Alumni Voices: Study Abroad Alum Talks About the Value of Exchange in a Globalized World

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CIEE Alumni

CIEE Alumni

Jordan Smoczyk, CIEE Study Abroad in Seville, Spain, Spring 2012

My study abroad experience was certainly one of the most life-changing and affirming things I have done. After studying abroad, I truly believe all universities should make at least a summer session, spring break, or J-term abroad mandatory. We live in a globalized world and need to learn how to communicate cross-culturally. A college education should prepare students to enter the workforce as global citizens.

I spent the spring semester of 2012 in Seville, Spain. I made Spanish friends and family whom I have since been back to visit. I made American friends who I remain close with although we live across the country. Through study abroad, I forged lasting connections with people of diverse cultures, socio-economic groups, and beliefs.

I believe that study abroad is one of the most efficient forms of diplomacy. My classmates and I showed our host families and cities that Americans are an extremely diverse people and, contrary to their beliefs, many are politically active, educated, and respectful of others. The strength of the stereotypes people had of Americans surprised me, but led to many candid and productive conversations. Breaking down stereotypes and making friends was a huge part of my study abroad experience. I learned to navigate new cities and unknown situations, to ask for help, and to be independent. I was exposed to cultures, history, and people previously unknown to me. In turn I answered countless questions about the United States, my family, and my life. When one travels or lives abroad, they are representing their country and culture whether they realize it or not. Each CIEE student contributes to the people of their host country’s impressions of Americans. This is a golden opportunity to break down stereotypes and forge strong relations. I am proud to say that my CIEE friends and I were good ambassadors to the United States. My friends and I developed rich relationships with our host families, were invited to experience uniquely Sevillan traditions with them such as Feria and Semana Santa, and we continue to stay in contact to this day.

Upon my return to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I advised everyone I knew to study abroad. There can be no argument against the value of travel and of immersion in another culture – it is one of the easiest ways to open a closed mind. In my work as a case manager in Detroit, MI, I have learned that the majority of people want the same things in life: health and happiness for themselves and their families. It is so hard to hate when you meet people face to face and get to know them. While studying abroad, I got to work in the Gypsy community of Seville. Even my open-minded host family thought it was dangerous and ill-advised to go to El Vacie and work in a daycare for Gypsy children. After hearing my stories and seeing my pictures, they warmed to the idea and have since advised students to take advantage of this volunteer opportunity.

I believe that misunderstanding is the biggest threat to our world right now. Misunderstanding is at the root of war and conflict, racism and hate crimes. This is probably the strongest argument for study abroad – to enlighten and open minds, and to learn to work productively and cooperatively in our globalized world.

For me, study abroad catalyzed a dedication to working with immigrants, refugees, and those in poverty. My experiences support my belief that the U.S. government can promote peace by supporting work and study exchanges like CIEE’s study abroad programs. I believe that this type of one-on-one, direct diplomacy has unparalleled power because I have seen it firsthand.

Please feel free to contact me regarding study abroad, social work, or travel at jmsmoczyk@gmail.com or via LinkedIn.

 

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