Santa Clara University

Mari Bennett '12

International Ambassador

Why do you want to serve as an International Ambassador at Santa Clara University?

I want to serve as an International Ambassador because I want everyone to know how wonderful of an experience studying abroad is. I would love to help advise students so that their study abroad can be the best experience possible. I studied abroad in Lisbon, which I learned is a land less traveled. Few Santa Clara students have studied abroad in Portugal, so I think it is important to have an advocate for CIEE Lisbon's amazing program. My semester abroad was such a terrific experience that I want to be able to share this with anyone who is interested. Of course I am bias towards Portugal, but I would help provide information about studying abroad in general as well. I've had a lot of leadership experience including being a Community Facilitator on campus and I enjoy interacting with people and helping if there are questions.
What were the deciding factors in choosing your study abroad program-location?
I honestly just wanted an experience that seemed different than everyone else. I did not want to study abroad in Barcelona, Florence or London because I knew a lot of Santa Clara students would be studying abroad there. I wanted to go somewhere where I would not run into my school wherever I went. Coincidentally, another Santa Clara student was in my program, but we had never met, so I met all new people abroad. Portugal was a country I knew little about, which is what attracted me more to the location. In the end, I was very pleased with my decision. I feel as if it was a truly unique experience because of my program. As a Public Health major, this past quarter was a chance for me to take a break from my science-heavy schedule and still get credit.
Describe a defining moment in your abroad experiences and how that experience(s) has affected you personally, intellectually, vocational, spiritually, or academically.
A defining moment for me was befriending a group of Portuguese students. This truly made my study abroad experience unique because I feel as if I was exposed and introduced to things I would have never learned about otherwise. Hanging out with the group of at least fifteen Portuguese people my age gave me a new perspective. Some of them spoke perfect English and others barely spoke any. Through these friends, I learned how to communicate with our language barrier, practiced my Portuguese and learned so much about their culture. They knew so much about American pop culture; it surprised me. They were also so welcoming, inclusive and helpful. Even though they laughed at my terrible Portuguese, they helped me learn a lot. My study abroad experience was so amazing because of this group of people.
What advises, recommendations would you give to prospective study abroad students? In retrospect, how would you prepare differently to maximize the study abroad experience?
Do your research and give yourself lots of time to decide where you want to go. After I applied, I found many other programs that interested me but did not find until it was too late. Starting from square one on deciding where to go can be very overwhelming, so truly take some time to reflect on what you want to get out of your abroad experience. This will help you narrow down your choices and not feel so overwhelmed. If I could prepare myself differently, I would have done more reading on the current events of Portugal. People really appreciate the fact that you are interested in their culture and it is also better to know what is going on in the country you will be living in for over three months.