanan said of his experience. “I definitely realized how much America means to me.”
Each year, more than 400 students from USF participate in study-abroad programs, and approximately 60 more become exchange students, spending months at a time in a foreign country.
Julie Hale, assistant director for the Study Abroad Office, agreed with Buchanan, saying that students who become immersed in another country’s culture become more aware of their surroundings.
“I think you learn a lot about yourself and a lot about your country from being out of it,” she said. “You experience the best of another culture, and you appreciate your country more.”
USF offers study-abroad and exchange programs in several countries, including Cuba, Tahiti, Honduras, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Ghana, Costa Rica, Australia, Japan, Russia and England.
Study-abroad students usually travel with a group and have a program director to guide and teach them about the country, its people and culture. Exchange students are more independent, traveling alone but sometimes living with a host family, a system Hale said enhances the experience.
“In the case of Costa Rica, students stay with a family, and the family provides two meals a day and lodging,” she said. “Students become a part of a typical household, and it makes them more comfortable. The family makes the culture more understandable and alleviates some fear.”
STAYING SAFE ABROAD
A program offered in Israel at the University of Haifa was recently canceled, Hale said, because a number of U.S. universities felt the safety of students could not be assured, and USF followed their example.
The list of potential dangers in foreign countries always exists, but terrorism has just recently become of great concern to parents, students and directors in the Study Abroad Office.
“There are so many dangers overseas,” Hale said. “There’s earthquakes, volcanoes, floods. I always worry that a sharp wind will come up and a student will sail off the Cliffs of Moher (in Ireland).”
But safety, Hale assures, is always the top priority.
“We always have an emergency contact in place,” she said. “(If there is an emergency) the program director calls us and we contact the family. There are always mechanisms in place that the students are not even aware of. We have a good information chain.”
Hale said there’s never been a major emergency during a USF study-abroad or exchange program.
“We’ve been very lucky,” she said. “I think the only reason we’ve had people return was out of homesickness. They were just emotionally overwhelmed.”
Buchanan was in Japan during the Sept. 11 crisis, but even away from home he knew he wasn’t in danger.
“It was so surreal,” he said. “My host mom came and woke me up. I couldn’t understand enough Japanese to understand the news so I would just see the same footage. They had the president on and that was in English.”
“Japan and America are like brother and sister or brother and brother,” he said. “Everyone was asking about my family and asking if they could do anything. It felt like a dream.”
Hale said the university takes plenty of safety precautions, but the most important thing a student should do before international travel is study the country of their destination.
Upon arrival, Hale said, it’s best to keep in mind the things “your mother probably always told you to do.”
Hale said students should avoid big crowds, not become involved in local politics, avoid places where large groups of Americans congregate and be careful in choosing transportation, i.e. don’t use unmarked taxis.
THE MONEY FACTOR
Cheryl Gunnip, a senior majoring in business, spent a month each in Italy, Spain and Costa Rica and plans to spend spring break in Cuba. To fund her travels, Gunnip works as a waitress. She said that despite the costs, studying abroad is worth the experience.
“If you find out about a trip a year before, then you can cut back your spending,” she said. “It’s really not that bad at all.”Gunnip also received two $500 scholarships to help pay for her trips.
Scholarships are available for the academic year and summer sessions. Applicants must submit a budget estimate, a written statement of purpose for the program selected that documents financial need, a transcript of grades and a faculty reference.
Scholarships usually range from $500 to $1,500 and usually between 15-20 are awarded each year.
Students may apply for three kinds of scholarships: Study Abroad Compass Awards, which are for study anywhere in the world (students studying in nontraditional or developing countries receive special consideration); the Passport Scholarship, which is just for study in Latin America and the Caribbean; and the College of Arts & Sciences awards scholarships to its students no matter where they study (special consideration is given to semester-length or academic-year studies).
Students receive academic credit for their time abroad. The most popular trip, Hale said, is Italy, for which students earn four credits in Italian Civilization and Culture. Travelers to Paris earn credit in French Civilization. In both cases, Hale said, students have the option to take a course that is taught completely in the native language. In most cases, she said, students may not leave the class as fluent speakers but will have a greater understanding. The greatest lesson for Buchanan, he said, was not academic, but cultural.
“I think about it everyday,” he said. “Anytime I see something on TV that has a Japanese influence, I’m like, ‘Oooh.'”
- Contact Rachel Pleasant at firstname.lastname@example.org