University of Idaho students expand their education through travel
The city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, was alive with movement — students commuting to school, businessmen drinking their morning espresso and children enjoying fried plantains on the streets, said University of Idaho student and study abroad ambassador Mikayla Sievers.
Sievers studied in San Juan for the 2016 spring semester. She said she attended classes, completed homework and explored the city in her free time.
“I think everyone should have an experience abroad because I think it diversifies people’s experiences outside of Idaho,” Sievers said. “If everyone were able to learn something from somebody not like them it would solve a lot of the world’s problems.”
Assistant Director of Education Abroad Kate Wray Chettri said study abroad ambassadors are invaluable to the study abroad team and help in the effort to spread awareness about international opportunities at UI.
Students who have studied abroad are eligible to become study abroad ambassadors. Students share their experience with peers and participate in projects, outreach programs and the Study Abroad Fair and tabling.
UI currently possesses eight ambassadors who studied abroad in countries like Puerto Rico, Italy, New Zealand, Cuba and Spain.
“I think people who study abroad should become ambassadors because not a lot of people who know about it. Study abroad is a foreign concept to many people who come here,” Sievers said.
Sievers said she speaks to students at events and writes about abroad students for the study abroad program.
Kendall Bancroft, a study abroad ambassador, studied abroad in Alicante, Spain, in the 2016 spring semester. She said she loves being an ambassador because she enjoys sharing her experience with others and encouraging students to reap the benefits of traveling abroad.
Bancroft said many students join the ambassador program about a semester following their trip. She said the immediacy of the experience helps them retell stories that just happened and contextualize their experience for themselves and prospective abroad students.
Bancroft said she enjoyed her time in Spain and said no one regrets studying abroad because it can be so life altering.
“It was amazing,” Bancroft said. “I definitely want to find some way to get back to Spain in the future. It’s also kind of opened up my thinking of what I want to do.”
Applications to join the ambassador team begin in the spring semester and interviews are held in the fall, Chettri said.
The office looks for students who are personable with strong communication skills and ready to share their experience. Marketing and advertising majors are also encouraged to apply.
The Univeristy Studies Abroad Consortium ambassador is the one paid position on staff, and the rest of the ambassadors are volunteers, in which school credit may be arranged. The program works around school and work schedules and asks for a minimum commitment of one semester, but students are allowed to be ambassadors indefinitely.UI students who have gone abroad and become ambassadors have found careers in international education and study abroad programs, Chettri said.
Thomas Elder, a former study abroad ambassador, studied in Chang Mai, Thailand, in 2015.
“I changed a lot as a person,” Elder said. “ I grew up, I matured, you learn a lot in traveling. There’s more responsibility involved. I got to meet people from around all the U.S. I still keep in contact with about three of the professors over there.”
More than 300 students study abroad every year at UI, Chettri said.
“Pushing you out of your comfort zone you gain perspectives on life, you gain perspectives on the world, I think you gain a whole new perspective on your own country’s values and the way we do things,” Chettri said.
Students concerned about the financial aspect of studying abroad can apply for scholarships and grants. All scholarships, loans and grants students use to pay for school can also be applicable to studying abroad, Chettri said.
“Never convince yourself that financially it’s impossible. There are a lot of things that have to come together and you may have to compromise but there are programs that are cheaper than a semester at UI,” Chettri said.
Brie Slavens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org