Why Study Abroad? One Spartan’s Experience.
By Lindsey Russell
Why study abroad? By now, after sitting through at least one presentation of all the Office for Education Abroad has to offer, you may be left wondering how study abroad, or as I like to call it, study travel, fits into your overall education. While I can’t answer that question for you, I can tell you what it meant to my education at Michigan State University.
First, a little background. My name is Lindsey Russell, and I grew up in the smallest city in Michigan, Omer – population 317 (2018). When I arrived on MSU’s campus at age 18 in August 1999, I knew that study abroad would be a part of my MSU experience and education. By the time I graduated in April 2004, I completed two full-semester study abroad programs – one in Quito, Ecuador (Fall 2001) and another in Cáceres, Spain (Winter 2002) – along with three separate short-term summer programs in the United Kingdom (England and Scotland) and Mexico (Mérida and Monterrey).
In addition, I also completed three separate Alternative Spring Break programs, now Alternative Spartan Breaks, in Mérida and Puebla Mexico, eventually serving as a site leader. During the 2003-2004 academic year, I worked as a Peer Advisor in the Office for Education Abroad. It is still one of the best jobs I’ve ever held, assisting fellow Spartans in planning their own adventures. Education abroad became a major focus of my time at MSU.
So many of my experiences in Ecuador, Spain, Mexico, and even the United Kingdom could never be replicated on campus. In Ecuador, I spent a week on the Galapagos Islands with other international students, living on and exploring the islands. Adventures in Ecuador also included experiencing my first bullfight, traveling to the Tiputini biodiversity station in the Amazon rainforest, and relaxing with my host family on their hacienda in the Andean lowlands.
Spain brought its own unique set of experiences. I spent nearly every weekend (Friday through Sunday) traveling with friends to various destinations across Spain. In one class, I was one of three students. We met in Maribel’s office. My favorite course was the mandatory art history class taught by Pilar. Each weekend, we would go see firsthand the art and architecture we studied during the week. On the last day of class, Pilar played the guitar and sang for us, her students.
Once again, my experiences in Mexico were completely different. By completing both study abroad and Alternative Spartan Break programs, I had the unique opportunity to see different aspects of Mexican society, particularly in the capital city of the Yucatán, Mérida. As part of ASB programs, I volunteered in an orphanage, a school for students with special needs, and an old-age residence. Later, through study abroad programs, I had the opportunity to visit Mexican businesses, US businesses operating in Mexico, along with governmental agencies and non-profit organizations. None of it possible on campus.
Why am I sharing my experiences with you? More than anything, I want you – current and prospective students – to see what is possible at Michigan State. Dream big! All that is needed is a bit of research, concrete goals, and a heavy dose of hard work. I left Michigan State with planning skills next to none. If you are overly concerned about finances, realize that study abroad may open up scholarship opportunities not available otherwise. That is what happened in my case. No matter what it may be, do not give up on your plans. Instead, seek help in the process. You may be surprised what you can accomplish.
Looking back, I gained so much experience and confidence through my education abroad. I can confidently say that I, after a short period of adjustment, would feel comfortable living in Europe or Latin America permanently. I know the cultures and how I fit in. Those experiences continue to shape how I view the world and my place in it. I enjoy learning about different cultures. In fact, it is my love of culture that inspired me to go back to school in order to teach Spanish and social studies at the secondary level.
It may have taken me some time to figure out my career, but I am now where I am supposed to be. The lessons I learned through education abroad have stayed with me every step of the way. Education abroad is much more than just an investment in your education, it is an investment in the person you wish to become.
Lindsey Russell is an aspiring writer, teacher, and business owner from Omer, Michigan. She is a 2004 Michigan State University grad from the Honors College, the Eli Broad College of Business, and the College of Arts and Letters with degrees in supply chain management and Spanish. While obtaining her teaching certificate through Saginaw Valley State University, she also completed a writing certificate program through Delta College. As a writer and member of Mid-Michigan Writers, Inc., Lindsey enjoys attending various writing workshops as well as blogging at Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde while dabbling in several genres, including short stories, flash fiction, children’s book, and even poetry. Currently, Lindsey spends her summers working with her family at Russell Canoe Livery and the school year teaching. During her time at Michigan State, Lindsey participated in several study abroad and alternative spring break (ASB) programs. She later worked as a peer adviser in the Office of Study Abroad, now the Office of Education Abroad.