Zachary Richards is senior management major with a concentration in entrepreneurship from Sudan, Texas. He studied with the CIMBA study abroad organization in Paderno del Grappa, Italy in the Spring 2017 semester.
What motivated you to study abroad?
There were a couple of influences that pushed me to explore studying abroad and led me to spend a semester at CIMBA. I have always had a desire to experience another culture. My dream did not become a reality until two summers ago when I visited Norway for a mission trip. My experience in Norway piqued my interest to visit other countries. Additionally, as a Terry Scholar, I am encouraged to study abroad.
What was your favorite part about your international experience?
I think many times students will study abroad with the wrong mindset, often students consider studying abroad a vacation or they do not fully immerse themselves in the culture. When studying abroad, I decided to put myself in situations where I would fully experience the people and cultures around me. For example, I had the opportunity to participate in a program called Add a Seat, which allows students from CIMBA to have dinner with a local Italian family. This was a great way to see how Italians truly interact with each other and allowed me to experience an authentic Italian meal. Another example is when I traveled to Trondheim, Norway and spent a weekend with a family I know from the area. The father is a local pastor that is from Lubbock. When I got there, he asked if I wanted to join him and talk to local high school classes about the U.S. I got to stand in front of four classes and have a back-and-forth dialogue where we learned each other's cultures. This opened my eyes to how big of an influence the U.S. has on the rest of the world and it also allowed me to better understand some of the Norwegian culture.
What was a challenge you faced while studying abroad and how did you overcome it?
One challenge I had abroad was being seen as a tourist, not a traveler. Most people I came across knew I was an American. I researched the customs in the various places that I went in order to not accidentally disrespect the locals. By simply doing some research and adapting to my surroundings, I gave a positive impression of Americans to many locals.
What did you learn by studying abroad?
My experience abroad involved many opportunities for personal development through programs, classes and traveling to different places. I learned to keep a positive attitude even if things did not go as planned. I learned how to be a better leader because I realized I was limiting myself; I have much more potential than I assumed I had going into my study abroad experience. I ultimately learned that just because a certain person may speak a different language or is from a different place, at the end of the day, we are all human. This can often get lost due to the many stereotypes, conflicts and perceptions of different cultures.
How will your international experience help you in the future?
I am now a confident leader and am able to adapt to a constantly changing environment. I am able to be more assertive and passionate toward my goals. Despite the many conflicts that occur around the world, I have a better understanding of some of the people involved. I now have that "It" factor that many employers look for, and I see this experience helping me be successful in whatever path I choose.
What advice do you have for students considering studying abroad?
Studying abroad is a must for students who want to set themselves apart from others. Not only is it a resume builder, but it is also a way to develop a better understanding of cultures. The cost of this endeavor is something that can hold people back, but in my experience, this can be greatly reduced with proper preparation in applying for scholarships. Because I was so adamant in applying for every resource I could find, I went from not knowing how I would fund my experience to having my semester paid for through various scholarships.
I advise anyone, even someone just starting to think about studying abroad, to first decide the semester you could go. Afterwards, narrow down potential choices until you have a few in mind and start researching the available scholarships. Doing this as early as possible is key to not missing any funding opportunities. Once you are serious about pursuing your studies abroad, keep a list of "to-dos." Creating a list helped me to not miss due dates for scholarships, applications and other deadlines associated with studying abroad. I would also recommend going into this experience with an open mind; this will help you experience other cultures and will help you traverse the culture shock that may occur once you are in a foreign environment.