Beginning her love for travel during her own study abroad experience, Diana Arízaga has the pleasure of living in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico as a Resident Director for IFSA-Butler. She uses this position to help students make the most of their study abroad experience and learn about the culture of Mexico. 

Diana Arizaga - IFSA Butler RD Mexico (1)
Diana is the third from the left.

What brought you to be a Resident Director?
My own experience as an exchange student –back in the day– provided me with the basics of learning to navigate and negotiate different realities. I soon realized that the world out there is so interesting and cultures and culture-learning is complex and fascinating at the same time. I started to apply this learning to my every-day activities: new jobs, professional relationships, and the way in which we learn and teach began to made more sense! Then I decided that this is what I wanted to do and I have been, for the last 25 years working as an assistant director and now as a Resident Director, dedicated to fostering an environment conducive to this type of learning for my students.

What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
Mexico is an amazing country, full of contrasts, rich history, wonderful food and interesting traditions. Despite the current situation, it is worth getting to know. Mérida, located in the South-East of the country is still, in my opinion, waiting to be discovered. This city is a living laboratory of the ancient Mayan culture and the contemporary ones. The Mayan influence is present everywhere: architecture, food, traditions and rituals. This mixed in with the non-Mayan (Spanish descent, Lebanese and Mestizo) populations, make for an incredibly diverse and interesting place. Although, it does help to be located so close to the Caribbean.

What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
This is a tough one; they seem to know everything about me (and my husband). Particularly towards the end of the semester we become very familiar with each other. Perhaps the fact that had I not had this job, I would be doing something related to art.

What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Resident Director?
Watching students go from very shy, afraid and quiet to self-confident, independent and outspoken in a very short time. I truly think it is an honor to be able to witness this change, it is something their own parents may not see. I truly appreciate this.

Diana Arizaga - IFSA Butler RD Mexico (2)
Day of the Dead Celebration

What are some of the challenges of your job?
With Mexico being so much in the news for the wrong reasons currently, my biggest challenge for the last four to five years has been trying to very intentionally change the narrative of war and destruction, to one where we can showcase and try to focus on the good things about this place. We still have beautiful sunsets on the water, are able to taste the freshest of foods, discover beautiful things and meet people that warm our hearts with their actions. Ultimately, just trying to see beyond the negative and focus on the amazing and the positive. This can be very exhausting at times.

What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
Context and awareness. I know this does not say much, but when students begin to think about the appropriate contexts for pretty much everything and start to become aware of this, they really start to appreciate their experience. This, obviously, is one of the most difficult things to do, and it does not happen automatically upon stepping foot in a different country. It happens with time, preparation and patience…a little sense of humor comes in handy too.

What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Embrace change, be flexible and enjoy everything, the little and the big things. This experience will not repeat. You may be back to Mérida a million times after being here for a semester, but the way you will see this place for the first time and the people you will see it with, will always stay with you. The thoughts that go through your head when you see Chichen-Itzá or Uxmal, etc., for the first time, are indescribable and yours only. This can be applied to everything you do when you study abroad in a different country for the first time.

What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
Flexibility, a positive attitude and a great sense of humor. Everything else, you can find here.

What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
Develop a sense of context and awareness. This can be applied to everything in life.

To learn more about studying abroad through Oregon State University, check out this link!

Ally5Ally Malone is studying Chemistry and is in the Honors College at Oregon State University. Currently an ambassador for  the OSU Office of Global Opportunities, Ally is a travel enthusiast. In fall of 2014 she went on exchange to Lancaster University in  Lancaster, United Kingdom. Read on to hear about hiking,  exploring and learning abroad!

The Lake District in Northern England is known for its tremendous views, rigorous hiking and stormy weather. Luckily for me, Lancaster University is situated right on the outskirts of this National Park. Although I wouldn’t call myself an experienced hiker, I was determined that the best way to see the English countryside would be to join the Lancaster University Hiking Club.

The first trip to the Lake District proved quite challenging. We took a large coach down windy cobblestone streets to the small town of Langdale. There were three hikes to choose from with varying levels of difficulty. Being ambitious and a little clueless of the length of a kilometer, I excitedly chose the hardest hike and was soon on my way down the rolling, green hills to the trail head.Ally2

The first three kilometers were up make-shift granite stairs that climbed over 1500 feet to the top of the small mountain. The heavy morning fog clouded the entire view of the valley and made it seem like I was floating amongst the clouds. Despite my gasping for air and the persistent stich in my side, I found the strength to continue to put one foot in front of the other.

At the top, the fog had lifted with the defrosting of the morning and the view of the cascading valleys below was astonishing. It was here that it dawned on me just how outrageous it was that I came to England, utterly alone, and felt at ease and comfortable.

The journey of this hike stands as a symbol for my entire experience in England. It wasn’t always easy and I had to constantly work to survive in the new culture, but the ups and downs made the experience richer and more rewarding than I could have ever hoped for. If I had to take away just one thing from my time abroad, it would be to take chances on new experiences that challenge my knowledge and body and trust myself to succeed.


Ryan in Spain l Ryan LorenzRyan Lorenz is a travel enthusiast. After his travels to both England and Kenya, his journey lead him to being a Resident Director for IFSA-Butler in Spain. Currently living and working in Barcelona, Spain, Ryan loves to help students fall in love with this unique city.

What brought you to be a Resident Director?
Good fortune! I never planned to work in study abroad, although I was a study abroad student in London back in ’84. That experience opened my eyes to the wider world, and led to my Peace Corps stint in Kenya. From there, it was one small step to being a study abroad director. After 26 years of doing the same I cannot imagine a life different from this one!

What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
Spain is not a nation. It is many! Four distinct nations and languages of which the Spanish language is only one. One can say the same about Barcelona and Catalonia, which is not only Catalan, Spanish and European- but also Chinese, Russian, Pakistani…the whole world lives here! I have lived here for seven years now and still find it complex, interesting and wonderful.

What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
I have fabulous stamp and comic collections.

What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Resident Director?
My own abroad experiences have transformed my life. I love watching others make the same journey. Feeling like I am part of that change really energizes me.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
Dealing with ignorance and inappropriate behavior. Fortunately this only applies to a few students! The rest are fabulous.

What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
Adapting their homegrown expectations to a new cultural environment. That is normal, of course, but slows down their ability to fully comprehend their new and temporary home. I also think that some students have a very short attention span, which is a real handicap when trying to figure out what is going on around you when you understand few if any of the cultural cues.

What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Lower your expectations. Less is more. Better to dig deep than skim the surface…you experience less yet more profoundly.

What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
The right attitudes! Flexibility, patience, and a sense of humor.

What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
No matter how much you think you know, you in fact know very little. Learning is constant and continuous.

To learn more about going abroad at OSU, check out this link!

reka1When Réka Futász was a student, she embarked on her own study abroad journey to Brisbane, Australia. Inspired by her trip, she is now a Resident Director with Academic Programs International (API) in Budapest, Hungary. Now, she gets to help other students love studying abroad as much as she did!

What brought you to be a Resident Director?
I studied abroad in Brisbane, Australia and enjoyed it a lot. As a Resident Director I can help students get the most of their study abroad experience and provide a safe environment for them to experience a kind of lifestyle that is very different from what they are used to at home.

What are some unique aspects of your city and country?
Budapest is a city of about 2 million people with a very lively cultural life, so there is always something new to see. We are also very close to many popular destinations in Europe that are easily accessible by train or low-cost airlines. Vienna is a 2.5-hour train ride away and you can get to Berlin, Paris or Rome in under 2 hours by plane.

What is one thing most of your students may not know about you?
I am a certified scuba driver and got my license on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

What are some of your favorite aspects of being a Resident Director?
I love seeing students become more and more independent as the semester progresses and seeing them discover new things about themselves. It’s rewarding to see when students’ friends and family come to visit them and they are proud to show off their new home and all the places they have discovered in Budapest.

What are some of the challenges of your job?
Many students travel all over Europe during the weekend, so sometimes it can be difficult to get them to stay in Budapest. We can show them cultural events/venues they would not necessarily go to on their own, like the flea market or the nearby Buda hills, where you can go on wonderful hikes.

OSU student Natalie Suderman is on the far left!
API Students on a trip to Transylvania, Romania. OSU student Natalie Suderman is on the far left!

What have you seen as the biggest challenge for incoming students?
The language barrier and getting used to the fact that they do not always understand what people are saying around them. Our students all take Hungarian at the university, so that helps a lot as the semester progresses. Also, the first few days of getting used to the public transportation system can be challenging for those who are not used to it back home, but once they get the hang of it, students love how they can get everywhere quickly using their unlimited public transportation passes. Also, our academic system is different from that in the United States: there is much more emphasis on independent study and fewer teacher-directed homework assignments, so that’s an adjustment for students.

What is your advice for students planning to attend your program, or to study abroad in your country?
Make sure you read up a little on European history and politics. Corvinus University has many international students from all over Europe, and politics in general is a common topic to talk about here, so it helps if you know some of the basics!

What is one thing you think students shouldn’t forget to pack for life in your country?
Waterproof and comfortable walking shoes – we walk everywhere and use public transportation. And warm clothing for the winter – it is cold November through February (we get snow most years), so a sweatshirt is not enough!

What do you think is the most important take-away for education abroad students?
Learning how to function as an independent adult, including being able to navigate foreign places confidently on their many trips around Europe, adjusting to living in a student apartment, being responsible for making/buying their own food and keeping the household together. Because Corvinus University has students from many nationalities, learning how to collaborate on group projects with students from various backgrounds can be challenging, but ultimately very rewarding.

To find out more about Réka’s program, check out this link!

Rosa Keller was drawn to Thailand because of her love for Thai food. In fall of 2014, she studied in Khon Kaen, Thailand, through CIEE. At Oregon State University, Rosa is majoring in both Nutrition and Anthropology. During her time abroad, she was able to integrate her knowledge of people and food by conducting a nutrition intervention in rural northeast Thailand.

Rosa and Children l Rosa Keller
Before traveling to Thailand, I had no idea how much I would learn about intervention planning, public health, and group work. Having so much freedom and knowing that the work we were doing was really helping people live healthier lives gave me so much motivation to do my best. The last couple of months of my time in Thailand were dedicated to conducting research, planning community visits, and finally, implementing a public health intervention based on community need.

Our group conducted a nutrition education and a diabetes screening intervention in a rural villageCuisine l Rosa Keller in northeast Thailand. We decided to focus on these topics due to an increasing rate of Type-2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2DM) in Thailand, specifically in the northeast region. Our initial research concluded that Nonsang Village had a high prevalence of T2DM but a low rate of diabetes screening. Additionally, we observed a lack of awareness of healthy portion sizes and dietary practices. Our research in the community led us to develop our intervention.

First, we held a community dinner where we educated villagers on healthy portion sizes, mindful eating, and the biological and behavioral factors that lead to development of T2DM. All of the Rosa1food that was prepared for the dinner was either grown or purchased from the village to ensure that the meal was sustainable. The menu included things like steamed veggies, chili sauces for dipping, omelets, and spicy green papaya salad, with fruit for dessert. The following day, we worked with the Health Promoting Hospital and village health volunteers to hold a T2DM screening session. For both events, there were around 30 participants in a village with a population of around 500 people, which was our expected outcome.

Overall, the intervention was a success; but, most importantly, through our experience we were able to build a strong relationship with the community. I truly hope that our intervention empowered the villagers to eat healthy and be more mindful of their dietary intake. Through this intervention, I was able to learn how community participation is an important asset to a successful intervention.

Laurie Armatas has been a Registered Nurse at Good Samaritan Hospital in the labor and delivery department for 20 years. Her daughter, Hilary, is following in her footsteps in becoming a nurse. While majoring in Public Health at OSU, Hilary went on an IE3 Global Internship to Durban and Cape Town, South Africa, to be part of the Child and Family Health International program. In this entry, Laurie writes about how it felt to send her child to South Africa, and provides a mother’s perspective on education abroad.

Hilary in Cape Town, South Africa.

When Hilary heard that she had been chosen to go to South Africa on a medical internship with IE3 Global she was ecstatic. She had spent a year working to accomplish the goals she had set for herself that would make her a desirable candidate for the program. As her mother I was incredibly happy for her, but I must confess that there was some trepidation. She was going to be traveling half way around the world, and immersed in a culture she knew very little about.

Working in the health care field myself, I worried that practices in a developing country may not be what I believe to be safest for the practitioner. Would they teach her to wear protective covering when needed? Would there be resources available to provide the protective covering for her? I also worried that she might not realize what she needed to do to be safe, not just in the hospitals and clinics, but out in the communities as well. What would the families she would be living with be like? Would they support her if she needed it?  I gave her far more instruction than I’m sure she wanted or needed, and then I left her with probably the most important advice…get all she possibly could from the experience, open her eyes as well as her mind, and enjoy herself!

She followed my suggestions and had what she describes as the “best time in her life”. She was pretty sad when it was time to come home. The adjustment once home seemed to be hard. Her situation is likely different from others because she came back to hear she had been accepted into nursing school and would be leaving her friends at Oregon State to pursue her nursing degree. In any case, she came home a more mature and self-confident person, with clearly defined goals in place. The experiences she had in South Africa really helped her fine tune the path she wants to travel and the goals she wants to meet.

My advice to other parents whose children are heading off to experience the world on an IE3 Global internship would be to learn what you can about the culture they will be immersed in so you can help them to be safe (they will probably think you are being overprotective), stay in contact with them (we used Whats APP on our cell phones ), and they will likely need (want?) more money than you think. Hilary earned all she took with her, but ended up borrowing some so she could do the once in a life time things that came up (bungee jumping and caged shark diving!!!). Finally, I would advise parents to send them off to have the “best time in their life”.

When I was in nursing school there was no treatment other than supportive care for HIV/AIDS. Hilary’s internship opportunities taught me that it is now considered a chronic condition that can be well managed with available resources and education. I think it would be fulfilling to help provide that, and to be a tiny bit instrumental in improving the health status of a population in need. Because of the amazing experiences Hilary had, we are talking about the possibility of going back together once she has finished nursing school to volunteer in a medical venue.

While at OSU, Charlene was an Environmental Science and International Degree student with a minor in German. She studied abroad at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Freiburg, Germany) on the OUS Baden-Württemberg Exchange Program during the 2012-2013 academic year. Now, she has moved back to Freiburg to attend a Master’s program. In this entry, Charlene writes about the challenges associated with returning to live in to the place she studied abroad.

One morning last December I was completely absorbed in thought while on my way to class.Profile l Charlene Marek It was raining and I was waiting to cross the street. I was in Freiburg, and had been for about three months. During those three months I had moved twice, completed three Master’s courses and been selected to be a student representative for our class generation. But this morning, my mind was reaching back into the not-so-distant-past. If you’ve been abroad before, you know that those experiences never leave you. I had spent my junior year in Germany and my senior year back at OSU, devising my return to Germany for graduate school.

On this rainy morning I asked myself if I was really back in Freiburg; the Freiburg I longed for during my senior year in Oregon. My Master’s program is in English. This is both a blessing and a curse in Germany. Although I can study with ease, it is often difficult to find time to practice German. This time in Germany, my life is completely different than it was two years ago. After my first time abroad, I arrived back to the states to finish my last year at OSU. I came home with a suitcase and a bag of “post-study-abroad-blues”. It was difficult to readjust to every day life and culture in the United States. Yet, here I was on this dreary morning, standing in Germany once again, feeling just as disjointed and unprepared for re-adaption back into Freiburg as I had felt when returning to the U.S. a year before.

As I stood underneath gloomy skies akin to those in Corvallis, I began to reflect on my readjustment to the United States. I suddenly felt a tinge of regret and bitterness when I remembered how I had struggled to re-embrace my own culture the previous year. Why was I reflecting on this? Wasn’t I happy to be back abroad? I was just beginning to come out of my re-culture-shock phase of living in Germany again. Many things in Freiburg were different than I had remembered and, many things had simply changed while I was gone. I had also changed through my re-adaptation to the United States. I began to realize these circumstances and feelings were very similar to how I’d felt in the United States, so why had I now been re-experiencing this in Freiburg?

Quite simply: each study abroad experience for each person, each place and each purpose, is very unique and individual, maybe even one-of-a-kind. It is not something to be recreated, even when we consciously or subconsciously decide to do just that! I realized I had subconsciously hoped that my journey back to Freiburg as a Master’s student would return me to that romantic junior year of study abroad when German culture, language and the irrevocably liberating independence of living abroad for the first time, were all so foreign to me.

It finally dawned on me: we are responsible for the interpretation of our own experiences.

Returning to your first study abroad destination again for an extended period can allow you to better process and reflect on that remarkable experience, especially in fully unpacking and contextualizing its significance in your life. But don’t forget, life’s a trip- it takes us places- but never in reverse. New adventures lie ahead.

Hiking in Germany l Charlene Marek
To read Charlene’s entry about her first time abroad follow this link.