Sarah Ober is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Greco-Roman
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
Studying abroad was something I had dreamed about since I was little. Whenever I would picture my college experience, I pictured a semester abroad. I didn't exactly know where, but I knew I wanted it to happen. I wanted to be pushed to the absolute limits and beyond of my comfort zone in a way I had never been before. I have lived in Minnesota my whole life and wanted to experience living in just a small part of the great world we lived in. When I thought of studying abroad I just thought, "When else am I going to be able to pack up and leave for four months with little to no repercussions on my work or school work?" It was something I felt I absolutely had to do to get the most of my four years at CSB.
I took a lot of time to decide what specific program I wanted to apply to. I absolutely knew I wanted to study abroad but I did not have an exact idea as to where. I remember hearing about the Greco-Roman and Roman-Greco trips during my first year because my Orientation Leader had participated in the Roman-Greco program the previous fall. I can remember thinking how unique those programs sounded--how fun that she got to study and live in TWO places when all along I had only considered what one place I would enjoy? Greco-Roman was always, always in the back of my head when I began a more serious search for the right trip for me. After comparing many aspects of my top choices (Greco-Roman, South Africa, and France), I realized that not only did I find Greco-Roman to be extremely unique, it fit me in so many other ways as well. I liked the idea of being in Europe and being able to visit some other "bucket list" destinations before or during the program. Knowing myself as a "homebody" I thought that having two opportunities to start over and feel the excitement and challenge of a new city would keep me stimulated enough that homesickness would not be a problem. I set-up a meeting with the director of the trip, Steve Saupe, to get to know him and see if we would be a good fit and sure enough, I had a great conversation with him which made me lean even farther towards Greco-Roman. The classes offered also would fulfill two of my remaining graduation requirements, which was, naturally, a bonus. Just like my search for the perfect college, Greco-Roman was always my number one choice, as was St. Ben's, and when I applied, I finally made that known.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
One specific cultural event that I can recall that has made a lasting impression on me is my opportunity to get to know an older Athenian gentleman by the name of John. Although every single excursion our group took on the weekends was incredible and life-altering in itself, this opportunity was unplanned and very much personal to me. One morning, my roommates and I were jogging around the track of the marble stadium near our college campus. John must have noticed us speaking English and, pretty clearly, not Greek, so he asked us our names and where we came from. He was sitting at a park table, watching his two grandchildren play. He spoke very good English and we were able to communicate with almost no problems. We ended up sitting and chatting with him for over an hour. He told us about growing up and spending his life in Athens, how he had watched the city grow, his experiences visiting America, his family in Athens, and so much more. I felt like I learned more about Athens and Greek culture in that one sitting with John than I ever could in a 7-week Greek culture class. We ended up getting John's number and meeting up to chat one more time before we left. He was so special to me and I loved sitting and listening to all of the wisdom and life lessons he had to share.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My overall experience abroad was absolutely incredible. I tried to go into the experience with a very open-mind and heart and with little pre-conceived notions but, because I am human, I did have some. My experience blew all of those expectations out of the water. My group became like family to me and my directors, like parents. My eyes were opened to the vast beauty and size of the earth. I learned to slow down, appreciate life, ask questions, learn and see all you can, and that building human relationships is universally beautiful. Although I missed things on campus and there were days that were tougher than others, I would not trade my four months abroad-the friends I made, experiences I had, or places I saw-for anything. I know all of my experiences and how I grew as a person will only continue to benefit me in my future life and career as well.
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?
There are many benefits to studying abroad. Personally, I have grown so much as a person. I feel as if I am much more patient and removed from my phone. I want to learn and see more than I ever have before. I have a new appreciation for life and want to find new ways to enjoy it at home, in Minnesota, the way I did in Europe. Before I left, I absolutely hated change of any sort and it made me very anxious. I am much more adept to adjusting to transitions and finding the good in each situation and how I can learn from it. Academically, I find myself much more inquisitive. I want to feel as if I am getting a well-rounded education as I did abroad. I find myself wanting to take courses outside of my major because I so enjoyed those classes abroad-ones I never thought I would enjoy or would benefit me at all. Professionally, I feel as if my widened worldview will forever benefit any specific career path I decide on. I have gained so many priceless skills that will apply to any work situation such as: an initiative to achieve my goals, an increased adaptability, an appreciation for diversity and cultural differences, an ability to function under a high level of ambiguity, and a motivation to achieve. There are countless benefits to studying abroad beyond just the priceless memories and great friends that you will see in pictures.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
My first piece of advice is to go with your gut-go after the program that will benefit you and challenge you the most. Really weigh in your personal, academic, and career goals. Once accepted, I hope that CSB/SJU students go into these abroad experiences with an open heart and mind. It is then that they are able to take in every moment and experience abroad for what it is worth. I would encourage them to take risks and push themselves out of the comfort zone they will eventually create when they are abroad. Take advantage of down time for personal exploration and experiences. I would urge them to try and let go of some of their emotional ties to campus. Although it is tough at first, you slowly begin to realize that campus, your team, your friends, etc. will all be waiting for you when you return but you only get four months abroad! Make time for yourself and your mental health at times that you do feel overwhelmed by it all because there will be times. Do small things that remind you of the comforts of home and establish a consistent communication schedule with loved ones. Finally, I would say to be smart and responsible with your money but also don't limit yourself to the point that you will regret not doing things because of money. Loans will be paid off one day whether you like it or not and you might as well make the most of every moment while you are there!