We caught up with AIFS alum, Darrian Harris, who studied abroad in Fall 2011 in the Land Down Under: Australia! (Side note: Did you know that AIFS students in Australia have the opportunity to spend the beginning of their experience studying in Fiji? Yes, you read that right.) Check out Darrian’s story and how, because of study abroad, he got involved in the international education community.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your educational goals and career?
Studying abroad was hands down one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. Not only did I meet some of my best friends, I was able to broaden my horizons and expand my world view. It forced me to grow up: I had to learn how to budget and with the 14 hour time difference, I had to learn how to plan for surprise situations and emergencies. I met people from around the world, learned a lot about the world from a social, cultural, and political standpoint, and challenged myself academically.
Since graduating university, all of my employment has had an international element. I’ve taught ESL, worked with B1/F1 visas, and helped recruit local host families (an experience I had the pleasure of having in Fiji). I currently work at California State University, Dominguez Hills as an International Student Advisor. I truly love working with international students. It is one of few education/academic jobs in which you learn more each day from your students than you teach them. I am constantly learning about other languages, cultures, religions, diets, customs and norms, global entertainment — and the list goes on.
How has your study abroad experience impacted other areas of your life?
To this day, my roommate from my study abroad experience is one of my best friends. We meet up about twice a year, and go to really cool concerts and music festivals. I truly believe my study abroad experience has contributed to the man I am today. It helped to reshape and broaden my perspective on life. It made me more humble, empathetic, and grateful for everything I’ve had the opportunity to experience, and continue to experience. It took a while to get back into the groove of being in the United States, but I think this has made me a stronger person.
I truly do have the travel bug, I cannot be complacent with not exploring the world and getting a taste of other cultures. Even in my hometown of LA, I am more drawn to the exploration of various cultural neighborhoods. Studying abroad has even contributed to my passion for understanding and sharing my personal history and cultural roots.
Have you been back to your study abroad location since your time abroad?
Not yet, but I definitely will in my life time. Hopefully, more than once.
Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?
When I first got back, I met up with various groups of people I studied abroad with. I stay in contact with several people through social media, and have had my Aussie friend visit a couple of times — he’s come to LA and we hung out together in Nashville, TN visiting our other friend, and went to a music festival called Bonnaroo. My former roommate (also from the U.S.) and I are really good friends. We meet up about twice a year and go to concerts and music festivals. When I was still in University on the east coast we would meet up at least twice a month and see live music together. I considered his home in Philly my second east coast home.
Are there any activities or traditions from your time abroad that you have continued back in the US?
Unfortunately, not so much. I do want to stay familiar with the Fijian language. I will need to actively work on doing that. But, every time I hear an Australian accent, I engage in cultural exchange.
What are your top destinations for future travel?
Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?
Please, just do it. Don’t think too much about it, don’t think too much about money, don’t think too much about finding credits to transfer, don’t think too much about what other say. Just do it. Finding courses to transfer was a challenge, but if you think outside of the box and find connections that are not so obvious, it will work, and your school will have to say yes. If you apply for the scholarships, you will get money. At my school, most people don’t apply for scholarships because they assume they aren’t qualified, that they won’t get it, or they are too lazy to put in a little effort. It was cheaper for me to study abroad than it was to stay in the United States for a semester (well, tuition — not the exchange rate). Just do it. It will be one of the best experiences and greatest decisions of your life, guaranteed. Just do it.
Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?
Stay strong. It is hard to be back at first. You feel like you’ve evolved a little bit faster than some of your friends. You feel like you’re annoying people by mentioning your experience so much. But stay connected to those you shared the experience with. Hang out with other students on your campus who studied abroad, and most importantly, keep challenging yourself academically, culturally, socially, and politically. It will help greatly.
Anything else you want to add?
I just want to thank AIFS. Seriously, the program is great. I didn’t have any problems before departure, while traveling, or while in Fiji/Australia. There were so many awesome things included in the program like the Sydney Opera House, a trip to Fiji, mixers/parties, support, and so on. You all are doing an amazing job, and I respect that.
Interested in studying abroad in Australia like Darrian did? Consider a semester or academic year in Perth or Wollongong — both of which have the opportunity to spend the start of your experience in Fiji!