Did you know you can do two semesters abroad? It’s true! We caught up with AIFS alum, Taylor Woodman, who spent back-to-back semesters overseas in 2007-08 with AIFS: first a fall semester in Stellenbosch, South Africa, followed by a spring semester in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After a full academic year overseas, Taylor learned a lot about himself personally and professionally. He also met the love of his life while studying abroad! Read on to learn more.
How has your study abroad experience impacted your educational goals and career?
It is easy for me to make a career connection because I work in international affairs for a university, I teach and lead a study abroad course and I recently received my Ph.D. in international education policy where I examined academic exchange between the U.S. and Cuba. If I were to look back, I’d say as a first generation college student with high financial needs, I limited myself by this reality. It is cliché but study abroad showed me there were possibilities beyond my imagination and allowed me to be a dreamer. Dreaming led me to be the first in my family to receive a BA, MA and Ph.D.
How has your study abroad experience impacted other areas of your life?
I fell in love with another AIFS student when studying abroad. We now have a home in DC where we host international students and visitors from around the world. My younger sister went to college and studied in Nepal after seeing it was possible and my baby sister now lives in Stockholm. As an isolated bunch from the hills of Virginia, we have branched out quite a bit. I can’t attribute it all to study abroad but it sure did help. Lastly, I have built a connection and program with Cuban educators. Over the last 5 years, I have taken over 200 US faculty, graduate students and educators to Cuba in an effort to build solidarity and understanding across political barriers.
Have you been back to your study abroad location since your time abroad?
I have been back to Stellenbosch but not Argentina. In many ways, I was nervous about the experiencing of returning to a place that changed the course of my life. I wanted to hold South Africa in that space as I knew it. After going, I will say it was beautiful to allow South Africa to change and my relationship with the country to evolve. I was able to meet up with a South African friend who served as one of my orientation leaders while I was on campus. I am glad I went back and I look forward to returning again and going through the same mind shift with Buenos Aires as well.
Are you still in contact with other students or anyone you met during your time abroad?
I am in contact with a number of AIFS students from my program. I consider some my best friends and I even married one. It is nice to have these friends all over the country and to have people who can reflect back on the experience together. We share something unique and different from friends from my home college campus.
Are there any activities or traditions from your time abroad that you have continued back in the US?
I’d say the biggest tradition is simply creating a home that supports a community of people with a wide open door. I serve as a homestay house and frequently host international students for dinners. Some of those meals are inspired by South African Braai culture or rooftop Argentine asados.
What are your top destinations for future travel?
Belarus, Bolivia and Oman are on my aspirational international travel locations.
I also have turned my focus to traveling more in the U.S. I have visited 39 states thus far. I fell in love with Boise, Idaho this year and plan to travel to Alaska, Wyoming and Oklahoma in the upcoming year.
Any advice for students who are considering studying abroad?
Engage your faculty and study abroad offices early. You will find advocates throughout the process. Planning early helps you integrate a study abroad into your degree plan and find out about study abroad specific scholarships. It may even help you go abroad multiple times.
Any advice for recently returned study abroad students?
Hold on to your international experience and the new information that your host community provided to you. It is easy to see life in black and white. The beauty and gift you received when studying abroad is there are a vast number of alternatives to the way we approach life and to the solutions to the societal issues we face. Live and thrive in that gray space of alternatives. I am always happy to help others in their pursuit to study abroad or enter the international education field. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.taylorwoodman.com.