Program and Location:
Summer, Greece: Design and Social Innovation; Metazata, Kefalonia, Greece
Why did you choose to study abroad?
I chose to study abroad in order to broaden my design perspective and be able to experience living life outside of the US in a completely new cultural environment. By interacting with locals and learning about the culture of the island, I was able to gain much more insight than if I had only researched the culture/people that I was designing for.
What did you learn about yourself?
I learned about how valuable and fulfilling relationships/friendships are, especially those that are made when you live in an unfamiliar place abroad. Being able to balance time with new friends and also alone time proved to be more of a challenge than I thought, so I learned that I definitely need time to recharge since studying abroad in a new place with new people can be very draining sometimes. During the times I needed a recharge, I learned that walking around the nature of the island was really effective in soothing me and allowing me to reset myself.
What was one of your favorite parts of your program?
Some of the best parts of the program was meeting the locals and experiencing firsthand the beauty of the island. Greece is a beautiful country with many stories and myths that you hear about beforehand, but it really is unbelievable to be there in person and experience a very rich history and see it with your own eyes. The people there are also very welcoming and hospitable, always willing to help out and really make you feel like a family.
What advice do you have to future study abroad students?
Definitely research the location that you’re studying abroad to and make sure that you are prepared for every situation. Staying safe and healthy is top priority so making sure you bring medicine and have reliable ways to contact people abroad are incredibly important. Another piece of advice I have is to be mindful of the culture you live in, their customs, and be respectful to the practices there. America is a very privileged country filled with many kinds of lifestyles/cultures and where many resources are readily accessible, but some countries do not have the same kind of living situations and resources always available.
How did your study abroad experience prepare you for your future career?
Studying abroad allowed me to interact with students and locals outside of my comfort zone, which has helped me with my communication skills and opening my mind to design opportunities/other ways of thinking about problems. My problem solving and thinking on my feet were definitely tested while I was in Greece. We also created a meaningful project that impacted real people that I could show in my portfolio for future career opportunities.
Were you surprised by anything during your time abroad?
I was surprised how little I’d be able to interact with the outside world. I thought that through social media outlets and other ways, I’d be able to keep up with what was going on outside the island. However, during my stay, I was pretty isolated from news and media off the island due to limited cell service and Wi-Fi. I took the opportunity to log off devices and really enjoy my time there, so it was a learning experience.
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?
We had a location to work and do studio, but the schedule was very flexible, which is very different than working in class on campus. We did take multiple excursions on the island to see small villages, natural wonders, and explore the countryside of the island. We were also able to interview locals during the research period of the project, which we never could have done if we stayed in the US and designed this project.
In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?
I identify as an Chinese American student and this made me stick out from the rest of the group pretty easily. I feel that the Europeans that lived there are not very used to seeing Asians that aren’t tourists, so in some ways I felt targeted by panhandlers, but other than that, my identity did not matter much to locals. I was not treated any differently than other students because the environment I lived in was very familial.
Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
Be open-minded to new cultures/customs and think of how the locals were raised. Be proud of your heritage and allow the study abroad experience to expand your knowledge of being globally-minded.
Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?
My friends that traveled with me were incredibly supportive during the study abroad experience for every reason. Having people that already relate to you and support you during the homesickness or any other challenge helps so much.
Would you do it again?
Yes, of course.