Mossbarger, Miriam, Undergraduate Student, International Relations, minor Graphic Arts

Name: Mossbarger, Miriam
Title: Undergraduate Student, International Relations, minor Graphic Arts
Company/Organization/University: University of Southern California

“What on earth is haggis?” was the burning question that raced through my mind one evening as I found myself sitting on a bar stool across the table from a 20-something Welsh punk rocker with black nail polish and blue hair. Over the past 10 minutes he had practically eulogized this bizarre Scottish dish as “the best thing ever.” When I finally found out what exactly “haggis” was, I ordered another coke. This was going to be a long night. Next to me, my American friend was enduring (rather patiently, too) a treatise on American accents from a 50-year-old English man with a straw in his breast pocket and an empty glass in front of him. I listened in for a few minutes, and discovered that a New York accent was really a mix between a bad Texan accent and a slurred English one. Yup, this was what study abroad was all about – bringing people of all ages, cultures, interests, and tolerance levels together to discuss the things that matter most to them.

Ok, so that doesn’t really encompass my entire experience in Wales. Study abroad did teach me something about people – despite differences in culture, religion, race, experience, and age, people are just people. No matter where you go, there will always be conservatives, liberals, free-thinkers, mainstreamers, people who challenge the status-quo and people who embody the status-quo. Sharing a common humanity means we will share common concerns, common experiences, common fears and joys, and through that find a common language with which to communicate our differences. It sounds corny, but now I feel as though there “ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough” to keep me from meeting and getting along with people.

Academically speaking, (and yes, you do have to STUDY on a STUDY ABROAD program) I had one of the best semesters of my college career. One thing about studying in another country is that I was exposed to teaching styles and philosophies that differed, either slightly or dramatically, from what is standard at home – a characteristic which I found to be one of the most refreshing and challenging aspects of the course. After all, the point of study abroad for me was to open my mind to greater possibilities of thought and action than I would have experienced at home. I don’t know how other countries structure their education, but in Wales, and the U.K. in general, there is a lot of emphasis placed on independent learning and self-motivated study. Although it took a bit of getting used to I found that I felt more intellectually uninhibited because I was encouraged to research on my own and read up on subjects and issues that interested me personally.

Of course the classes themselves were amazing. During the four months I spent in Wales, I took three courses: Terrorism, Violence and the State; Humanitarian Intervention in Global Society; and, Military and Democracy in Latin America. My professors were truly amazing – my Humanitarian Intervention professor was an authority in the field, recognized globally for his work – and each brought to class an energy and enthusiasm which stemmed naturally from their excitement about the subject matter. The course on humanitarian intervention was probably my favorite one because I already had an interest in the subject matter, and the class gave me a chance to learn about the major issues in the field as well as major players and ideologies. One thing that was interesting about it was that, philosophically, it approached the topic differently than courses in the U.S. likely would, which gave me a chance to gain a perspective on both philosophies.

Yet, as important as academics were in view of my overall experience, I would say that the exposure I had to people of different cultures and ages and the increasing growth and maturity – both mental and intellectual – that resulted was an even more vital part of my overseas education. Not only did I intermingle with and befriend English, Welsh and Scottish students, but because the University I attended was well-known throughout Europe and in other parts of the world, I had a chance to meet people from Denmark, Pakistan, Germany, France, Canada, Spain, and of course the United States. Each conversation with these people opened my mind a little more to a world larger and more complete than what I had known before my time abroad, and each conversation challenged my views – forced me to assess and re-evaluate the views I held. But despite the many sometimes aggravating differences in opinion I encountered, I was continually reassured by our ability to listen, for the most part, with open and willing minds and address through debate and questioning some common concerns and issues. It gave me hope for the success of future world leaders and peoples who already strive to solve the problems that plague our international system.

My time abroad helped to develop my independence, critical thinking, and ability to thrive in an international setting. I felt my world shrink and expand simultaneously. Now I see possibilities for my career, my education and my life that I never before even realized existed. It literally felt as though the world had opened itself for me, and I had only to choose a path. It hasn’t exactly proven that easy in practice – obstacles will always exist – but instead of feeling as though there is only one path to my destination, I now believe my options are limitless. Living in a foreign country, away from people and situations, which were familiar and comfortable, was unlike any other experience I’ve had. It helped boost my confidence in my ability to survive and thrive on my own. It forced me to think and reason for myself – to honestly listen to what people were telling me and take the time to figure out if what they were saying made sense. It demanded that I step away from what I had known in order to experience fully a foreign and sometimes frustrating culture. And not all of it was peaches and cream – I was homesick for about a month and a half, and sick to death of British culture (especially the food! – see note on haggis above) for a while. But after adjusting to the different rhythm and flow of life there, I came to love it. Undoubtedly I will return, perhaps even to live there.

In short, I wouldn’t trade my time abroad for the world. It was amazing how much possibility crammed itself into the tiny space of 4 months. As a result of studying abroad, I am more confident in my ability to find a path in life that will be fulfilling, rewarding and a blessing to me and those around me. I am stronger, more resilient. Now I know what it means to be a global citizen. And now I definitely know that I don’t like haggis – perhaps the most important outcome of the entire experience.