Last Updated on June 5, 2023 by AIFS Abroad
Many students who study abroad say that the opportunity to go overseas and experience new things opens their eyes to worlds they had never dreamed of or paths they had never considered taking, both personally and professionally. We caught up with Jasmine, an AIFS alum who studied abroad in Rome, Italy back in the fall of 2015, whose spontaneous volunteer experience in a Roman school ultimately put her on a path to a career in ESL education.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your educational goals and career?
My school director offered a chance for students to volunteer in a local elementary school teaching English to 2nd and 5th grade classes. I always had an interest in teaching, and knew this would be a good way to see a new part of the Roman culture first-hand. At first I had no idea of what I was doing! The language barrier made it a bit more difficult to communicate, but each week it was easier and conversation flowed with the teachers and students. I volunteered for about 2-3 months and learned how much I really enjoyed teaching English while at the same time having a cultural exchange. When I returned to the US, I started the TESOL program to learn to be an ESL teacher. It’s become my passion! I’m almost done with the program, once I finish I plan on being an ESL teacher in either Europe or Asia.
How has your study abroad experience impacted other areas of your life?
My study abroad experience really changed the direction of my life. I discovered a career I am passionate about, learned how to be comfortable traveling on my own, learned how to cook, and helped me to connect with other people who have studied abroad back home. One friend I made studied abroad in Ireland, so every other month we had a themed dinner night where we made each other specialty food from the countries we visited. My eyes were opened to new cultures and practices which made me question everything I thought I knew. I also learned to really pay attention to bank fees that I hadn’t needed to before!
Have you been back to your study abroad location since your time abroad?
I have not yet been back to Rome since my time abroad. I have pictures hanging up all around my house to remind me of the wonderful experience, and plans are in the making to go back within the next year!
Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?
I’m in contact with a few people via Facebook! I talk with some of the friends I made on a regular basis and there are others where we just say “hi” from time to time and reminisce about when we can go back. Unfortunately none of the friends I made live in the same state, so seeing each other in person again hasn’t happened yet.
Additionally, every Monday night in Rome I would go to a local family’s house and help the 18-year old daughter with English, then the family would help me practice my Italian and teach me how to cook. I’m still in contact with that family; we send emails every now and then!
Are there any activities or traditions from your time abroad that you have continued back in the US?
I’ve started walking a lot more since I returned. In Rome, the places I needed to get to were not very far, and without reliable transportation (buses always late and taxis way too expensive) my friends and I walked everywhere. I learned how to cook in Rome, and have since made many Italian-style dinners for myself and friends.
What are your top destinations for future travel?
I would absolutely love to visit Europe again and travel all over. My top destinations are Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, Ireland, and Poland. I’m currently planning to visit a few of these countries after graduation. My goal is to use the resources that the study abroad program provided me with to travel cheaply and safely.
Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?
If you are at all wanting to study abroad, do it. It’s a common saying that it changes your life, and that’s because it really does. It’s more than just guided traveling and taking a few school courses – it’s learning more about yourself and how to deal with life in ways that you might not be exposed to otherwise. Studying abroad is the perfect combination of traveling with freedom but having several safety nets while moving forward with your education, a unique experience that is hard to come across after school. When you do study abroad, really dive into the culture and you’ll find more than you expected.
Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?
Sharing and talking about your experience with other recently returned students is a great way to process everything and to connect with others who truly understand what you are feeling. Keep in touch with people from your program and anyone who made a difference. It might take a while for everything to feel like it’s back to normal, and that’s okay! You can market your experience to use for future jobs in a million ways, and it’s an experience that keeps teaching you lessons long after you return.
Anything else you want to add?
I fell in love with Italy: the food, the language, and the culture. While I made the most of my time when I was there, there was always something more to do. If I could just pack up and move there I would. I’m so excited for future students to have a study abroad experience!
This post was contributed by AIFS alum Jasmine Balasa, who studied abroad with AIFS in Rome, Italy in Fall 2015.