Meet Lauren LaLonde, a recent WMU graduate who studied Political Science, Spanish, and Environmental Studies during six different semesters abroad! Lauren studied abroad in Ireland during Summer II 2016, Spain during Summer I and II 2017, Costa Rica during Spring break 2018, Cuba during fall 2018, and New Zealand during spring 2019. After graduating in 2020, with a double major in Political Science and Spanish, Lauren accepted a position as a Field Representative at the Progressive Turnout Project. The one word that Lauren used to describe her experience studying abroad was “Inspiring.” These are the questions that Lauren reflected on from her experience abroad:
What skills did you learn/sharpen during study abroad that you utilize daily? Professionally or personally.
“I am now much more comfortable introducing myself to strangers, asking for what I need, getting to know people quickly, and being understanding of other people's needs and backgrounds. Study abroad increased my communication skills exponentially, and also increased my awareness of how different people with different backgrounds will approach things differently.”
How has study abroad prepared you for your future?
“It has prepared me for the future in so many ways. Most importantly though, I am no longer as afraid to fail. While studying abroad, failure (however small it may be) occurs almost daily. By learning to accept that, and find what you can learn from it rather than dwell on it, my future goals and challenges seem a lot less intimidating.”
What was the biggest impact that study abroad left on you?
“I learned that there is always room for more. If you want to, you will never stop learning, meeting new people that change your life, and changing the way that you see the world (for the better) -- and I found that the best way to accomplish all of those things is through traveling. And to make sure that it is intentional traveling. Where you listen to and respect the locals and their country, and try to learn something from them and their way of life.”
What would you say to someone that was hesitant to study abroad?
"Even though it can seem intimidating, or out of your reach financially, or difficult to fit in to your academic schedule -- if you can make it happen, you will NOT regret it. Every single person I know that has studied abroad looks back on it as the best part of their university experience, even if they were nervous about going.
I just want to address one comment that I get a lot from other students, which is “why would I study abroad if I can just go travel for cheaper and do whatever I want?” I cannot express how different study abroad is from just traveling. It is so much more immersive, you meet incredible people that you likely wouldn’t meet when just passing through, and you gain so much more from the experience. Also – I want to encourage students to go somewhere that makes them uncomfortable, or that is more unique. Those locations and programs have the most interesting stories to tell, and will impact you in a life-altering way."
How did being immersed in a new culture change your perspective on the future?
“It opened my eyes as to how what I view as "normal" is simply a product of where I'm from and how I was raised. There are so many different ways you can choose to live your life, and all are equally acceptable. Often times, the way a different country does something can be better than how we do it here in the U.S. Studying abroad has definitely motivated me to potentially live abroad in the future.”
Did studying abroad help you professionally? How so?
“Most definitely. Studying abroad forces you to get out of your comfort zone, and if you want to make the most of your experience you have to work hard to put yourself out there, talk to new people, and learn as much as possible in the time that you have. In my experience, those are all super important things to be good at when starting a new job, or interviewing for a new job. Also, if you learn a new language or improve your language skills while studying abroad that is a major help too. If I had not studied abroad, I would not feel confident using my Spanish professionally.”
Read about Lauren’s study abroad experience in New Zealand at wmich.edu/studyabroad/blog/2019/07/lalondeohthestrangersyouwillmeet.