Hola, ciao, cheers –words that students get to hear regularly when they study abroad. Whether it be in England, Italy, Spain, or Panama City studying abroad is an experience that no one will forget. Florida State University has the 11th best study abroad program in the country according to the Institute of International Education primarily due to the First Year Abroad (FYA) program. The program contains four main locations and many more locations for specialized study. The study abroad program is open to any student in good disciplinary and academic standing with the school. Students that study abroad after their freshman year have already had the chance to adjust to college, but what about the students who study abroad during their freshman year? Do they come back mal-adjusted, or with a unique view of college life that makes them capable of handling the challenges college throws at students?
Knowing from experience, freshman year is when students find their friend group and when people form these groups it’s not impossible, but can be difficult to join in.
“Studying abroad as a freshman can be extremely rewarding. You have the opportunity to learn so many new life skills all while adapting to a new culture,” says Quentin England, a student who came to FSU’s Tallahassee campus from England to study abroad. “It can be rewarding financially too! Here at Florida State University, studying abroad for your first year entitles you to tuition at an in-state level for the remainder of your undergraduate career. This is especially attractive to people from outside the state of Florida, such as myself.”
FYA is a program in which FSU students spend the entirety of their freshman year getting accustomed to a new culture. This program allows students to immerse themselves by visiting different parts of the location they are in and participating in the cultural experiences enabling them to learn more about themselves.
“I studied abroad for a whole year; to say I have lots of things I could label as my favorite part would be an understatement,” said England. “Despite this, I still know what my answer would be: the fact that I have a story to tell. Whether it be in a job interview or an awkward family dinner, I have a story to tell about how I threw myself into the unknown at the age of 18.”
On the other side of the spectrum, students who come back after studying abroad might regret the decision, due to the social pressures they have to adjust to when returning to school. Knowing from experience, freshman year is when students find their friend group and when people form these groups it’s not impossible, but can be difficult to join in.
“I often felt alone and with the stress of school, a bit depressed. It helps to lean on those you meet abroad but even that can be difficult, especially if you guys didn’t mesh that great or people grow their separate ways when finding themselves on campus,” says Christina Williams who was an FYA student in Panama. “I learned about many clubs, organizations, and events later than others and didn’t always have someone to attend things with because finding friends was difficult. I am a black woman attending a predominantly white institution, so finding people that I can relate to and be myself with was hard in the other countries as well as back home.
They are put in the same situation as freshmen; meeting new people, getting to know the campus, and getting to know themselves better.
Something that might be hard to adjust to for the FYA students can be adjusting to a larger campus with more people. The students are used to a smaller FSU study center in their location abroad, so when they are coming back they have to readjust their mental image of what college is.
“I had always wanted to study abroad but looking back, I would rather have established a foundation at FSU first before going out of the country,” says Williams. “Having a group of friends or support system, an understanding of the University (as far as the location of classes, resources available, and programs/clubs offered on Main Campus), and a more mature approach to college would have been super beneficial to have before taking on such a huge feat.”
Students beginning their university experience at the main campus sophomore year can be viewed in the same way as beginning the experience during their freshman year. They are put in the same situation as freshmen; meeting new people, getting to know the campus, and getting to know themselves better.
“It was a great choice for me because I was able to explore and figure out what direction I wanted to take during college,” said Bridget Foster, the International Program ambassador for Florence FYA. “By moving to another country as my first time living away from home, I learned a lot about how to organize travel, how to adjust to unfamiliar situations, and how to be self-reliant.”
After talking with students who participated in the FYA program, as well as students who studied abroad after their first year, it became clear that many of the students who studied abroad during their freshman year were not necessarily mal-adjusted while starting their sophomore year but were, in fact, glad they had the unique experience. While others have regrets due to the troubles socially and the feeling of being overwhelmed they might encounter when returning.
“Going abroad as a freshman definitely made me a more confident person and exposed me to new ways of viewing the world,” said Foster.
If you would like to know more about the International Program, visit their website https://international.fsu.edu.