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Joanne Santomauro '13
Why do you want to serve as an International Ambassador?
My experience studying abroad changed my life forever - in the most unexpected ways. One of the biggest challenges that I wish someone had prepared me for were emotional, not tangible. I wish that more students who had studied abroad warned me about what to expect about being in a new environment, being forced to reidentify ourselves all over again - just like the first year of college - it was a lot harder to adjust than I thought I'd be (I originally had myself pinned as adventurous, outgoing, and thrill-seeking). I want to help other students who are going to study abroad prepare themselves to have the best experience possible, not just by learning about the best places to eat and shop, but also how to really take advantage of the experience and challenge themselves to meet people that are different from them. I wish I had challenged myself more during the beginning of the experience, so I'm hoping to challenge other study abroad students to essentially, take advantage of what I didn't at first.
Deciding factor for studying abroad?
I speak Spanish, so I wanted to go somewhere where I could improve my Spanish and interact with locals. Also, the homestay experience with the custom SCU program was something I was really interested in, and ended up being the most positive part of my study abroad experience.
Defining Moment Abroad?
When I finally started stepping out of my comfort zone and meeting locals, I became more and more aware of who I was not just as my individual self, or a university student, but who I was as an American. I had never really faced this sort of identity crisis before. Part of me was extremely proud to be American, but the other part of me, the part of me that started to outshine the first part, was ashamed of how other countries perceived Americans. On a trip to Morocco with the IES program, one of the Moroccan professors with whom we were meeting asked us, "Why do Americans hate Muslims?" I had never been asked that before. I was speechless. After thinking for a moment, I tried my best to explain that we didn't, but after speaking with him, I realized that I needed to think less about how to defend Americans and more about how to understand from where this man was coming. He opened my eyes to the harsher realities of what it means to represent America when traveling abroad. He taught me cultural sensitivity, awareness, and at the same time, pride. I realized that while quite a few groups of people see Americans in a bad light, quite a few also really admire America for its friendliness and freedom. I have always thought of myself as Joanne before I thought of myself as an American. After studying abroad, I can see how important it is to acknowledge where I come from as well as who I am.
Advice to Prospective study abroad students?
Challenge yourself. It's easy to stay in your comfort zone when you're surrounded by hundreds of other American study abroad students. I wish that I had been bolder and braver about seeking out new experiences and interacting with locals. I can't stress enough how important it is to really put yourself out there and have a thirst for adventure!