Bridgette is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I have known since high school that I wanted to study abroad, and though I considered doing it between high school and college, I was not ready to study abroad then. On my first tour of CSB/SJU, I remember paging through the study abroad books in the Admissions Office, and I decided on CSB/SJU and the Guatemala program that day. I wanted to study abroad somewhere that would push me outside of my comfort zone, and as the second largest city in a third world county, Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala, satisfied that want. More than that, I wanted to immerse myself in my host country's culture, and I thought that living with a host family, taking one-on-one Spanish classes, and volunteering would allow me to do just that.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
On our first morning in Xela, we went to a breakfast with our host families, teachers, and the administration of Celas Maya. As my host mom and I walked there, I saw the city in the daylight for the first time: cobblestone streets, stray dogs, mountains in the background. The breakfast was my first experience with Spanish immersion, and from what I understood of my host mom and teacher's conversation, they talked about their families, heath problems, and the weather. I realized that, in spite of differences in language and where we come from, there is something fundamentally human that we share. I have seen that "something" many times since that first morning, in Guatemala and the United States.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My study abroad experience was everything that I wanted it to be and more. I fell in love with Guatemala's culture and natural beauty, from the summit of Volcán Tajumulcu to the banks of Río Dulce. I learned more Spanish than I have in seven years and, more importantly, I found the confidence to use it. I became a member of my host family and the Celas Maya community though shared meals, conversations, and fútbol games. Home seems like such a cliché word to describe Guatemala, but it's the first - and only - word that I think of.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
The benefits of study abroad include cultural immersion, hands-on learning, and lifetime friendships, but in my time back, I have been learning how much more study abroad benefitted me. I have experienced tremendous personal growth, in particular in my confidence and independence. My one-on-one Spanish classes taught me how much I do not know, yet at the same time, they reminded me how much I love learning. As for the future, I do not know where I will be next year, but my study abroad experience provided me with more options for it - and gave me the faith to know that everything will be okay.
What advice can you offer for CSB|SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
My favorite advice I received was that it is okay to be scared. It means that you want to grow from your study abroad experience. Take advantage of that feeling to immerse yourself in your host country, language, and culture. Be thankful for your time abroad and push yourself to experience everything. In the end, you have a limited time abroad, and you will miss everything about it, including the scared feeling.