Every international exchange experience is different.
Some students enter college waiting for the chance (“Back to freshman year I wanted to do study abroad”) and others more reluctantly (“I decided why not, I’ll travel”).
Some desire familiar aspects (“I wanted to understand [the language] the people in the country I was going to”) while others wanted something completely new (“To me, Europe was a little too westernized and didn’t give me a different enough experience”).
In the end, though, most find themselves changed after, with a new perspective not only on where they visited but their own culture, as well.
“When I went there I saw our culture,” said College of Business student Lyndsay Toll, who studied in Murcia, Spain. “Once you step out of it you see how everyone else views you. You see how you handle a situation different from the rest of society.”
Nearly 100 students took part in the Arthur Stonehill International Exchange Program last school year. The program allows College of Business Students to earn an option in International Business, which includes coursework at OSU before and after an international experience.
Toll said when she landed in Spain there was an initial anxiety as she got acclimated to her home for the next few months.
“I remember being in the airport and standing there, like what do I do now?” she said. “I called my landlord and could not understand him. It’s frightening. You’re in this whole other country, you have no idea where you are, bags and suitcases everywhere and you feel so vulnerable.”
She combatted that by immediately getting involved everywhere she could, meeting new people and finding opportunities to join in.
“I went to all the social events, played soccer, got a tutoring job teaching English,” Toll said. “I just tried to make connections with as many people as I could and adopt the culture and the language.”
Soccer became a common bond between Toll and fellow exchange students. A varsity player in high school and intramural player at OSU, Toll took every chance to join pick up games.
“My favorite parts were playing soccer everyday, and the culture around that was fun,” she said. “I’d always get asked that question. So you like soccer? Are you for Barcelona or Madrid? I’m impartial; I’m not from Spain.”
Willen Sin attended City University, the largest business school in Hong Kong, studying finance, Chinese business culture and other topics.
While he had also been looking forward to a study abroad experience, Sin didn’t know where he wanted to go until a conversation with his father.
“I talked with my father, and he encouraged me to go to Hong Kong,” Sin said. “One, it would strengthen my language and if I wanted an option to go somewhere to work, where would I want to go? Hong Kong topped both of those lists.”
Sin said it took a bit to get used to a more hands-off teaching style at the university, as well as the speed of living in a major city like Hong Kong.
“The Asian culture, even coming from an Asian family descent and growing up in that, it’s so much different then I could have imagined being there,” he said. “They can be very fast paced and slow paced at the same time.”
Lauren Hines came to OSU skeptical about a study abroad experience, but was eventually convinced by friends who had traveled themselves.
“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing,” Hines said. “It was hearing the stories of other students who’d gone.”
Hines had visited Italy in the past and so decided to go to Asia, eventually settling on Singapore.
At Singapore Management University Hines studied family business, international finance and other subjects.
A member and officer in a number of organizations at OSU, Hines found the exchange schedule freer.
“There’s meetings constantly and things to do here, but there it was kind of a clean slate,” she said. “I only had classes Monday and Tuesday.”
That gave Hines time to visit not only more of Singapore but also Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong, meeting up with fellow OSU exchange students such as Sin.
The schedule gave her time to interact with a number of different people and cultures.
“I spent holidays with an Indian family in Singapore,” Hines said. “The locals would take us to eat or meet their friends.”
It also meant that often she stuck out as the American of the group.
“They say nobody but Americans say totally,” she said. “I don’t think I say it that much but I must. One time I dropped food somewhere and that was called very American.”
For all three, that added self-awareness was a key learning point in the trip.
“I learned that I am very small and that this world has so much to offer,” Sin said of his time in Hong Kong. “It challenges yourself to do better because you never know once you get out in the real market just how many people you’re competing against.”
Sin said the experience gave him not only a more global outlook in his thinking, but expanded his network of friends.
“Now if I go to Europe I know I have a place to stay in Austria, a place I can go to in Sweden or Thailand,” he said. “And opportunities may come from that.”
For Toll, living in Spain helped teach her to see problems and issues in a new way, something she thinks will help when she starts her career.
“The biggest lesson was just understanding that not everybody thinks the same,” Toll said. “Going in with an open mind and perspective and trying to be understanding. I think that’s an important lesson as we continue to become a more global economy.”
That self-discovery is something she didn’t expect, though looking back she said that’s the excitement of a study abroad experience.
“You never really know what you’re going to experience until you go out there and put your self in a position where you have to fend for yourself,” Toll said.
All three said they’d recommend the experience to any College of Business student, regardless of what he or she plans to do after graduating.
“I knew I’d like it, but it was a completely life changing experience,” Hines said.