Triton Globetrotters: Students share stories from semester abroad
Changed perceptions. It’s a common theme among University of Missouri–St. Louis students who study abroad. For the international travelers, viewpoints shift not just of the world and other cultures but also of their own capabilities.
Nearly 40 students studied abroad during the spring semester, and UMSL Daily recently caught up with three of these Tritons to discuss their experiences.
Hesitancy nearly caused Brendan McCoy to miss out on the “best adventure of [his] life.”
The senior electrical engineering major and Pierre Laclede Honors College student had known for a while that he wanted to study abroad – particularly in England or Ireland. He debated the idea for so long, though, that he nearly missed the opportunity.
“One of the only reasons I took the jump was because of a friend of mine who studied abroad before I did,” McCoy said. “She made me realize it was an opportunity I would never get again and to put fear aside and chase my dreams.”
The leap paid off as he returned from the University of Limerick in Ireland, with an affinity for adventure and a comfort with total independence.
“I became an all-around more mature and better person from my experience,” McCoy said. “When traveling across the world, maturity becomes a necessity. You start to see situations differently than before for your own safety and that of your friends.”
While he enjoyed traveling and the social aspects of studying abroad, one of his favorites experiences included a course at UL on plant automation. With a lab partner, he created a turntable that holds four glass bottles. Pneumatic equipment would remove the cap and a motor-driven arm would pour the contents into a pint glass.
Since returning home in May, McCoy has challenged himself to continue exploring – even in familiar surroundings.
“I am able to find ways to keep myself from lounging around,” McCoy said. “Instead, I will go find a new experience to enjoy. I try to be more spontaneous with plans, whether it be hiking a new state park, taking up a new hobby – like boxing, which I began in Ireland – or even simply trying new foods.”
The lessons from abroad also translated to McCoy’s internship at Tri-Tech Automation.
“Becoming independent for five months, I already notice I am less timid in social situations,” McCoy said. “Even at my internship – if I am given a task to do solo that would normally make me anxious – I am able to handle it with less fear.”
Renee Kocsis never thought she would have the opportunity to study abroad.
Majoring in modern language, Kocsis was always interested in immersing herself in another culture. A monthlong trip seemed to be the only feasible option, though, until she applied for a semester exchange program with the University of Bonn in Germany.
She received several scholarships to help finance the experience, and the university offered classes that weren’t available at UMSL, providing an ideal opportunity.
“My experience so far has been a whirlwind,” she said. “During my first month here, I was quite nervous about acclimating to the German lifestyle and language. I felt exhausted all the time, which I found out is completely normal when you’re living in a new country where everything is different. It took some time to establish a routine.”
Since the initial move in March, Kocsis has felt more at ease. She can navigate through Bonn, recycle like a pro and hold basic conversations with others at the grocery store or on the bus. She also adds that she’s even getting used to the metric system.
“Living in the same city my entire life had allowed me to feel completely comfortable with how things worked,” Kocsis said. “I knew the language, understood social norms and had friends and family nearby. After living in a completely different country, I have started to appreciate both positive and negative parts of life in an unfamiliar place.”
Kocsis has intensive German classes four times a week for three hours a day, requiring her to speak and interact with peers more frequently.
“Learning German alongside students from Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, China and from U.S. universities, I feel more of a connection with the international community,” Kocsis said. “It’s such a fantastic feeling to be part of this shared experience.”
Carly Vogel literally leapt out of her comfort zone during her spring semester in Limerick, Ireland.
Not only did she experience many firsts – flying internationally, watching a professional ballet recital and attending an opera performance – she joined the University of Limerick’s Skydiving Club and decided to jump.
“I really tried to embrace this opportunity and live in the moment,” Vogel said. “Having that mindset allowed me to better adapt to the new culture and be more open-minded about the world. I thought I was an open-minded individual before this adventure, but one thing I learned about the world is that there will always be something new to learn and experience.”
Vogel, a senior psychology major and student in the honors college, traveled to six European countries during the five months abroad. These adventures made her more independent and confident in her ability to handle new situations.
“My experience was just as I hoped it would be,” Vogel said. “I learned a lot about myself and got to explore the world and interact with people from different cultures. It was a very eye-opening experience that I hope will lead me to continue to be drawn to those who are different from me so I can expand my knowledge about this diverse world that we live in.”
While she embraced varying cultures and experiences throughout her excursions, Vogel also had a little taste of St. Louis along the way.
“One of my best experiences is when I was on a bus going from Bratislava, Slovakia, to Vienna, Austria,” Vogel said. “My friends and I met a young couple on the bus that was backpacking around Europe. Through conversation, we discovered that the woman is from the same neighborhood as me. It was amazing to meet someone from St. Louis while being so far away from home.”
Between weekend travels, Vogel also had to stay on top of her studies.
At UL, most courses do not have assignments due throughout the year, but rather one or two large projects, presentations, essays or tests throughout the semester. In fact, one of her courses had a final exam worth 94 percent of her grade.
Despite the academic differences, she was able to find common ground between UL and UMSL.
“Something that is similar between the universities is that they both have many clubs and societies for students to join,” Vogel said. “There are many ways to get involved at both.”
Short URL: http://blogs.umsl.edu/news/?p=69413