Spending a semester abroad is a scary and exciting prospect for most students, but what many don't realize is that the experience lasts long after the return flight home. Rosa Ruiz and Kurt Shemanske, both juniors at University of the Ozarks, spent the 2012 Fall Semester studying abroad and can attest to how life-altering such an adventure can be.
Ruiz, a management/administration and strategic communication major from Zacatecas, Mexico, spent the fall 2012 semester studying at Shanghai International Studies University in China.
"This is one of those things I’ve always wanted to do," says Ruiz. "Studying abroad has a big item on my bucket list for a long time."
Ruiz studied Chinese culture and business and took language courses in Mandarin Chinese.
"In terms of my education, I believe that studying abroad has been extremely important," Ruiz said. "There are some things that you can only learn by exposing yourself to other environments. There were so many times when the language barrier forced me to ask a million questions, so now I am definitely less shy and more confident asking questions. I think, as students, we should be brave and expose ourselves to experiences outside the classroom that can teach us as well."
While departing China was bittersweet, Ruiz knew that she was returning home with a new lease on life.
"I’m different now. I feel a little more mature and a lot more fearless, like I can do anything," Ruiz said. "I was sad to leave my new friends, but I was also really excited to come back home and share my experiences with friends and family."
Ruiz said the best lesson she learned while in China was that all people are remarkably similar.
"I realized that people are basically the same everywhere," she said. "I learned that as long as someone is willing to try to understand a different culture, they can thrive there."
The Great Wall of China was one of the places Rosa Ruiz visited while spending the 2012 Fall Semester studying the Chinese language and culture at the Shanghai International Studies University in China.
Kurt Shemanske, a management major from El Reno, Okla., had a similar experience in a completely different part of the world. Shemanske spent the fall semester studying at the International College of Management in Sydney, Australia.
Shemanske admits it was difficult for him to return to the States.
"I had such an amazing experience. I was very happy to see my family and friends, and that made the transition back home much easier, but it was difficult leaving the life-long friends I made and the beautiful country I was able to call home for a semester," he said.
Both personally and professionally, Shemanske’s entire view of his future has changed after a few months abroad.
"My view on the world is actually a ‘world view’ now," he said. "For so long, I imagined myself being satisfied with what the United States has to offer, but the world has so much more to put forward. The opportunities are endless, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the world has to offer."
As someone who plans to pursue a career in management and economics, Shemanske said he gained a new global perspective on business.
"I’ve learned each country has valuable assets they can contribute, and a successful company capitalizes on that," he said. "I’ve learned that the decisions the United States makes not only affect us, but countries around the world. As the world becomes smaller, we need to adapt and recognize that the U.S. isn’t the only country in the world that has something to offer."
While in Australia, Shemanske also developed a deep-seated respect for the values of others.
"After being abroad, I feel like a completely different individual. I’ve maintained my same life values, but I’ve learned to respect the values of others and to adapt to change. When you live life as a ‘foreigner,’ you learn a lot from observation. I had to adapt quickly to the environment around me. I was the one who was different and not the other way around. From this experience, I now view life much more thoroughly and not as one-sided as before. I’ve learned to adapt with the changing society around me and to have respect for the different values of others," Shemanske said.
Kurt Shemanske, a junior from El Reno, Okla., studied business and economics last semester in Australia at the International College of Management in Sydney.