I have always wanted to travel the world, see new places, and learn about different cultures. However, as an agricultural and biological engineering student, I was unsure if I would have the time to study abroad due to my hectic college schedule.
Every semester I take 18+ credit hours, I’m involved in many extracurricular activities, and I work two jobs. I am a robotics engineer at John Deere, and I am the head teaching assistant and instructor for a course that I developed in the ABE department, Mobile and Web Development for ABE Students. Moreover, I am an executive member of multiple clubs, I guide and mentor a local robotics team, and I conduct research. Before I first studied abroad, I was a little apprehensive because I had the misconception that every study abroad program was at least a semester long. However, I was delightfully surprised to discover that numerous study abroad programs are offered during the spring break, winter break, and summer break!
My first study abroad experience took place during spring break in March 2018. I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and it was the most meaningful spring break I have ever encountered! I went to Puerto Rico to help with the Hurricane Maria disaster relief effort. From assessing the local infrastructure, to repainting a school, to cutting down invasive species in a mangrove tree forest, going to Puerto Rico last year was a life-changing moment for me. I experienced so many “firsts” - first trip outside USA proper, first time studying abroad, first time I was truly away from my family for one week, first time to touch and work with a machete, first time to see mangrove trees, and many more. Most importantly, it was my first experience helping others who truly needed help. It opened my eyes to a new world and a new reality, where my participation and contribution, however small they may have been, positively impacted people’s lives.
After spending spring break studying abroad, I decided that I wanted to do it again! This March during spring break, I traveled to Spain to learn about the Mediterranean lifestyle. I had the opportunity to try different popular Spanish foods, bike through mountains, truffle hunt, learn about wine, cheese, honey, and olive oil production, and I even rode a kayak. I also had the opportunity to stay with a host family, where I got an even closer look at the Spanish culture. It was amazing, and it was a great opportunity for me to use the Spanish language skills I have developed over the last seven years.
This month, I will be traveling to Puerto Rico again to help with the Hurricane Maria disaster relief program. I am a project manager of the class now, so I am in charge of all communications and engagement activities between the University of Illinois and our contacts in Puerto Rico. I have gained a desire to help others and create lasting impacts. Going to Puerto Rico and helping people who truly needed help was such a meaningful time for me. I had never seen poverty before in person, so I was completely stunned when I first arrived. I realize now that there is a reason and purpose for me to go there again and contribute in whatever way I can to make things better. Going to Puerto Rico again will allow me to continue to make a positive impact on the island. I want to have the opportunity to assess infrastructure again, create engineering projects to help areas that have been adversely affected by the hurricane, and remove invasive plants from nature preserves.
Overall, studying abroad has changed me – I am a better person because of my experiences, and I am so gratified that I had the chance to do this three times before I graduate. No matter how busy you are, there’s always time to study abroad!