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Study Abroad Frequent Flyers

Think you know what your typical day as a college junior might be like? Consider this: You wake up in your loft apartment and walk to class leisurely along Paris' Seine River, stopping for a chocolate croissant on the way. In the afternoon, you finish your homework, drinking coffee in a cafe on the Champs-Elysees, basking in the sunshine, and enjoying a view of the Eiffel Tower. At night, you meet your friends as you take advantage of all that the Paris nightlife has to offer - clubs, movies, dancing, and more. Is this what you had in mind?

No, you don't have to win it big on Big Brother to join this scene! You need only be one of the thousands of college students who choose to spend a portion of their college years studying abroad in exotic locales, from Argentina to Zimbabwe.

Fantastic Voyage
Ronak Shah never thought much about studying abroad until his sophomore year of college, when he met some students at a party who had spent a Semester at Sea. This sea-faring program, run through the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pa.) (and made famous thanks to MTV's Road Rules 8) enables students to spend half their time on a shipboard classroom and the other half visiting more than 10 nations worldwide. "Hearing them talk about it, it just seemed like the most amazing experience," says Ronak, now 24. He knew then that he just had to experience it for himself.

Departing from his home campus of Boston University (Boston, Mass.) in the fall of 1997, Ronak embarked on a semester-long journey that included stops in Japan, China, Vietnam, India, Egypt, Greece, and Morocco. Both on and off the boat, the trip was incredible, he says. "It changed how I view my life."

From the emotional experience of being in Egypt when 80 tourists were shot and killed nearby, to the warm welcome the American students received from the natives of Vietnam, Ronak was constantly surprised and overwhelmed by everything he saw.

Even the outrageous events were memorable, Ronak recalls. On a class assignment, two fellow students were thrown in jail. Apparently, he explains, conducting a survey on the streets of China is illegal. Luckily, the professors summoned to sort out the misunderstanding were able to take care of the incident. In the end, everyone had a good laugh.

Semester at Sea gave Ronak an appreciation for the world and a chance to take advantage of all its opportunities. "I realized what a small world it is," says Ronak. "There are differences between people, but there is so much more that binds us all together."

"It took a lot for me to study abroad," Ronak explains. "I had to pay out of my own pocket, but it was worth it. It was the greatest thing I ever did."

A Middle East Adventure
Ever since she was a sophomore in high school, Robyn Yaker knew she wanted to study abroad. When her cousin returned from a semester in Florence, Italy, Robyn was even more motivated. "[My cousin] absolutely raved about it and it sounded like the coolest thing ever," says Robyn, now 23. After taking a trip to Israel the following year, she knew, based on her emotionally charged experience that she would one day return.

Later, as a junior at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., Robyn prepared to return to Israel, this time to study. She applied for the spring semester at Tel-Aviv University in Ramat Aviv, a suburban area about 10 minutes from downtown Tel Aviv. Unlike the rural campus and long winters she left behind, Tel Aviv was warm and welcoming, a bustling metropolis on the beach.

In addition to having the time of her life, Robyn learned life lessons and confronted real-deal issues of violence and danger on a daily basis. With the political situation of the Middle East in a constant state of turmoil, many thought she was crazy to put herself at the forefront. "One of the main things I learned was that I was not going to live my life in fear. I was so passionate about going; it was just never an option not to go. I knew I had to follow my heart," she states.

The places Robyn's heart led her included Jerusalem and Haifa, as well as Egypt and Turkey. And the memories she made will always stay with her, she explains - the breathtaking ancient wonders, meaningful cultural history, and irreplaceable friendships. Not to mention the many 'look back on them and laugh' incidents that occurred during her time abroad.

"My friends and I got dressed up for Purim, which is supposed to be a major party in Tel Aviv," Robyn remembers. "It turned out the streets were dead and here we were - a pack of foreigners geared up in costume!"

Robyn feels the best advice for future student travelers is simple - have no regrets! "Live it up to the fullest and take advantage of every second," she says. Looking back now, Robyn assures that she is satisfied and content that she did exactly that.

European Vacation
For Jill Weiser, not studying abroad was never an option. When she began college at George Washington University, (Washington, D.C.), she viewed a study abroad experience as if it were a prerequisite to graduation. "I knew ahead of time that studying abroad would teach me more than any class or seminar," says Jill, now 22. She chose to spend the spring of 1998 at Syracuse University's program in Madrid, Spain, in order to use and enhance the Spanish she learned in high school.

Trading one capital city for another, Jill left the hustle of bustling Washington, DC for the old-world charm of Madrid's Instituto Internacional. Living with a host family, rather than in a dormitory, enabled Jill to really integrate into the community and cross the line from tourist to resident. "My attitude about studying abroad was that it was not worth it unless you were going to totally immerse yourself in the culture," Jill states.

During her semester abroad, Jill was able to see much of Europe, including France, Italy, and England. And because so many students she met up with were traveling also, she explains, there was a fun, party-like atmosphere wherever she ventured. On a train from Venice to Florence, Jill even ran into a close friend from high school. "Everyone in the car looked on as we laughed out loud and hugged each other," she recalls.

The most valuable lesson for Jill was the unique opportunity to tout her independence. "My study abroad experience is one I will carry with me forever," she raves. "There is so much to learn about yourself that you cannot possibly do if you stay in one place. I also realized that tolerance and an open mind are keys to success in the world today."

Upon returning to her home campus, Jill was so energized by her experience in Spain that she volunteered at George Washington University's study abroad office. As a peer advisor, she now encourages other students to take full advantage of the opportunity to travel for credit. Her advice: "You'll have greater knowledge of the world, other cultures, and especially yourself."


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