Why UTEP students should experience the wonders of studying abroad

Students from Rotary International Youth Exchange Program in the Amazon River. Sofia Terrazas (left) Mahé Parisse (right) / Photo courtesy of Chiara Koch

Students from Rotary International Youth Exchange Program in the Amazon River. Sofia Terrazas (left) Mahé Parisse (right) / Photo courtesy of Chiara Koch

Sofia Terrazas, Guest Columnist

The one thing that had been on my mind for the last eight months had finally arrived, my exchange year. A year in Brazil, that didn’t sound bad at all. I was tired of doing the same things every day. I wanted something different, a change, and this was my opportunity. A different house, different people, a language I was not familiar with, as well as an unexplored country. I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I wanted to make the most out of it. 

When I was 17 years old, I decided to put my life in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, on pause to study abroad for a year. For eight months I went through the enrollment process for an exchange program and on July 21, 2015, my flight to Belo Horizonte, Brazil departed. I will never forget the experiences I encountered while in Brazil. I found myself facing many obstacles during my year abroad, but despite everything, I believe it was one of the most impactful years of my life. During my time in Brazil, I was forced to step out of my comfort zone, to think quickly on my feet during challenging situations, and it allowed me to acquire new skills and build more confidence in myself. 

Studying abroad is something that UTEP students can benefit from no matter where they choose to go. The important thing is to truly be interested in learning about the country, integrating themselves to be a part of the community and, most importantly, figuring out how they can use what has been learned to help their own communities back home. This experience provides opportunities to build character, learn about the world and grow as a person. To begin with, there are many cultures all around the world, each with its own traditions and beliefs. Regardless of which one people are influenced by it is always in constant change. 

It was not all at ease. Homesickness was one of the first obstacles in my journey, along with the language barrier, but in the long run it allowed me to grow as a person and in such a short amount of time. As I incorporated myself into the community, I began to make friends that I am positive will last a lifetime, and I learned how people appreciate not only their culture but mine as well. In order to overcome my struggles, I made sure to not be scared to ask for help and guidance from others around me. While bonding with other exchange students, I was amazed by their way of life and was interested in learning about their traditions and beliefs as well. Not only did I learn about Brazil, but also had the opportunity to learn from various countries all over the world through my friendship with other exchange students. 

Besides learning about the cultural aspects of a country, studying abroad can also have a tremendous impact on a student’s education and their academic performance. According to the University of California Merced, a Georgia study shows that students who studied abroad saw their GPAs rise twice as quickly as a result of going abroad compared to students who stayed in town, as well as making them twice as likely to find a job after graduating. In my experience, studying abroad allows students to encounter a different approach to education and encourages them to seek new learning methods. It may expand a person’s knowledge in many topics including media, politics, education and even challenges them to learn a new language. In a professional setting, having studied abroad may also present itself as an advantage, providing better opportunities depending on what organizations or companies are looking for in their applicants. 

As I have mentioned, there will be many challenges along the way, but the key to a successful year abroad is to be open-minded and eager to learn. During what seemed like 12 short months I was introduced to a magnificent culture. Brazil means warmth, and I’m not only talking about the weather. The people in Brazil just make you feel welcome, always eager to meet and learn from foreigners. Brazil also means diversão, which is the Portuguese word for fun. Wherever you went you would usually find people drinking, listening to music and having a good time. 

Although my experience actually took place during my high school years, I have no doubt that taking the chance as a college student is worth it and, as a UTEP student, you will be able to learn as much as I did, if not more. Despite the harsh times that we have all been through with COVID-19, and how impossible it may seem for students today to experience studying abroad, UTEP offers many different programs and options for its students to have the opportunity and live the experience. 

Among the different programs, you can find exchange programs, third party providers as well as faculty-led programs. The Office of Study Abroad at UTEP has the mission to provide quality international educational opportunities, which will contribute to the college and career success of UTEP students and enhance UTEP’s global presence. The office resumed their in-person services June 1, 2021. You can find the office in Union East 203, and they are open Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you would like to do some research before reaching out to them, you can access their Frequently Asked Questions page where you can find answers to common questions such as the application process, eligibility, the different programs, finances and housing, among others. 

After encountering this way of life, there are many benefits that I gained at a personal and academic level from my experience. I could not bring myself to stop learning about other cultures or limit myself to communicating only with those who spoke the same languages I do. Studying abroad spiked my curiosity and broadened my perspective of the world, making me question our behavior in regard to the world around us and how it varies from culture to culture. I learned to think critically in order to adapt and build confidence in different environments and, most importantly, to always appreciate the world around us. 

Sofia Terrazas is a junior in communication studies and may be reached at [email protected]