I’ve often wondered – if given the chance – where I would choose to study abroad. Studying abroad provides an opportunity for students to travel inexpensively, experience different cultures, and learn other languages. Back in my college days, studying abroad wasn’t very common, but now more colleges offer study abroad programs and encourage students to take advantage of them. Since I’m 30 years removed from being a college student, the likelihood of me studying abroad has fizzled out. Rather than dwell on my missed opportunity, I’ve chosen to live vicariously through my nephew, Dane, who recently returned from his study abroad trip. Read on for our interesting Q & A.
What country did you choose to study in and why?
The University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) offered multiple options of countries to study in, but I chose the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic is in central/eastern Europe, so not only does it have a lot of history, but so do all of the surrounding countries.
Why did you choose to study abroad?
I’ve always been a history buff, so when I saw all of the European countries I could visit during my time abroad, it was an easy choice. I wanted to experience some of the historical places that I’ve only seen and heard about in my classes.
Was it a difficult process to get everything set up for this trip?
The college handled most of the details. I completed the application, read the information and policy postings on my college portal, and got a passport. The study abroad coordinator hosted several informational presentations to help us learn about currency exchange and the other day-to-day stuff we would need to know. There’s always a learning curve when you actually get to your destination, but you get used to things pretty quickly, and the college did a great job of preparing us for most of it.
Were there any nerves or doubts prior to leaving home?
I’d say more excitement than nerves prior to leaving. I’ve flown by myself before so I was fine catching my flights and being in the right spots, but I know some of the other students I traveled with were a bit nervous about traveling overseas. All of my flights went smoothly and I had no issues for the most part. Doubts definitely set in after I had been in Europe for a couple of days. It really hits you that there’s an entire planet between you and home, so that can be a little daunting at first, but I got over that pretty quickly.
What did you find most difficult about your travels, both getting to the Czech Republic and traveling to other places while you were in Europe?
I have Crohn’s Disease, which requires me to take bi-weekly injections that need to stay chilled. We contacted my doctor to request the amount of medication I would need for the entire three months I’d be gone, then I filled a cooler with ice packs and my meds, which I took as my carry-on for the flights. When you’re taking medication like that through customs and bag checks, you MUST have the prescription and a note from your doctor that states your purpose for carrying the drugs. Luckily, I was never stopped for my medication and my documents were never requested by anyone, but you absolutely need those things just in case!
On spring break, I was stopped by customs and immigration in Dublin because they didn’t believe I was studying abroad. I simply showed them my student ID and my European student ID (which was given to me at the start of the program) and everything was cleared.
What did you like best about traveling in Europe?
The transportation between countries is very easy and fluid because most of Europe signed a free travel and work treaty. Public transportation is set up very well there! Trains, buses, and trams are your best friend for anywhere and everywhere you want to go. My favorite thing about traveling in Europe was watching the landscape of different countries as we passed by.
What countries did you visit while you were gone and which one was your favorite?
I visited the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Slovakia, and Ireland over the three-month span that I was gone. I absolutely loved Ireland for its natural beauty, but Poland and Italy had the best history, culture, architecture, and, of course, food!
What was your day-to-day regimen and what did you do on the weekends?
We had classes for 3-6 hours during weekdays in which we would cover things like Czech history, Czech language, and European history and culture, while the other credits came from field trips. During class, we were always in the same classroom, but we had different professors who would come in and teach us. The field trips, which were typically 3-4 days long, felt like free travel because our professors would show us sights and only lecture for the first part of the day, then we would have the rest of the day to explore that city or place on our own. We also never had homework, but we did take finals, so notes were very important! For our two-day weekends, long spring break, and Easter weekend, we were free to travel to other countries.
Was it expensive and would you recommend studying abroad to current college students?
The Czech Republic study abroad trip was only slightly more expensive than a regular semester at UNK. To help offset the costs, I worked two jobs leading up to my departure, but the majority of the money I raised was from donations by family and friends, and I was so appreciative of that!
I absolutely recommend studying abroad and I’d go so far as to say everyone SHOULD travel to other countries and learn about the culture and history of that place while they have the chance!
I’ll cherish the experiences, memories, and friendships made while studying abroad for the rest of my life. If you have the opportunity, take advantage of the study abroad program at your college. It was definitely worth every penny I spent!
Dane Schmitt is from Kearney and is a senior at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, studying criminal justice.