Meet Alston Willard

Program and Location:

Summer, Belgium: Environmental Science and Engineering Study Abroad; Leuven, Belgium

Major/Minor:

Biological and Agricultural Engineering conc. Ecological Engineering

Why did you choose to study abroad?

I thought I didn’t have time to Study Abroad because I was already on the 5 year track. This study abroad not only fit into a summer so I wouldn’t have to take another semester off, but it took care of some of my major classes.

What did you learn about yourself?

I learned to be more confident in my navigation skills. I always knew I could get somewhere if I really put my mind to it. But with 4 day weekends every weekend I traveled like a mad man, and concreted my confidence in traveling. I learned that I can do a lot more than I previously thought and learned to be more sure of myself and to follow the dreams I was to scared to follow before.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

The classes I took while abroad were very rigorous engineering classes and honestly kicked my butt a little. Saying that I learned a whole lot about what my major is and every Thursday we would travel to various water treatment facilities and that’s were my learning really took off. I could now see the impacts I could make with all those silly equations that I saw in the classroom. This wonderful experience was followed by a Barbecue with all the study abroad residents that night and a four day weekend to travel. The end of the week Barbecue and the excitement to hop on a train and travel the next day was my favorite part by far! but what I came away from the classroom has exponentially helped me back home.

What advice do you have to future study abroad students?

Do not feel like you should follow what your friends said they did on their study abroad. Don’t feel pressured to have to make the experience perfect because it will be no matter what you do! You will make friends that last a lifetime, and see a beautiful country wherever you end up! It will change your life and you will have the most fun without following a Pinterest page or friends advice!

How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at NC State? Did you take any field trips or do anything outside of the traditional classroom?

The classes offered in Belgium were taught by Texas A&M professors and honestly were very similar to what I would have done in the states. The part that made this experience unique and better was the field trips we took. We took a field trip every Thursday at the end of the school week that lasted all day. We went to composting sites, water treatment facilities, hog farms with wetland mitigation installed, and even breweries! I learned more than I ever could in semester long class or even in a four year long degree. I know exactly how to do my future job and know how a water treatment site works. Most of the people in my major have the frustration of not knowing exactly they will be doing after they graduate or even what their major is even about. This study abroad cemented it for me and passed more usable knowledge on to me than I ever thought was possible in 5 weeks.

Would you do it again?

I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was very worth it!

In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?

I didn’t even know you could study abroad as a student. I heard about those who did study abroad in high school but I thought those people were untouchable. I could never do that! I wasn’t prepared and I didn’t start taking college classes early enough to clear up my schedule for a study abroad. I was screwed! When this dream became a reality I could hardly hold back my excitement to do something my parents or even grandparents had ever done. While abroad I had to play the part that I knew exactly what I was doing so I didn’t stand out among those who “had this planned since birth” and had parental advice for traveling over seas. My parents had never done this type of thing so I had no one to ask about what to bring or what to expect. Luckily I had friends and advisers that helped me out enough to make it to Europe with enough essentials to be comfortable but I had to learn a lot, and do it very quickly while over there.

Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?

Learn everything you can about going abroad. Get help from your advisers! They are there to help and they are very good at their jobs. I also highly recommend talking to your peers about what it was like to study abroad. They will tell the nitty gritty that are relevant to our age group. You will learn a lot while abroad and always be willing to learn and try new things. Step out the comfort zone! You definitely will not be 100% prepared to go abroad, but that okay! You are good enough to be there and you will survive I promise.

Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?

I always had my friends back home, but everyone that is studying abroad is stepping out of the comfort zone and is willing to make friends. They are all alone across the world too! The people you meet there and the friends you make there will be your greatest support system. That was my experience anyway.