Maggie Dec, '13
"I used to hate the rain," says Maggie Dec '14, "but now I don't mind it one bit."
Dec, a psychology major while an undergraduate student at Fisher, made this declaration after returning from a semester abroad in Limerick, Ireland. After all, the rain made possible a favorite memory, one that flanked her trip from beginning to end.
"Before landing at Shannon [Airport] for the first time, I remember looking down out of my window and seeing the most beautiful shades of green," Dec recalls. "Ireland looked like a giant paint palette of every shade of green, each shade separated by different hedgerows of trees. It was my favorite sight to see landing and taking off."
An appreciation for precipitation and the riot of greenery it had wrought are not all Dec took away from her foreign study experience. For one thing, she was able to earn credit toward her degree by taking classes at the University of Limerick. She appreciated that her financial aid and scholarship awards were transferrable to the university in Ireland.
Another bonus was that, while she got to see a lot of her home-base city, she wasn’t confined to spending time in Limerick alone. The AIFS program in which she was enrolled included a package deal of three-day trips to Dublin, County Cork, and the Aran Isles.
Dec also racked up a considerable number of passport stamps as well. Ireland's location made travel to several other countries quick and easy. While in England, Dec took a spin on the London Eye, the gigantic Ferris wheel that allows passengers a bird's-eye view of the city. A tour around portions of the historic but unfinished La Segreda Familia basilica awaited her in Barcelona, Spain. But let's give Dec a chance to share the rest of her European itinerary:
"I experienced Oktoberfest in Germany. I ventured to the very top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I was blessed by the Pope in Rome. I climbed to the top of Arthur's Seat in Scotland. I had authentic Belgian waffles and chocolate in Belgium," she says. "The experiences and memories I have are uncountable."
Her semester abroad also featured a minor misadventure. Dec and a few others got lost in Barcelona while trying to find their hostel, and no one in the group spoke Spanish. In fits and spurts, they managed to piece together enough Spanish words to enlist the help of people in the area in guiding them safely to their destination. Dec describes the experience as "nerve-wracking," but even that could not dampen her enthusiasm for exploration.
"Go everywhere you've ever wanted to go," she advises other students about to embark o their own foreign-study adventures. "Spend all of your money. Don't hold back. Take every chance you can possibly get."
As for Dec herself, she hopes to one day revisit Ireland, taking in its rain-washed landscape before the plane touches down on the tarmac. "I can't wait to see that sight again," she says.
Kristen Furey, '17
For nursing student Kristen Furey '17, there's no place like home—no matter where that may be.
Furey had never been away from the Rochester area for an extended period of time before spending a semester in Italy through Fisher's foreign study program. The thought of studying abroad had appealed to her early on, after she heard about the program repeatedly during her first-year nursing seminar. She signed up to attend the spring of her sophomore year in Rome, which "seemed like the perfect fairytale setting."
Once she had been accepted into the program, she set about preparing for the journey. She attended meetings, talked to students and family members who had been abroad in the past, and joined the Facebook group for American Institute of Foreign Study (AIFS), Fisher’s partner in several study abroad programs, including Rome. She was set to take two Italian language courses and electives in Roman art and the historical significance of food, the credits for which would be applied toward obtaining her nursing degree.
Travel, lodging, and a meal plan were included in Furey's semester abroad. "The costs really equaled out as a semester being at Fisher, besides added expenses," she says.
Furey admits that when she first arrived in Italy, she experienced a bit of culture shock. Everything was different, from the size of her sleeping quarters to the timing of evening meals. "[T]he normal time to eat was 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.," she notes. "Sometimes we would go earlier because we were just so hungry."
She got used to such differences pretty quickly, and was soon navigating her new city like a pro. Still, "I went through moments throughout the semester where I really did miss the comforts of home," she says.
Often getting past those momentary lapses was as easy as getting out of the apartment she shared with three young women and enjoying all that Rome had to offer. "We were in a beautiful area and the program gave us many restaurants that were close to us. We always had something to do," she says.
"We never watched TV or any of the things you would do in your free time at home," she adds. "You had all the entertainment you needed right outside your door."
What wasn't right outside their door typically was a short trip away. Furey counts a side trip to Paris among her favorite memories of her time abroad. "I remember the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower. It was really surreal," she says.
All in all, the study abroad program seems to have had a positive, and lasting, impact on Furey. "I am better-rounded, I am more considerate to others, and I just have this feeling of completeness inside that I had never felt before,” she says.
Her advice to anyone studying abroad is to enjoy every moment of the experience. "Do not stress out, just enjoy it."
She speaks from experience. The young woman who started her foreign study program being homesick discovered something very interesting after she had returned to the United States.
“It was not until I got home and looked back on the experience that I realized just how much it [Rome] felt like home," she says.
Cody McLean, '15
Sometimes deciding where to go on a study-abroad semester isn’t so much a matter or what you know—or even what you’d like to know—as it is who you know. Such was the case with psychology major Cody McLean ’15, who traveled to South America courtesy of Fisher’s foreign study program.
An adventure-seeker since he was a young boy, McLean felt sort of destined to travel the world. During his senior year of high school, he struck up a friendship with an exchange student from Peru. "She regaled me with stories of her home country, making it sound very cool and encouraging me to come,” he says. "As time went on, I kept seeing more signs that I was practically destined to go to Peru."
When McLean saw that Fisher offered a semester in Lima, he knew it was time to pull the trigger on that particular travel dream. His semester abroad was every bit as wonderful as he had imagined from hearing the exchange student’s stories. The only thing he wasn’t prepared for, however, was how to navigate in his new surroundings.
"I got lost quite frequently for the first month or so, constantly coming home late because I had to take different buses or even end up paying for a taxi just to get home," he says.
Even when he managed to catch the correct bus, McLean was not particularly enamored of public transportation in the area. He describes being crammed alongside a couple dozen passengers inside small buses meant to hold about two-thirds that many people. Drivers would "weave through traffic and squeeze through with barely inches of room between them and the other vehicles."
Concerns about transportation aside, McLean found plenty to like about the semester in Lima. In addition to attending classes, he took part in a service project in the nearby town of Pachacamac, building houses through the nonprofit organization TECHO. There he formed a bond with the families whose homes he was about to build, living among them and sharing meals with them.
McLean also made plenty of new friends among the workers from his TECHNO volunteer division. Each student in the group was supposed to tell a little bit about him- or herself during an introductory exercise. After giving his name and saying he was from New York, McLean improvised and told the group, "Yo soy fiesta (I am party)!" Fiesta quickly became his TEHNO nickname. Group leaders even made up a song for him using the moniker. McLean wound up leading the singing and dancing during the group’s closing festivities.
"The most bizarre thing which I still can’t believe today is that I was treated like a celebrity there," he says of his time in Pachacamac.
McLean says he became stronger and more confident thanks to his semester abroad. The experience was every bit the adventure he had hoped it would be, and then some.
"I have seen so much more of life and the world now," he reports, "and can say that I have a more experienced and mature viewpoint now – while still having an insane amount of fun."
Allison Seitz, '16
It pays to plan. Just ask Allison Seitz ’16, who studied in Salamanca, Spain, over the course of the 2014-15 school year.
A double major in Criminology and Spanish, Seitz first heard about the study abroad programs offered at St. John Fisher College from a student presentation given during her freshman seminar. The presenters’ passion about the subject lit in her a spark for the adventure of living and studying in a foreign country.
“I began researching study abroad and asking other people about it, which made me even more committed to the idea,” Seitz says. “I think I decided by the end of my fall semester of sophomore year that I was 100 percent in.”
Over the course of the Spring 2014 semester, she took to the Internet to learn everything she could about her upcoming trip, from Spanish culture tips and pictures of Salamanca to such mundane tasks as how to best pack for an extended trip abroad. She also received advice from another Fisher student who had been on the same study abroad program.
All her preparation paid off as Seitz readily acclimated to her new surroundings. “Many of my friends abroad had a hard time adjusting and went through serious culture shock. … The research helped me prepare, so some things that came as a shock to others did not surprise me,” she says.
The transition to life in Salamanca was made that much easier by the welcoming nature of her host family. Seitz fondly recalls dinners with the family, talking about school and politics, and helping her hosts’ grandchildren with their homework. Being immersed with the family and speaking conversationally helped with her Spanish-language studies, taken through the University of Salamanca.
When she wasn’t with her host family or studying, Seitz was able to soak up quite a bit of the local culture. She often ventured into the city with friends, including students from several international universities who were in Spain on study-abroad programs of their own. In the evening they would go to cafes to play trivia games, sing karaoke, or watch soccer with the natives. Weekends were usually reserved for travel to other Spanish cities or nearby European countries.
Despite meticulous planning and opting for the full academic-year program, Seitz wound up feeling as if she could have gotten even more out of the experience.
“There is just so much to do in a short time,” she says. “While going to classes and doing homework you also want to travel. There are so many countries to see you could go every weekend, but you also want to get to know your city. I still feel like I didn’t have enough of either … .”
Seitz’s advice for students planning to study abroad shouldn’t come as a shock. “Research your country and anywhere you want to go,” she says. “The more you know beforehand the more comfortable you will feel when you are there.” She also recommends not sticking with people and places you know, but branching out and trying new things while away from home, whether that is tasting different cuisines or forging friendships with people from various cultures.
“While abroad you are forced to be independent, and that makes you learn about yourself a lot,” she says. “I believe I changed while abroad, and I am truly happy about the person I have become.”