Maria Jacob studied abroad on USAC’s Chiang Mai, Thailand program in Fall 2013 and will be joining us at the USAC central office as part of our Summer Young Professionals.
1. Why did you choose the program that you did?
I longed to go somewhere completely different, and had seen beautiful photos of Thailand. When a study abroad ambassador mentioned the cost – I was sold. I knew it was a steal for the amount of living I was about to be doing for a semester.
2. If or when you study abroad again, where would you like to go? Why?
It’s hard to choose because USAC has programs in so many destinations I want to see! I would have loved to go to Florianopolis, Brazil or to any program in New Zealand. I love the outdoors, and Florianopolis would allow me to live near a beach and learn to surf – a goal I have always wanted to check off my bucket list. New Zealand is simply a dream destination for hiking opportunities.
3. What are some of your favorite highlights from your time abroad?
There are so many! Something special to me was being in Chiang Mai for the Yi Peng/Loy Krathong lantern festival. The weekend-long celebrations were so unique and being with USAC friends setting fireworks and lanterns off was truly magical. The field trip that was part of the Hilltribe Peoples and Culture class was also one of the best times I had. Taking a weekend to stay with the Karen hilltribe was unique in and of itself – but during this trip we were also able to ride elephants, float down the river in a bamboo raft, play games and socialize with the very personable tour guides, shoot slingshots at bottles, help prepare dinner, and take gorgeous, scenic hikes through the mountains.
4. In your experience, what are the major benefits of studying abroad?
Getting out of your comfort zone is so important to your personal growth as a human being. You have to experience the distinctive ways others live their life to realize that you can change your own situation to make yourself happy, because you only get a short time to live the life you want. Going to college is a great step in a teenager’s life, but being able to do that on the other side of the world is taking leaps forward for their maturation and understanding.
5. What were some of the special/unique things you were able to do or see?
I think one that really left an impact in my life was being able to fire hoop at the Full Moon Party. I traveled with my hula-hoop and fire wicks many miles to be able to perform on Haad Rin beach and I will never forget that moment.
6. What was a funny cultural experience?
I opted to take Thai Language to learn conversational Thai to get around Chiang Mai easier, and my teacher taught us the “Chang Song.” Chang is an elephant in Thai, and it is one of those nursery rhymes everyone seems to know – comparable to the Itsy Bitsy Spider in America. Being able to sing the Chang Song with children (and adults!) all throughout Thailand was really fun and special, and it helped us to relate.
7. What did you learn about yourself?
I learned that it’s easy for me to socialize with all kinds of people, no matter how seemingly different we are. I found out how courageous I am to never let any fear stop me from traveling or chasing a dream I have. I also learned that I am really great at travel planning and I am super organized! It was a nice thing to learn about myself, because obviously these are skills that will help me to continue my journey around the world whenever and wherever I decide to go next.
8. How did studying abroad change you?
I feel I have grown in ways I can’t even find the words to describe.
9. What’s one thing you would have done differently?
I would have loved to stay a year, but I had to come back and wrap things up for graduation. If I could do it over, I would have studied abroad my first or second year of college and go abroad more than once (or as many times as possible!)
10. Now that you’re home, how do you see the impact of study abroad on your life?
I am always daydreaming about my study abroad experience, and I think anyone who has studied or traveled abroad can understand that. I also have had amazing opportunities unfold thanks to this experience because I was able to get a job at my school’s study abroad office. I am always talking about USAC and the amazing times I had, and it’s a great feeling to inspire others to take that leap of faith, especially when they want to go to Thailand because of me!
11. How many years did it/will it take you to graduate?
It took me 4.5 years simply because I changed my major twice. If I had more of a focus early on, I could have been on track. I don’t regret changing majors, however, because each misstep tells you more about what direction you actually want to go in.
12. What, in your opinion, are the biggest myths students believe about studying abroad?
So many people believe it’s unaffordable. I have heard so many people say, “I wish I could…” when I ask them about studying abroad but you definitely can! USAC has such cheap prices and there are so many scholarships that you can apply for. Everything in life depends on the way you look at it. If you’re determined to make it a reality, you’ll save the money and you’ll apply for the scholarships.
13. What advice would you have for students trying to decide whether or not to study abroad?
You’ll only regret it if you don’t go for it! This is the best time in your life to travel and explore, and when else are you able to apply for scholarships to get assistance paying for your travels? You are literally getting paid to travel and learn.
Learn more about USAC and see where you will go!