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Alejandra Ramirez '13
Why do you want to serve as an International Ambassador?
I strongly believe that everyone should make an attempt to experience life abroad. Our college years can offer so much more outside of the SCU bubble, it is just a matter of taking that first step out of our comfort zone. After studying abroad for two quarters I have learned that the greatest lessons learned are those that take place outside of the classroom, even better outside of our own country. I couldn't have asked for two better quarters.
Deciding factor for studying abroad?
I chose Sydney, Australia because I did not want to just have the European study abroad experience. I wanted to go somewhere where I did not know much of the culture or history, and not many students chose to study abroad in.
I chose Madrid, Spain mainly because I wanted to improve my Spanish and I wanted to dig a bit more into my roots. Both of these goals were met, and now not only have I gained confidence with my Spanish language abilities, but I also understand my family's history much better- which has also allowed me to better understand my culture and the way I was brought up.
Defining Moment Abroad?
In Australia, one of our professors took us on a ten day trip to Western Australia, where we underwent the outback experience. We drove on jeeps, past flooded roads, saw wallabies hopping from one place to another, and eagles diving in the middle of the road to catch their prey. Though I could not believe the nature surrounding me, what really struck me was our interaction with the aboriginal community. Over 90% of them live off of welfare, and alcoholism is common though laws against the consumption have been established. Patrick, our professor, took us to an art gallery, here is where I met Rudi, a mid-age aboriginal woman. Rudi did not speak very much English, but what I understood was that she walks with her mother many miles, barefoot, every day to get to the gallery, where they both paint, and hopefully will sell enough for needs the welfare does not aid them with. I was sweaty, smelly, dirty, had insect bites all over my body, but at that moment I realized I had absolutely nothing to complain about. Here was a woman, sitting next to her mother, both barefoot whereas I was wearing my newest Nike running shoes. Neither of these women looked like they should be walking miles, especially barefoot on the rocky and muddy roads of Western Australia. It was this experience that allowed me to go back to Sydney and understand what my internship placement (New South Wales Reconciliation Council) meant when they said their goal is to raise awareness of aboriginal issues and stand for social justice.
In Madrid, my professors had all been lecturing on the Francisco Franco dictatorship, and how it had affected the country. Though I believed it all, it was a bit hard for me to picture it while walking down the streets of Madrid. Everyone seemed so well put together the first few weeks of my stay. It wasn't until week four in the country that I finally started seeing things as they are. I met a couple of Spaniards my age whom I began to spend a lot of time with. We talked just about anything, they were interested in the American way and I was interested in theirs. One of my conversations with one of them led to a conversation about politics. He told me of people close to him that were forced to stop studying at the age of 14 during the dictatorship because of financial needs. Just as he had said this to me, we walked past a lottery booth. I never understood why they were so popular in Madrid- to the point that people would wait hours in line to buy tickets. I didn't say anything about it, but he must've seen it catch my eye. He explained to me that it is popular because people are still struggling financially, and being such a superstitious culture, if the lotto is what will get them out of the every day financial struggle, they will wait in line as long as it takes to take their chances. It was that walk with him, that opened my eyes to what my professors had been teaching me about; the life of the rest of Madrid, not just from a tourists point of view.
Advice to Prospective study abroad students?
I would tell them to not be afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone; once you're out of it you allow yourself to see and experience much more than you ever imagined. Also, don't hold yourself back from talking to locals your age. I was very intimidated in Sydney and regret not making more of an effort, but in Madrid I decided to just go for it, and now I have two more life-long friends. Thirdly, some of the cultural differences might come a bit shocking, but place yourself in their shoes and do your best to just accept them; after all you're the one in their country,you should do your best to learn their ways. For the girls, pack light, you'll regret not doing it when you keep on making purchases and have to figure out how to get it all home.