Political science major Jeannelly Castro made herself home in an Alsatian castle for four months last semester while studying abroad in France. The experience may seem like a fairytale to some, but for Jeannelly the decision was both partial and promising.
“I always knew I wanted to study abroad in either central or South America,” Castro said. “I had no intentions of traveling to [Europe].”
Castro speaks Spanish fluently and wanted to live where she understood the language and culture of indigenous people.
The idea to visit France was first presented to her during a class lecture. Skeptical about the overseas trip, she met with her professor–the department chair of political science at Georgia State – to learn more about it. After careful consideration, she chose to take the chance.
“I asked myself, ‘How many people are granted opportunities like this one?’ I’m a first-generation college student, so no one in my family has ever been given the chance to see the other side of the world. I went for it.”
A Miami native, Castro grew to appreciate the culturally diverse climate in Atlanta. She honed her interests in world politics through coursework with a concentration in international affairs.
She put her passion for working with people and exploring different cultures into practice as an Intercultural Ambassador and Campus Pals peer mentor. Studying abroad allowed her to come closer to her dream of becoming a diplomat to represent the U.S. in its embassies around the world.
Study abroad programs are a progressive means to create world citizens and internationalize the university in an era of globalization. For Castro, finding a program was an imperative career move.
“My classmates and I went on excursions and took classes at the University of Strasbourg that taught us about European Identity,” she said. “That’s a lesson I couldn’t learn sitting in a classroom. I didn’t know anything about European politics when I arrived in France, but during the term I became more aware. Now, when I hear something on the news about the European Union, I understand what’s happening.”
Her journey to a new land was also one of self-discovery.
“First and foremost, I learned about myself. I learned my weaknesses, my strengths, who I truly am.”
While Castro described the hardest part of spending a semester abroad as being away from family and friends, she explained that financing the expenses was difficult as well.
She reached out to her family, who lent their emotional and financial support. A close friend and fellow university student wired money to her personal account as a gift midway through her trip.
Georgia State provides several options to help students fund their travel costs. Scholarships, state and federal financial aid and fundraisers make the opportunity feasible for many.
In recent years, the rate of students entering study aboard programs in University System of Georgia schools has declined. Education leaders attributed the drop to the economic depression, which called for cuts in the state’s education budget.
“It’s disappointing and unfortunate to hear that others aren’t able to seize the opportunity while earning their degrees,” Castro said.
She believes her experiences shaped her character in amazing ways, and was the best adventure she has taken.
“People are always interested in my stories about France. I think [studying abroad] is a wonderful program. If you get the chance to see another part of the world, take it. Meet new people, enjoy the moments as they come, and try new things. Life is short; smell the roses while you can!”
Courtney Boyd, The Signal , Georgia State University