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Studying Abroad inspires student to start fundraiser

Bathsheba, St. Joseph

University of Delaware junior Ayanna Gill always wanted to study abroad and finally received the opportunity to do so this year. The Mass Communications major recently studied abroad in Barbados for one month, learning about the culture and its influences.

Gill shares her experiences, including the courses she enrolled in, the inspiration to start a fundraiser and advice to those who want to study abroad.

Itsawritestyle: What was the program you applied to called?

Ayanna Gill: Barbados Winter 2015 Human Services and Service Learning Program.

Itsawritestyle: How did you find out about it?

AG: My friends led me to the interest meeting and I fell in love with this specific trip.

Itsawritestyle: Why did you want to apply?

AG: I never had the opportunity to travel outside the country before and wanted to truly have a full immersion in another country.

Itsawritestyle: Before this experience, had you ever studied abroad?

AG: No, this was my first time.

Itsawritestyle: What was the application process like?

AG: Applying was three-fold. It was attending the interest meeting for the specific program, applying through an online application which was an essay on why we chose the study abroad program, and then going through a group interview process with the program coordinators.

Itsawritestyle: Did you have any doubts about your acceptance into the program?

AG: I was very worried about financing my trip.

Itsawritestyle: How did you feel when you got accepted?

AG: I was so excited that was the first time I would ever be studying abroad and going to a beautiful island.

Itsawritestyle: How long did you stay?

AG: I was there for a month. From January 3rd through February 3rd.

Itsawritestyle: What was your experience like?

St. George, Barbados

AG: While there, I took courses on Cross-Cultural Engagement and Etiquette and Bajan Culture. One course specifically addressed culture in its complexities and through in-depth seminar style lessons, I learned that although culture is difficult to articulate, it is the strongest influence on how we think, feel, behave and make choices.

The other course focused on the immersion into Bajan culture and required the art of reflection as a heavy component. The ability to reflect acted as a balance for me: it gave me the opportunity to draw forth emotional information from the things I was listening and hearing and allowed me to make meaning of my experiences.

As part of our course requirements for the program, students were sent to different placements throughout the island to gain a true cultural experience. Placed in a psychiatric facility, an HIV facility and primary schools, we ventured to our locations each morning for three days out of the week. I was assigned to the primary schools and every day was filled with excitement. Working with children was crucial in helping me to understand the cultural aspects that foster the education system on the island and ultimately generate a cross-cultural comparison to that of our American education system.

My first day at Sharon Primary School was such an overwhelming, joyous and eye-opening experience. As soon as we entered the school, we were introduced to the Headmistress, Ms. Small- Williams. She sat with us to give a formal breakdown of the school, how it functions and their methods of discipline and teaching. I was moved by their philosophy of “every student has one talent, and it is the school’s responsibility to find that talent ad master it- no child will not make it.” Sharon Primary lives by the purpose of a love for God, aim high and keep pure.

Located on the top of a hill, the school was in the middle of open land, each classroom was structured as an open space with no doors and long corridors that allowed air to circulate in such warm temperatures. I worked closely with a reception classroom of children ages 4-6 and every day was a busy day of assisting the teacher with colors, shapes and numbers, while also being the official playtime buddy to 50 or more little children who loved playing. I left each day completely worn out, but always with a smile on my face and a funny story to tell about my little ones.

Itsawritestyle: Did you meet new people?

AG: I met amazing, beautiful people with warm hearts and a sincere level of hospitality.

Itsawritestyle: Did you experience culture shock?

AG: Not really. I think the biggest thing to get used to was how slow and laid back the mentality was. Everyone operates at their own pace.

Itsawritestyle: What did you get out of the experience?

AG: UD Abroad made me truly believe in the philosophy that the mind is a terrible thing to waste. Sharon Primary School was built on values that every child is gifted and it is the responsibility of the school to find that talent and strengthen it, nurture it and watch it grow.I will miss walking into a classroom and seeing 27 beautiful little smiles and hearing their cute Bajan accents calling me “Aunty” each day.

What the school lacks in resources, they make up for with the children that are disciplined, with hope in their hearts and brilliant minds that will take them to new heights. It is because of this I am working on organizing a fundraising for Sharon Primary, collecting school supplies and books. I made a promise to never forget and give resources to those who need it most.

Itsawritestyle: First thing you did when you got back to the U.S?

AG: Getting off the plane from 80 degree weather, to then stepping into 20 degree weather, the first thing I did was go home and stay in bed. I was very sad to be back in such cold weather but I was happy to be back in the United States and share all my stories.

Itsawritestyle: Why should students study abroad?

Barbados, Caribe

AG: Students should study abroad because due to the interconnected world we live in, to be successful: personally, intellectually and professionally, you must become a “global citizen.” Studying abroad gives you the skills to interact in and between multiple cultures, and become capable of analyzing issues on a global level. Studying abroad is essential to gaining a more well-rounded undergraduate education.

Why sit in a classroom and look at pictures of safaris, castles and pyramids when you can travel there and see them through your own eyes? My experiences at the University of Delaware have taught me how crucial it is to be a global citizen. Many American university students live within a bubble, where they lack a global mentality and don’t understand how our actions and the actions of our country can easily effect a village in Africa. It is understanding how interconnected our worlds are that makes for a well-rounded American university student.

A lot of students worry about the financial aspect of studying abroad, but it was through the help of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship that I received a $5,000 scholarship for my program. It is all about being passionate about going somewhere and making the right connections to finance your trip.

Itsawritestyle: Thank you.

AG: Thank you!

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