Sometimes studying abroad in non-traditional locations can really change a person – it may even inspire them to continue a life of travel, or maybe even service. Just ask Rachel Cerruti, an AIFS alum who studied abroad during the fall of 2015 in Stellenbosch, South Africa. She reflected on her experience and how it’s influenced her life.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your educational goals and career?
My time abroad has made a huge impact on my life. My favorite part was volunteering with a program through Stellenbosch University called Volunteerism and Community Engagement (VCE). We volunteered once a week in a preschool class in a nearby township and it was amazing. I will never forget the experience.
It was after I returned from South Africa that I decided to submit my Peace Corps application. After about 7 months of applying and one heartbreaking rejection, I was invited to serve as a math/science teacher in Liberia.
How has your study abroad experience impacted other areas of your life?
Spending time in South Africa provided me with another way to view the world. I think that I am much more open-minded now. My time abroad also taught me a lot about being independent. I traveled by myself for the first time and it was such an eye-opening experience. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself that I didn’t necessarily have before.
Have you been back to your study abroad location since your time abroad? If yes, what was that experience like for you?
I have not made it back to South Africa yet but I plan to visit during my time serving in the Peace Corps.
Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?
I have kept in touch with many of the people that I met while abroad. I made some very genuine relationships while in South Africa and I plan on keeping these people in my life for a long time. I am planning on visiting my South African friends while on my break from serving in the Peace Corps.
Are there any activities or traditions from your time abroad that you have continued back in the US?
I definitely have a new appreciation for wine since spending so much time in Stellenbosch, also known as wine country.
What are your top destinations for future travel?
Some of my top destinations for future travel currently include South Africa, Mozambique and Morocco.
Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?
I would tell someone considering studying abroad to be open with your choice of country. I had been planning on studying in Australia until my uncle recommended South Africa. It was not a country that I had researched at all before he mentioned it and it ended up being the best decision I have ever made.
Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?
I remember feeling such a deep sadness when I realized that my time in South Africa had come to an end. Leaving just didn’t feel right. I think that what got me through it was realizing that I was meant to go back, that it wasn’t out of reach. I’d say to those returning home that the sadness will fade with time and that you will have an amazing experience to think back on for the rest of your life, and maybe even a great place to visit in the future!
This post was contributed by Rachel Cerruti, who studied abroad with AIFS in Stellenbosch, South Africa in Fall 2015.