One of my top three goals for college was to study abroad and when I returned to the United States, I had never felt more accomplished or proud of myself. I spent almost four months living the local life in Cusco, Peru and attending classes at a local university. My professors were passionate about teaching and making sure our experience was unforgettable. Being a Spanish minor, I loved having the chance to work on my skills in a Spanish-speaking country. Whether I was at a restaurant or the market, locals offered help and were patient with me as I talked with them. They helped me with my Spanish and almost everyone asked if I would speak English with them so they could practice. Those moments made me truly realize how important it is to speak multiple languages. Having the ability to communicate with people, to be understood, and not have to rely on my cell phone or another person to translate was incredible. That has given me the push I needed to continue my studies and work on my Spanish skills every day. A goal of mine is to become bilingual or even trilingual and this experience has only propelled me further towards that goal.

This experience has also forced me to become a more confident and self-reliant person. Leaving the comfort of my home, friends, and family to live in another country was difficult, but I now know who I am without them. I am now more confident in my decision making and social skills. I am more focused on what I need to do to succeed in my academic career and beyond. For potential study abroad students, I know that it is scary to do something this life-changing. In the weeks leading up to leaving, there were so many times where I told myself “you can’t do it” and found myself rethinking the whole thing, but I am so thankful I went. The freedom this experience gave me is unlike anything else. Going to a non-traditional and developing country forced me to give up my comfortable life and see how others live in other countries.

My university understood that an important part of studying abroad is traveling, so they created a very good schedule of classes, tests, and homework that allowed us to do so and explore other parts of South America. For my Spring Break, I took a 10-Day solo trip through Ecuador! I had one backpack that held all of my belongings, traveled on buses, and slept in hostels every night. I met other travelers from all over the world and even have plans to go visit some of them from Iceland in a couple months! Having limited cell reception and not knowing a single person in the whole country was very scary at first. I doubted I would be able to finish because I had no idea what to expect. Each day was guaranteed to be different, but after planning activities in the different cities and making connections the trip became very fun. I was able to spend time on the beaches with some of the best surfing in the world, go Ziplining and Canyoning in the adventure capitol of Ecuador, hike up an active volcano, eat some of the strangest foods, stand in both hemispheres at the equator and explore the capital city of Quito. It was a jam packed 10 days and it was the best spring break I will ever have.

While in Peru, I got to travel quite a bit as well. The other students in my program and I became good friends over time and traveled together. We took horseback riding trips through the Andes Mountains, went camping in Inca archaeological sites, visited and hiked through a small part of the Amazon Jungle, and took a road trip by bus to the coast to go to the only natural desert oasis in South America. There we went sand boarding, dune buggying, and learned how Pisco, Peru’s famous drink, was made. Traveling is not a requirement of studying abroad, but these trips enhanced my entire experience. Working hard in the months leading up to leaving and saving money and my family’s support made that possible. This past semester was the most impactful one of my entire college career and I would highly recommend anyone and everyone to study abroad. It is an intimidating process, but if you are passionate about it and truly want the experience for yourself you will make it happen. This experience has made the world a smaller place and has shown me the value in traveling as a local, not a tourist. I have the travel bug in me now and I hope that it spreads. I am looking forward to when studying abroad becomes more popular in the future so others can have those life-changing opportunities and shine their lights around the world.

Jenna Yates is majoring in Communication and spent the Spring 2019 semester studying abroad in Cuzco, Peru through KEI. Jenna had the following to say studying abroad, “Everyone should have the chance to study abroad because it provides experiences that will push them to their fullest potential and widen their eyes to the countless opportunities our world offers. Submerging yourself in another country teaches lessons beyond the classroom that will have a lasting impact. Living life like a local in Peru gave me a deeper understanding of the culture and the people.”

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