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Why You Don’t Have to Travel Far for a Meaningful Experience

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By Alessandra Capossela

Want to study abroad but feel unsure about whether you’re ready to pack your bags for Timbuktu? Speaking from experience, you don’t have to go far to have an important study abroad experience.

North American Travel

You may not think that Mexico and Canada count as study abroad locations, but distances can be deceiving. While they are neighbors to the north and south, the cultures in these countries are indeed very different from the United States and have their own history, politics, culture, and languages. I had substantial cultural experiences and learned valuable things living in both places, even though I wasn’t that far away.

Here are three reasons why you don’t need to leave the continent to make your travels worthwhile:

Gain Greater Insight into How Other Countries View the United States

For me, one of the most profound things about spending time in Mexico and Canada was coming to better understand how other countries view our country. Who better to gain that insight from than the two countries that share a border with us? Regardless of where you end up, seeing your country from the outside looking in can give you a perspective that is difficult to gain in any other way. It’s a smart idea to start your global perspective by understanding your neighbors better.

The same can be said for visiting different parts of the United States. Our country is a large and diverse place with a multitude of cultures, histories, and viewpoints depending on the region you’re visiting. Even if you don’t agree with everything you come across, being exposed to the views of others can help you gain that multi-faceted perspective that is part of becoming a global citizen.

A Great Stepping Stone to More Far-Flung Locations

I’m a big fan of taking baby steps when it comes to new experiences. Living abroad in North America gave me the confidence I needed to feel comfortable away from home. Having already traveled to Mexico and spending my undergraduate years in Canada did a lot to prepare me for my next adventure to teach English in South Korea. Having already lived abroad, I was familiar with the logistical things such as the visa process and registering for an absentee ballot. I had skills in place to help me adjust to a new environment (first order of business, find the grocery store!). Most important, I was already used to the idea of being a foreigner. Of course, going to South Korea presented its own unique excitements and challenges, but having developed basic travel skills during my time in Canada and Mexico helped me to transition and face new challenges head-on.

It’s Easier to Go Back and Visit

If you want a friend or family member to visit you while you’re abroad, or if you want to go back a few years after your program, choose a location that’s easy to visit. One of the most difficult things about returning from your time abroad might be that it’s a challenge to go back and visit your new friends. I found this when I came back from South Korea. The flights to Korea are long and with the travel time and expense, so it’s difficult to see myself returning anytime soon. However, I can be in Canada in a couple of hours or take a short flight to Mexico whenever I want. This not only means that I can plan a quick visit when nostalgia strikes, but also maintain my connections there by being able to visit my friends from time to time.

Traveling is invaluable no matter where you go. Every trip is an opportunity to meet new people, build your experience, and develop a new perspective. Just remember, you don’t have to go half-way around the globe in order to reap all of the benefits that travel has to offer – sometimes the experience you’re looking for is right under your nose.

If you’re interested in earning credit for travel courses, check out UVM’s Oaxaca Semester Abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico, for example. Students earn 18 credits and study abroad while accessing financial aid and earning credits toward their degree. Or venture closer to home on some of UVM’s domestic short-term programs like New Orleans: Music and Culture or Mississippi: Chasing the Blues. Only a few hours away by comparison, they still offer cultural insights and the feeling that you’re adventuring in a new place.

Travel Study Advisor Alessandra Capossela spent time in Cuernavaca, Mexico during her senior year of high school, then completed her undergraduate degree as an international student in Montreal, Canada. These experiences in North America prepared her for a position as an English instructor in South Korea. She now advises students about UVM Travel Study options to earn UVM credit and meet their academic and personal interests.