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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC students reflect on their study abroad experiences around the world

DTH Photo Illustration. UNC offers a wide range of options for study abroad.

UNC students have journeyed to dozens of places around the world and experienced new cultures, environments and perspectives. As they made their way back to UNC, current and former students reflected on their experiences abroad in email interviews with The Daily Tar Heel.

Olivia Waters, a recent graduate and global studies major, said that when she studied abroad, she went on lots of trips, ate at many fun restaurants and played 'tourist' often while studying in Lisbon, Portugal in spring 2019.

"That being said, some of my favorite moments were my times of solitude," Waters said. "I made a point to reflect on my time abroad frequently and often found myself sitting by the river, or at a cafe, or the beach and found those moments incredibly special and important.”

Brandy Abreu, a rising senior and human development and family studies major, said she has many amazing memories of studying in South Korea in spring 2021, but three specific ones stand out to her.

"The first is spending a whole week in Busan with my friends and taking classes by Gwangalli Beach and going to the Busan Culture Village," Abreu said. "Secondly, going night Squid fishing at 11 p.m. off the southern coast of Jeju Island and eating ramen with the squid we caught. Lastly, the times when my friends and I spent the whole night by the Han River talking, eating and playing games until the sun rose.”

However, study abroad students faced challenges during their travels as well. 

For Sarah Slay, a recent graduate and biology major, her challenges were related to COVID-19. She said in April of 2020, New Zealand shut down nearly everything for the whole month of April while studying at the University of Canterbury. 

"So, we had a big movie marathon and we ended up building a fort at our apartment," Slay said. "I think that was like making the best kind of a crappy situation.”

Waters said that money was also a challenge. She said although she saved a lot of money for her trip and Lisbon is a relatively affordable city, it was difficult for her to resist feeling like she was on vacation. 

"Realizing I couldn’t be as lavish as I would have liked and having to say no to trips with friends or nice dinners sometimes was difficult, but I ultimately appreciated that I got more time in Lisbon," Waters said.

Offering advice to students that are considering studying abroad, Emily Rosario, a recent graduate and global studies major, said students should try it even if they're scared. 

"Moving abroad is such an incredible experience and I would recommend it to everyone," Rosario said. "Definitely do a lot of research on the country and meet with an advisor to see if studying abroad is something that is right for you.” 

Anwar Boutayba, a rising senior and media and journalism major, said that it can be tempting for students studying abroad to speak only English and befriend only other Americans, but he encouraged prospective students to branch out.

"I don't think that that's as fulfilling as finding other international students and (getting) to know a little bit about the language you're trying to be immersed in," Boutayba said. 

Mallory Minnehan, communications and marketing manager for the UNC study abroad office, said that the pandemic has made everything different in the office over the past few years. 

"We were still able to find ways for students to get a global experience, whether or not they were actually able to leave the U.S.," Minnehan said.

For example, Collaborative Online International Learning classes allow UNC students to take classes taught jointly by a UNC professor and a professor from one of UNC's partner institutions.

"Little by little, each term they've been able to go to more and more countries, and now this summer is kind of the first time it's completely back to normal," Minnehan said.

The office has removed academic recommendations from study abroad applications to make it easier for students to apply. 

Additionally, the scholarship process is no longer separate from the study abroad application. 

“I really value that our office tries to look inward too and just figure out what barriers there are, and how we can make study abroad something that's possible for all Tar Heels,” Minnehan said.

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this article used the incorrect pronouns for Brandy Abreu. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error.