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Study Abroad Doesn’t Always Have to Mean Going Far Away

Posted by Leya Hartman on Feb 22, 2017 10:37:00 AM


One thing to think about during your college search would be how study abroad in or out of country can impact your college years in ways you can’t even yet imagine. Here’s how it did for me:

Study Abroad Changed My Wheaton College Experience

As an Anthropology major, I am interested in the study of humankind, in particular the comparative study of human societies and cultures and their development. The opportunity to study abroad taught me to understand what my life is like in relation to the rest of the world, what is shaping me and how I am shaping others. As a result of these experiences I have been exposed to so many different ways of living and have made connections with people that are valuable, filled with wisdom, even transforming.

Studying abroad, whether through the Wheaton in Mexico program, or closer to ‘home’ through the Wheaton in Chicago program, impacted my Wheaton College experience, by teaching me to understand reality in a much broader sense:

1)    Not everyone speaks my language

2)    Not everyone orders their day around three square meals

3)    I am in a position that is seen as very privileged to the rest of the world        (and I agree)

4)    I have a different personality/persona when I speak Spanish

5)    Many people live a life that is filled with lots of stimulation, a real eye            opener

6)    Political problems are played out in very real, tangible ways for people          in cities

How Wheaton in Chicago is Distinct from a Typical Study Abroad Program

Following a study abroad semester through Wheaton College’s Wheaton in Mexico experience, Chicago didn't seem too scary. They speak my language (usually), they have the stores I'm accustomed to, and I can cook my own typical food. Yet, the more I tried to move about the city of Chicago, the more it felt foreign. This is the beauty of studying in a place outside your usual comfort zone. Instead of simply learning about a place from a book, by being in the place for an extended period of time, one’s daily acquisition of knowledge takes on a tangible form. In order for me to get through my day I had to learn how to navigate the complicated world of public transportation. I had to figure out how to walk by people living on the streets. I had to ascertain what people meant when they said seemingly typical (to them) things like, "Oh, they are from the south side" or "Let's spend a day in Wicker Park."

Another distinction between Wheaton in Chicago and many other study abroad programs was the fact that I was living with other Wheaton students instead of a host family which I really enjoyed. Yet having an internship in Chicago also allowed me to hang out with and work beside Chicagoans and learn about their lives and city routines.

Although Chicago was a domestic study abroad program, it was still a learning experience. The city is so different from the suburbs. Initially, the suburbs were designed to be an escape from the city. And even though this was the original intent of the suburbs, I felt myself smiling with excitement every time I came back into the city after visiting Wheaton or other suburbs. There is so much life, activity, and diversity in the city. The opportunities are endless.

Unexpected Challenges of the City

One of the funniest parts about being in Chicago is understanding public transit behavior. Do you smile as you pass the other passengers? Do you look above the person sitting right in front of you? Do you look down at your phone the whole time? Do you start a conversation with someone next to you? How loud do you speak with your friends on transit? All of these behaviors had to be learned by spending time on the train as Chicagoans teach you their ways.

A Typical Day

My typical day looked like this: I woke up at 5:50 a.m. to go to a boot camp workout at the rock climbing gym; downed a breakfast smoothie; got ready for my internship with ElevArte. I packed a lunch, caught the red line train at 8:45 a.m., and transferred to the 18 bus at Roosevelt to arrive just before 10 a.m.  Once in the office I organized volunteers for events and collaborated with coworkers until 4 p.m.  After the same commute back to my apartment, I prepared and ate dinner, and headed to class until 10 p.m. After I arrived back at my apartment, I enjoyed laughter and good conversation with my roommates over a bowl of popcorn, normally falling dead asleep around 11:30 p.m. The 2016 Wheaton in Chicago team was blessed when Emerald City Coffee opened up a new shop in the “Uptown” neighborhood where we lived. Lots of hours of studying and tea drinking were spent there with friends. The big windows, dark wood and sweet baristas made that place my favorite study spot.

So, my advice to you? Study abroad, far or near, can impact your college years in ways you can’t yet imagine. If you have the chance, do it!

Interested in participating in a study abroad program? Click the button to watch our video and hear from students about the value of studying abroad.

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Topics: Study Abroad