Senior Randi Williams has traveled abroad through Towson programs three times in her undergraduate career, beginning with a semester in Italy in Spring 2014. Below she compares some of her experiences between Indonesia and Australia, her two long term experiences this past year.
Q: Did your experiences abroad met your expectations? Exceeded them?
My experience in Indonesia exceeded my expectations. I thought I was going to have to wear a hijab everywhere and be careful of what I said about myself or other people, not that I was rude, but tiptoeing around won’t give you the experience you need. The USIPP group of students, both American and Indonesian were beyond amazing. We cracked jokes, we each had partners to show them and show us the ropes of shopping, eating, and praying in each other’s home cities. Every time we reached our new destination, the amount of intelligence located in every city would have been incredible for many people to hear because we all changed in so many ways being a host for one another.
I think what I am trying to say is that sometimes it isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. It wasn’t about where we were, it was about how we adapted to where we were. It was about how we chose to bond using the tools that we had. It was about eating at the table at six in the morning like old family breakfast before school.
It was about sharing stories about our religious educations and how far we wish to go within our religion. We cried, we laughed, we sang, we danced (I have videos to prove it), we screamed, we fell asleep on each other, and we smiled. The 2015 USIPP group was filled with students who have hearts bigger than the sun, my experiences had no expectations because each experience was indescribable.
In Australia, I felt like an American. It isn’t as fun trying to figure out the language when you go to a country that speaks just as much English as you, but I was very intrigued by the educational and teaching techniques they have here. My teachers didn’t rush through anything and they had time to meet with me to help all the time. One of my professors actually called me on my cell phone to see how my paper was going and to answer questions about its structure. It was almost relieving to finish my degree in a place where everything slowed down, where students and teachers actually asked for help without feeling bad for not knowing the answer.
I didn’t know what to expect when I reached Australia. To be honest when I got off the plane all I could think about was Finding Nemo. Sounds childish, but 42 P. Sherman Wallaby Way may not have been that far away. Hobart, Tasmania excites me everyday. I lived on campus and every time I came my door I could see the other half of the island. It was either sunrise or sunset and man it was amazing. It reminds me of Jamaica except the seasons actually change, lol. There is no place like Tasmania!
Q: What challenged you while you were abroad? Why?
My biggest challenge was going from a group of 15 to a group of 1. I spent an entire month with beautiful souls of people and then I was alone in Hobart, Tasmania. From there I paced myself and my days and how much I would talk to people at home just so I wouldn’t have an anxiety attack. By the time Ausgust rolled around I was ready to go and had made a new set of friends. It’s not that hard to be alone, but you will start to miss home if you’re a commuting college student.
Q: What advice do you have for students thinking about studying abroad, particularly to Asian countries?
Be aware of your surroundings and take learning the language very seriously. They are people just like you. They have feelings, jobs, children, siblings, businesses, church events, pretty much a life. Be very open to seeing what your place has to offer, but also be careful. Always have a partner with you. Try every coffee shop in the town or city. Witness a church service. Drop in on a wedding ceremony. The fear of not knowing what’s going to happen in your new city should be the reason why you go anyway. Get ready for different sleeping times, shower and bathroom arrangements, fashion ideas, and educational techniques.
Don’t worry – I was afraid, too. I was afraid of being black, I was afraid of being Christian, I was afraid of not knowing Bahasa (the Indonesian language), I was worried about the food whether fried or fresh, but when I got there it was as normal as it could be, just without cell phone service. It was fun not being on the phone all the time. I had assignments to complete. Indonesia is 90%+ Muslim, so I was scared about what they would say if I didn’t wear a hijab or a borku. They didn’t say a thing to be honest. The only time they asked about attire was if we were going to a Mosque. Just as many women who wear hijabs or borkus don’t wear any in Indonesia.
Thanks for sharing your story, Randi!