2020 – the year of well, you know, is coming to a close. Here at USAC, we’re celebrating some exciting wins despite the many curve balls thrown at international education, including the launch of our Global Perspectives Program and the announcement of USAC Lisbon. In the season of reflection and gratitude, we’re grateful for the thousands of students (past, present, and prospective) who hung in there with us. To honor this crazy year, we’re looking back at some of our favorite student testimonials.
Adapting in an Era of Unknown
Participants of our virtual internships were asked to reflect on their experiences and discuss how their internship impacted their professional goals. Here are some of their responses:
Linette L., interned with USAC Reggio Emilia
If I honored my authentic self, my professional calling would be to become a “global” physician, also known as a doctor without borders. My answers have not changed between Session 1 and Session 6. If anything, I am more passion behind my answers and have been inspired more throughout the semester. I have experienced how important global health and public health are. I have loved learning about how different health care systems function. I have been working towards my personal goal this year to stay connected with myself and remind myself the reasons I do what I do. I also agree with my statement that I find happiness in the little things because this kind of happiness is what carried me through this semester. My professional career path has not changed since, and instead, I have felt more inspired to reach my goals after this internship.
Sthefani V., interned with USAC Reggio Emilia
The virtual internship has been challenging in some respects, but it helped me grow more and get one step closer to my goals. I have found reassurance to keep doing what I do to help others. Although I couldn’t have experience in person, I have explored any resource to meet new people from different places and know more about another culture. It’s complicated to remain authentic to yourself when there are so many societal expectations from you, but I am glad that I could break those limitations to achieve my purpose and continue building myself to help others by talking openly about mental health, and volunteering in different projects.
I still believe that I have a long way to get where I want to be and achieve that immense fulfillment. Nevertheless, in the meantime, I learned to stay present and enjoy every step, and face adversities with a positive mindset, and taking every challenge as a way to get more knowledge and grow more personally.
Megan S., interned with USAC Accra
I thoroughly enjoyed carrying out my internship through USAC, and I would highly recommend virtual internship seekers to look into their Global Perspectives Virtual Internship Program. In addition to my supervisor at the Play and Learn Foundation, USAC provided me with a couple of other mentors who were readily available for any means of support. USAC also complemented my internship with weekly seminar sessions that allowed me to deepen my understanding of my professional and cultural experiences. These seminars were completed by other students engaging in various virtual internship programs, granting me even more peers offering assistance and encouragement. Though I did not gain the international experience I thought I would when I originally planned to study abroad, this virtual internship still brought professional and cultural insights that further developed my character.
Growing From Unexpected Challenges
In-person study abroad was cut short for thousands of Spring 2020 students, but their international education didn’t slow down. Here’s what some of these students had to say about their transition to online learning:
Samantha Pierie, USAC Bilbao
My transition to online courses with USAC this spring was very simple and stress free. The platform used, Moodle, is easy to navigate and allows for quick communication with professors. All of my professors were very knowledgeable, resourceful, and quick to respond. They put a ton of effort into seeking out additional online resources to complement our zoom sessions and PowerPoints. Our professors made sure students had everything we needed, and that we were staying engaged and understanding the material despite the abrupt change.
Anna Shoultz, USAC Santiago
While it was extremely unprecedented for us all, from students and professors to USAC staff, to complete the spring 2020 semester online, we made it work. I think that the value of online learning can still be great as long as the adequate channels of communication and engagement are used. For example, having video calls for class might have been a bit different, but it was better than receiving lecture videos or documents to complete without having a virtual face-to-face session. Especially when it comes to learning in a second language, being given the outlets to still speak and listen rather than simply reading and writing is invaluable. Online learning isn’t something I had ever expected to do, but I was able to gain a lot of knowledge and flexibility through the end of the semester and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to continue my experience from home.
Madeline Aviles, USAC Puntarenas
My professor for Spanish Track III Course was extremely flexible and understanding when it came to the online courses. So many things had to be adjusted to suit the course now that we weren’t meeting in person. I do admit that it was helpful and made me more comfortable that I knew the other students in the class, prior to going digital. I felt more comfortable asking questions and providing answers, but I also feel that when professors and students take the time to get to know one another prior to beginning a lecture, it really helps. I enjoyed participating in small group discussions and then coming together with the rest of the group to share. Meeting through Microsoft Teams was helpful for organizational reasons. My professor labeled each learning unit as a new tab and it served as an outline for the course to keep us on track. With virtual meetings, we were able to fill out documents as a group, volunteer to read a part of a page in our textbook, share videos through our screen, and still maintain a face-to-face conversation. My professor created PowerPoint slides that were engaging by inserting videos, fill-in activities, and small group breakouts to better understand the Spanish language. We practiced Spanish by creating scripts, videos, and participating like we would in person.
Studying Abroad During COVID-19 – Reflecting on the Experience
Fortunately, we did have many students participate in in-person programs in 2020 — before and after the pandemic boomed. Here’s how their study abroad experiences impacted them:
Ally S., USAC Gold Coast (Spring 2020)
I think one of the most important things that my taste of travel has shown me is an insight into my long-term goals. It is impossible to say when we might return to our new normal after we get through this, but for now, I can dream and tentatively plan. I have spent time researching my interests and investigating new places that I want to see. All this has led to me thinking harder about where life might take me once I finish my education, and how I want to spend more time traveling abroad. I am hoping to find a job that allows me to blend my curiosity for other cultures with my background and knowledge. For now, I am making the best of my situation and focusing on what lies ahead.
Brendan, USAC Haifa (Spring 2020)
As cliche as it sounds, the greatest lesson that I learned from this situation with the coronavirus is that life does not go to plan and when it doesn’t you have to adapt and keep pushing forward.
When I first arrived back in the U.S. two weeks ago I had lost all motivation and was not sure which direction I wanted to take with my life anymore. Everything that I worked so hard for had perished overnight. After speaking some academic resources, and Jade Wright who generously created the “Discover Middle East” USAC scholarship which helped me study abroad, I felt much better about the overall situation. They helped me recognize that everything I had worked for is still there and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to continue my Arabic language studies online and reapply for the CLS program for the next summer. Furthermore, I plan on applying for graduate school to Georgetown University this upcoming fall to pursue a master’s degree in Arabic.
Before this situation, I was naive in my belief that my life was going to go perfectly according to my plan. I placed a great amount of stress on myself to ensure that I would be able to attain my goals through the very precise plan that I had created. I now know that life will not go to plan. There are many different paths available to me and I am learning to go with the flow and enjoying the ride. I would advise future USAC students to study abroad! Do not let this situation deter you from experiencing and immersing yourself in other cultures. My study abroad experience was a defining moment for me thus far in my life and I do not regret it at all.
Jamie G., USAC Stirling (Fall 2020)
I am much more capable than I thought I was. Coming over here, I was so nervous about my ability to even make it to Scotland, and the university. I was scared I wouldn’t figure out public transportation, I wouldn’t make any friends, I wouldn’t pass my classes, or I wouldn’t stay the entire semester because I would be to homesick or something. As excited as I was for this adventure, I was twice as terrified. But having been here for three months and seeing how much I’ve learned, adapted, and grown as a person, the largest thing I have learned about myself is how capable I am, and that’s something I hope I never forget about myself after this whole experience is over.