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Study Abroad Student Experiences

Student Experiences

Students submitted postcard entries to our office giving us insight into their experiences. They each have a unique and exciting story. Check them out!

Europe

United Kingdom

Italy

Spain

Czech Republic

Asia and Middle East

India

Turkey

Taiwan

The Americas

Bolivia

Ecuador

 


 

Europe

Students' European Experiences

Programs in Europe

United Kingdom

Clock tower in United Kingdom
Dear Buff,
       London opened up a realm of possibilities that I would have never imagined. Being theater major, I expected to love it there but I did not foresee how much it would impact my life. One of the most memorable experiences for me was the first show I saw when I got there. It was Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps. It was in a smaller theater in the middle of London on a quaint little stage. Considering the size and space in which was presented, I was really expecting much, but boy, was I surprised. It was one of the most well done plays I have ever seen. It was sharp, witty, fast-paced and immensely entertaining. It was in that moment, I realized London is the place where I could see myself. I was able to envision where my acting could go and what life could be like. To this day, I am determined to move back to London to start my career and I give sole credit to 39 Steps for inspiring me.
      Sincerely,
      Musical Theatre Major
 
 
Dear Buff,
Bridge in the United Kingdom
            Landing in a new country for the first time is life-changing. Breathing new air with new scents and new weather will change you. You can’t ever know how you’ll change, but you will. I promise.
            The sensory overload when I first landed in London still leaves those memories a blur. Customs, terminals, rushing crowds. Before flying to London, I’d never been in a plane, taxi, or public transit bus. I kn ocked all of that out in less than twenty-four hours.
            I was scared, and nervous, and lost, and confused.
            But… by the time I flew back to the States, I had new friends and familiar faces across th e pond. I had memories of crazy nights, goofy meals, and exciting adventures across the countryside and through Scotland, Bulgaria, and Greece.
            For all the trepidation I experienced on that first day, when I landed in at DFW airport, part of me felt missing. I’d left something behind in Reading. I also brought something back, though.
            Landing in a new country for the first time is life-changing. And I wouldn’t trade that change for the world.
 
            Best,
            English Major
 
Finding Banksy
         When we arrived in London, Simone and I had one objective: to find a piece by the graffiti art giant Banksy. Because his fans have catalogued the location of his pieces on a website, it seemed like a simple enough task. Plus, there was supposed to be a piece just a few blocks from our hotel. But, internet use in the U.K. was harder than we expected. So when we had an hour to ourselves after dragging our luggage to the hotel, we decided it was time to find our Banksy. With our schedule for our three days in London being so packed, it was now or never. We had to find a piece by him - it was our mission, our goal, our singular desire for our time in London.
           Because internet use is very expensive, we had an epiphany and took a screenshot of the map with two points on it: our hotel and the piece. With this map, we set off down a very busy London street. After finding the safest place to cross the street, we walked through a construction detour to the other side. Slowly we made our way through the smaller residential streets. They got more curvy and narrow as we went on. Finally, we were close to the piece. Blocks away. At this point we began to worry that the piece might not be there anymore, perhaps the city had cleaned it up, or perhaps another artist had painted over it.
           At last we found the right intersection of streets: Cleveland and Maple. We turned the corner expecting to see it, whatever it was going to be, at any moment. We didn't know which piece we were looking for, small, large, hidden, or in-your-face, but we knew Banksy's style and that would be enough, right? We didn't see anything as we turned onto Maple. We didn't see anything in the alleys off of Maple and our time was running short. We went back to Cleveland street and decided to walk a bit further.
           Just a few yards further down Cleveland we were on the edge of giving up and hoping against hope that we could find time to try to look for it again later. That's when we saw it. It was on the corner of Clipstone and Cleveland, painted on a simple wall with a plastic covering bolted on top of it to keep it safe. To keep it safe for us - or that's how we felt anyway. The difficulty involved in finding this piece of art only made discovering it that much sweeter. And it really made us think about how much of an impact the display of an art piece can have. It can sometimes be more of an art than the actual piece. For us, this piece took us on a brief journey of discovery and allowed us a memory that we won’t easily forget. So thank you, Banksy!
 
By Corinne Holloway - May 2013
 
 

Italy

City view in Italy

 Dear Mom,

         I have to be honest. I left the country to get away from you. Growing up as a child of immigrant parents, I was tired of being embarrassed. Whenever we would go to a restaurant, I’d have to order for you. If there was a problem with the phone bill, I’d have to call the phone company and act as a translator. I was tired of resenting you for not being cultured and sophisticated, so I hoped that spending a semester in a foreign country would lead me to the day I could leave my embarrassing family behind for good.
         How wrong could I have been? In my first week here, I was at the market burning with shame because I couldn’t read any of the labels, fumbling with strange European coins and feeling like an idiot for coming to a country where I don’t speak the language.
         But slowly, as I learn to swallow my pride and speak a new language, as I fall in love with this country and its people so much I forget to be embarrassed, I realize how little I know about you. I never grasped how tremendously brave, nor how utterly terrified, you must have been to move to a foreign country where you know a word of its language.
Studying abroad sounded infinitely glamorous. And it is. But I had no idea that leaving my own country, and my own family, would make me this grateful for them. This experience is providing me with more than understanding of other cultures; it’s giving me understanding of my own.
 
        See you soon,
        Speech Communication Major
 
 
 
Bridge in Italy
 You know,
         I once took an online quiz that asked: What is the one place in the world you have to see before you die?
Rome.
         So I guess it’s strange that I chose to spend four months in Florence, but it was the cheaper of the two options. And the better one. I’ve spent months going to museums, eating rare and decadent food, and flying to other countries for under fifty bucks. The question, “Hey, do you want to go to Paris this weekend?” has become normal in my life. After weeks of scoffing at “tourists” (which I clearly am not; I am a Florentine) and working on my Creative Writing homework outside sunny cafes and romantic Italian street musicians, I finally decided to visit Rome.
         After four hours on the train that lulled me through dreamy Tuscan countryside, I was immediately bombarded by hordes of tourists and street vendors. I stood in line for ages at St. Peter’s, and I could barely appreciate the Sistine Chapel with all the security guards monitoring us like criminals. But then I witnessed something sacred. My last stop was a small church most people have never heard of, a church that houses remnants from the Crown of Thorns and a nail that punctured Christ. Before this shrine of the Holy Cross, four nuns were kneeling in reverence and devotion, a Latin hymn emanating from their lips.
In that moment, I realized how far I’ve come. I’ve conquered some of my most silent fears, but I’ve also achieved some of my most impossible dreams. And if I could take that quiz again, you know what I’d say?
          Everywhere. Before I die, I’m going to see it all.
 
          Speech Communication Major
 
 
Hey Roomie,
           Will you throw out all of the tomatoes in the apartment? After four months of eating fresh Italian spaghetti, I don’t think I’ll be able to eat groceries from the local store ever again.
           Of course, the tomatoes aren’t the only things I’ll miss about Italy. It’s hard to believe how terrified I was before getting on that plane, convinced I wouldn’t make any friends or that I’d freak out my second day here and come home early like a little kid begging to be picked up from a sleepover.
           And while I’ve had to adjust to being without Facebook and texting all the time, I’ve become closer to the people I’ve met here in four months than I have with the friends I’ve known for years. I’ve met the kind of people you only read about, from the suave Kenyan artist to the sassy Irish painter. Some nights we spend hours cooking and eating endless bowls of pasta, and on others we drink authentic wine on the steps of the church where Michelangelo is buried. Being American in a foreign country provides a solidarity and bonding you can’t find anywhere else.
          It’s funny, but thousands of miles away from the people who know and love me, I’ve been forced to really get to know and love myself, to rely on the people around me. I’ve never been more isolated, but all the more surrounded my friendship. It’s what matters most here.
 
         Sincerely
         Speech Communication Major
 
 

Spain

Cliff and ocean view in Spain.

Dear Sister,
         You can't imagine what I did last night. I fell in love, with life.
         On our long weekend trip through Costa Brava’s coastlines, we spend the night in Roses. After taking a siesta with the locals on the beach, I woke up with immense sunburn. Even though, I aimed to enjoy the night life in Roses, and decided to take a stroll along the beach.
         I felt as if I was reading a novel. After a week of getting lost in Barcelona and hammering in Spanish grammar, I was walking down the beach as the sun was setting in. Stress melted out of my bones as my feet soak into the sand. The beauty was reflected in the sun set over the mountains illuminating the blue sky with an orange-reddish tone. It finally struck me; I was in Spain, and the rhythm of the Mediterranean Sea splash into the sand embracing the sounds of music of the city.
         On one side of the city there was pop music, and the other Spanish music. I couldn’t help it, I found myself dancing along the beach. Splashing along the waves, and singing to Spanish music. I spend the rest of the night along the beach; enjoying sweet moments of reflection on the pier, and even relaxing watching the stars. Sneaked inside my room, early in the am. I had the best night of my life!
 
         Wishing you were here!
         Xoxo
         English Major
 
 
Dear friend,
         We are on charter bus on our way to Barcelona, and the excitement is nerve breaking. I have to say Spain is breath taking so far.
         Madrid received our Barcelona group, students from other universities all around the United States and me amazingly. I’ve met other students from universities in Texas and a South Dakota one, and you can say we become our own little mature circle.
Toledo had an amazing guided tour, but half of us were not prepare to walk up and down hills, but we manage and enjoy our time with Cathedrals, a Monastery, Jewish temples, and art everywhere. We were on our own to decide what to do for dinner, and one of us found a restaurant online, and we catch a taxi.
         We had a moment of reality check, first the restaurant was close and second the restaurant was a five stars restaurant. This meant our meals where going to be about a hundred dollars each, and after an embarrassed dialogue with the waiter we left. We forgot Spaniards had late dinners, and the euro and dollar conversion had us on a budget.
         Good thing we had drinks and appetizers at a restaurant next door while we waited. The sunset was setting in over Toledo and we didn’t let anything spoil that. We were above a hill, over looking the river stream and Toledo’s sunset. We took the sunset as a lesson and a beginning of an adventure.
 
          Miss you!
          English Major
 
 

Czech Republic

Czech Republic Landscape

 Dear Buff,

        Going to another country had always been a dream of mine, and I was finally getting to experience it.  The first night that I fell asleep in my bed up at the girls' dormitory I actually had some fear growing in my stomach.  I was in another country, hundreds of  thousands of miles from home.  Of course, by the next morning, my fear was replaced with excitement. It was now time to explore the small town of Kamenicky Senov.  We were introduced to the oldest Glass school in the world and even got the chance to learn some of the techniques used in the glass arts.  The best start to a wonderful adventure.
 
        Sincerely, 
        An Artsy Theatre Major
 
 
Dear Buff,
        I never expected to study abroad when I came to college. But, as a young freshman, Europe opened up my eyes to things I could have never imagined. I am a graphic design major, but seeing how artists used glass was so inspiring! At the time, I did not expect it to impact my life like it has over these past few years. One of my favorite memories was the night we finally reached the town we were staying in. We arrived late at night, and it was snowing. We had to pull all of our luggage up a hill, through lightly lit streets to the dorm we were staying in - a dorm that looks nothing like what we have here. I was really surprised by the size and the look on the inside, but I liked it because it made it more personal, and community-oriented. For the most part, there were only a few things that made us feel like we were truly in the Czech Republic - the food, and the stores. It was very insightful being exposed to a different culture, and interacting with the people – I treasure my time spent there! My absolute favorite time of the trip was the last few days in Prague, I wish I could live there!
 
        Sincerely,
        Graphic Design Major
 

 
Asia and Middle East

Students' Asian and Middle Eastern Experiences

Programs in Asia and Middle East

India

 

It was the last night of our study abroad trip to India. My roommate and I had spent the majority of the day (and well into the night) reflecting on our experiences in the intense, beautiful, and crazy country. We had learned a lot, and experienced a lot – from learning more about the culture, history and religion, to harvesting turmeric and planting rice. After 4 nights of sleeping on a coffee table, we were excited to stay in a hotel that would be fit for a king. As I fell asleep, I knew a long, comfortable night’s rest was ahead of me. Little did I know, my roommate was a sleep talker and walker.
 A few hours later, I woke up to her standing over my bed: “Brandy, the old lady is here. She was sad that she never got to say goodbye”, she said. I jumped up out of fright. How did she find us? The lady that lived next door to us in the village we stayed in loved us. She followed us everywhere, it seemed. She didn’t want to let us go home. Before I could figure out what was going on, my roommate walked to the door of the hotel room and opened it up. I couldn’t see anything, but I heard my roommate say, “Namaskarum” – the way to say hello in Tellagu. I began to freak out. How did she get here?! It was a 7 hour bus ride back to the village! I didn’t know what to do or say, so I just sat silently in bed. A few seconds passed before I remembered what my roommate had said the first night of our trip, “Oh, I sleep talk and sleep walk if I get really tired”. A sense of calm rushed over me and I said, “Girl, go back to bed”.

 

-Brandy Roberts

 

Turkey

Fairy Chimney in Turkey
Dear Mom,
        The fateful day came when I found myself needing to “use the facilities” while we were at the local elementary school tutoring the kids in English. The school’s lavatories only contained the Turkish-style “squatty potty” toilets.
         My friend B. accompanied me for the journey, as she had already “mastered the technique.” We went into the small room, floor and walls all lined with the same pink tile, and I chose my stall. I tried to remember what our faculty leader had told us: the lower to the ground you can get, the more control you’ll have.
         I tried that, and could quickly tell that it was, um, not going to work out so well.
         “B. How the heck do I do this?!” I asked in a somewhat pleading voice.
         “You gotta stand up higher. Act like you’re barely squatting.”
         Mercifully, that was the trick for me. I received a congratulatory high-five (after washing my hands, of course), and as we went back to join our peers it was announced that I had “conquered it.”
         For the rest of the trip, and when I returned to Turkey a year later, I found myself able to not only use the facilities whenever the need struck, but I also gained the courage to try other new things (raw beef, anyone?), an irreplaceable part of being abroad.
 
         xox,
         English Major
 
 
 

Taiwan

Bustling city in TaiwanDear Dad,
        School is absolutely wonderful! I love studying Chinese, it is my favorite subject now! We are beginning to write a lot more and I am amazed at the way my classmates and I have progressed so much. When I see signs on the street it’s so much fun to recognize a few characters here and there. I feel like a little kid again as I try to read. =) I did well on my midterms too!
        There is not much of an autumn here. The trees here have not changed a leaf and the only leaves that fall off are the ones that get knocked off by the rain I think. Its kinda strange to see how I have adjusted to the tropical weather here after such a hot and humid summer. I have already started to bundle up with sweaters now, and it is like 78 F. Haha! It’s going to be hard coming back to the US in the middle of the winter… I will do my best not to complain, but that’s not a promise! One of my friends who has lived in Taiwan all his life has moved to VA to study at a college there and one day he wrote on his Facebook wall: “Its 48 degrees F and its only the beginning of autumn… shoot me now!” Talk to you soon.
     Love,
        History Major
 
 
 
Students in TaiwanDear Hannah,
         I have been doing well. Staying busy and enjoying my study abroad experience! These local people are so kind and generous to me, I just wish I could speak their language! It’s kinda funny because they LOVE to talk to foreigners (and they think that all foreigners are from the US). They put out so much effort to communicate with me and most of the time I can’t understand a thing they are talking about! I’ve learned the phrase: “dwebuchi, wo bu dong, wo de zongwan bu hao” really well! (“I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you are saying, my Chinese is very bad!”) I have managed to make a fool out of myself several times as I try to act out a sentence! –just the other day I had to get to the train station, so when I left my apartment I signaled for a taxi. Unfortunately the minute I jumped into the taxi I complete forgot the word for “Train Station!” After sitting in the car for a few seconds in an awkward pause as the driver stared at me and I blankly stared back, I started making train noises! Haha, it can be really funny at times…
         Lots of fun stories! I won’t be able to stop talking about them all when I have to come back!
         Love,
         History Major
 
 
Parade from festival is TaiwanDear Jesse,
         I can't believe I have been here for almost a month already. The time is flying by so quickly and I continue to love this place more and more. The people are so friendly and it’s never hard to make friends. 
         Wednesday was Dragon Boat Festival and since we didn’t have school I went to Xiao's home (Xiao is the international student that was from Taiwan that I met at WT last year!). Xiao’s family treated me like royalty! They had every imaginable fruit at their home; peach, plumb, lemon, leachy, mango, papaya, orange, and many others that I don't even know what they were! …yummy! They cut a huge branch off the leachy tree and gave me a 20 pound sack to bring home to share with Wei and Lin (my two roommates). Than her mother cooked a beautiful meal for us of fish, open-heart vegetable, duck, seaweed soup, etc… my mouth waters just thinking about all the delicious foods! I think I have decided that steamed dumplings are my favorite. =)
        Hope you are doing well,
        Your friend,
        History Major
 

Student with a group of Taiwanese girls

 Dear Mom,       
        Guess what? I had my first trip to the hospital today! 
        After waiting for 3 days to see if a bug bite on my left ankle would get any better I finally decided to go to the doctor to see what he said.  I first noticed it on Tuesday morning but just figured it was just some kind of unidentified Taiwanese bug and that the bite would get better in a few days.... but it didn’t, so this afternoon I went to the near-by emergency room and a Simi-English speaking doctor saw .
        Now here’s the best part: I walked in, they immediately took my blood pressure, paperwork, and looked at my passport. Waiting to see the doctor took the amount of time it took me to walk from the registration desk, across the room and into the clinic! I walked straight up to the doctor where he already had my information. (Mind you that people were everywhere; it wasn’t like it was slow or anything like that!) When the doctor was done, I walked down the hall and asked for my prescription which was already ready and then I walked out the doors of the hospital. Done in 30 minutes!! Amazing! Get this too: my entire visit to the doctor, all the paper work, all the prescription, everything was $28 US!
        I’m right as rain now, no worries. =)
        Write more later,
        Love,
        History Major

 

 

Girls posing infront of Taiwanese graffitiDear Mom,
        I have decided that I won’t complain about your cooking anymore when I get home! It is so different over here. Growing up in the country and coming to a big city with a population of about two million is different enough, plus the culture differences, its SO crazy! Going to the grocery store is one of the hardest things to do. The first time I walked into a grocery store I felt so overwhelmed and stressed out. It sounds funny, but when you don’t know what any of the food is… its when I miss American food most! =) Mexican food has always been my favorite, and there is no such thing as Mexican food here! Only Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Thai food, with an occasional McDonalds that has a strange menu of fish sandwiches and ouster desserts! 
        The other day I was out with some friends and after we had lunch we decided to stop at a little ice-cream stall. The owner was there and was super excited to have foreigners at his stand, and then when he found out that we were Lakers fans he gave us all free ice-cream! =) I was too full to eat much of mine…disappointing: it was fresh mango -so delicious! It has been super hot and humid everyday. We are in the rainy season right now, so it rains quite a bit, soon it will be typhoon season… I’m not sure what to think of all that! =) 
        Love you,
        History Major
 
 
Dana with friends in TaiwanDear Mom,
        YaChun took me to visit Koushiung with her family last week and we had such a great time. It is such a beautiful city! (You would love it) While her parents were busy in the city, YaChun and I wondered through a lovely university campus and on down to the beach. We spent the time talking and wading in the water and picking up all kinds of seashells! She also took me to a local vender that was near the beach and we bought some of the most delicious dessert I have ever tasted in my whole life! It is called Mango Shaved-ice… wow! So SO good. =) 
        This past week, now that school is out for the summer, YaChun and I have been spending a lot of time together. Just the other day we spent almost all day in the kitchen cooking different things and comparing western style food to Asian food. By the time we were done we had enough food for an army and a pile of dishes so high that I wish we would have had an army to help with the clean up! This morning YaChun got a group of friends together and we all went hiking up on a mountain and spent almost the entire day out in the fresh air. It was so much fun! (I got sunburned though… =))
       Talk to you and Dad on Skype tomorrow?
       Love y’all!
       History Major
 
 

 
The Americas

Students' American Experiences

Programs in the Americas

Bolivia

    I don't even know how to put my experience into words. I went as a Readership Ambassador. I got to see the city of La Paz, Bolivia, and I got to see the country side on Isla Del Sol. The people there are just so amazing. The city life was in a way like the city life in New York or some other big city. The country was my favorite part, because it reminded me of home. We got to live the daily life of Bolivians for 5 days. We went out and harvested crops, took care of livestock, and so much more. It was just unbelievable how simple the live. It showed me how much we take for granted. We could live such a simple life, yet we seem to make it so complicated. It was so calming to live the way they did. They had no stress on the island. They lived day by day and harvested their own food, and traded the extra for livestock and other items. No one had grey hair due to them just loving life I believe. I hope that I brought back some of the great things that I learned, and hope I  can share it just as well as my host family and others did. It was an awesome experience that I would do all over again.

-Cassie Jones

 
Coming into this trip to Bolivia was one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my life. Someone told me, “This trip will either be a reminder, a lesson, or a challenge.” The people I met and things I experienced has made me realize the importance of life. Sometimes we're too ignorant to listen and realize what's in front of us. We as human beings forget the most important things in life. Life is a journey, we stumble, we hurt, we cry.. but in the end we Learn. We learn to live life only better. The world is not just made up of people its made up of life, life that needs to be seen, felt, and heard. Bolivia was my reminder to Simply Live and Love.

-Silvia Soto

 

Ecuador

 
Hey friends,
        We arrived in Cuenca, Ecuador today. My home-stay family is awesome! I have 2 sisters and 1 brother and my parents are so funny! The food is amazing! I know right... me saying that must really be a joke huh? You would all be proud that I tried guinea pig today and llama the other day. I even have a video to prove it. So far I have gone rafting, rode in a gondola cart across some waterfalls, and hiked to the tallest mountain on the equator. Sorry for rubbing it in! I definitely am having a great time and hope to come back one day. I love how beautiful it is and how nice all of the people have been to us.
        More to come,
        Biology Major