Imagine being in Ireland for St. Patrick’s Day, in Spain for the World Cup, or in a world-renowned gallery in Italy. These life-changing experiences are possible, and easier than you might think.
“It’s an experience that nobody can take away from you,” said Dr. Marta Rezvani-Lopez, the coordinator for CSUN. “It’s so much easier than (students) think.”
The California State University has a study abroad program that takes students to another country for an academic year, while paying the tuition of their home university. While some students shy away from the thought of a year away, Rezvani-Lopez emphasized that it is an academic vs. calendar year, and that students get much more out of their time than if they only went for a single semester.
“I wholeheartedly, honestly believe that they need to go for the academic year,” Rezvani said. She spent four years studying chemistry in Vienna, Austria.
She said that students spend the first semester getting used to their new environment, but that during the second they “can really take the time and learn about the culture.” CSU students are usually happy to be staying while students from other programs head home, she added.
That was the case with Manny Aguilera, a linguistics major who went to Spain, and Catherine Anderson, an art major who went to Italy.
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that she plans to “go back and spend a significant part of my life there, if not permanently.” She is trying to find out if she can go back with the same program for another year before she graduates.
“Traveling in Europe is different than actually living there,” Aguilera said. He shared stories of his weekend excursions, including the trip to Ireland, and many days spent in various jumbotron stadiums watching World Cup games, where he always ended up rooting against Spain. He also went to France.
Aguilera was in Paris about a month after the car bombings, for a concert by the band Coheed and Cambria. He recalled seeing gendarmes, France’s military police, everywhere, and the sites where the bombs had gone off.
“You had to face the reality that things could pop off at any moment,” Aguilera said. But rather than living in fear, he kept exploring.
One moment in particular stands out for him, while he was on a boat in the Strait of Gibraltar. “Seeing Spain on one side and the African coast on the other ? put things in perspective,” Aguilera said.
Such adventures are one of the things that Anderson wishes she would have done more. “Jump on any opportunity to explore,” she said. She said that she and others regretted the time (and money) they spent on the internet, trying to stay in touch with home rather than immersing themselves in their new surroundings.
“For the price of filling up my gas tank, I could be in another country!” Anderson said, detailing how quick and inexpensive plane flights were.
Staying in Florence, Anderson had rare access to aspects of the art world.
One of her professors worked at the Uffizi Gallery, one of the most famous art museums in the world. Anderson’s class got to visit the gallery when it was closed, and had access to areas that are typically not available to the public, she said.
Anderson also attended an exhibit for Jean Michel Folon, a famous artist from Belgium, right before he passed away. The event, which was held in a historic fortress, was “glorious,” Anderson said.
“I could see Florence in the background, through his sculptures,” Anderson added, recalling the night.
Anderson and Aguilera described some of the differences between life in Los Angeles and life in Europe.
Aguilera said that living abroad gave him “a better understanding of how their history plays a role” in the character of a nation. He said that the people of Spain are very proud, and that they still have “old” values, including chivalry. He also added that the French aren’t as “stuck up” as they may appear.
“It’s given me a better understanding of how they live and how they see life,” Aguilera said.
“I was walking on thousands of years of history? We’re such a baby country,” Anderson said, contrasting the age of Italy and the U.S. “They have a different sense of family and culture there.”
Both Aguilera and Anderson said they daydream about their days abroad, and miss the slower pace of life in Europe.
“Their spirit of life – it’s more passive, they make a conscious effort to enjoy the day,” Aguilera said. He described the tradition of siesta, the long break in the middle of the day where people eat and take naps.
“You have time to breathe and feel,” Anderson said. “I really want to strive to find that in my life.”
Rezvani-Lopez said that studying abroad has life benefits other than personal enlightenment. “They set themselves apart from the rest of the population, give themselves a competitive edge,” she said. “It changes the direction of their lives.”
CSUN sends between 150 and 200 students to study abroad programs each year, both international and through National Student Exchange (where students go to a school in another state). For more information, contact Student Development and International Programs at (818) 677-3053.