Aryan Azizian is currently enrolled in Keble College’s Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies semester-long program. Keble College is one of 38 constituents of the University of Oxford in England. He reports: So far, so good — “Harry Potter”-esque dining room halls, friendly locals, an extensive wine selection and a DIY sundae bar at the neighborhood Pizza Huts. When he’s not keeping up with his homework, Azizian hosts his own show on the university’s radio station called “The Rock & Roll Hour with Aryan Azizian” and writes for their satire newspaper, The Oxymoron, which he said is no competition to USF’s The Humbugger, and their weekly paper, The Oxford Student. The only hitch he’s run into was understanding British humor. “Figuring out what made them laugh took forever, but once you get it you’re set!”
Azizian’s classes, called “tutorials,” are one-on-one meetings with professors to discuss a specific topic, like character and plot analyses from selected readings. Once a week, Azizian meets with a professor and is assigned three books and an essay due for the following week. “The teachers challenge you but are very kind and usually work with you to find the right answers,” he said. His favorite tutorial is the Study of Comedy, in which he reads writers including Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Kurt Vonnegut. He’s also encouraged to study films of Mel Brooks and Monty Python. As part of a field trip, this week Azizian is watching Python’s “Spamalot!” at London’s Broadway, which is just an hour-long bus ride from Oxford.
“Telling people that you live in San Francisco is basically a green card into any group here. They are equally as curious to know about the US, and what college kids do there for fun,” he said. This semester, he hopes to improve his writing skills and take advantage of visiting the surrounding areas, but he insists that students shouldn’t mistake a study abroad trip as an opportunity to slack off. Azizian spends 30-40 hours each week completing schoolwork.
“Oxford is such a beautiful city with incredibly rich history,” he said. “It’s pretty mind boggling to live in a city that influenced Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and to sit in the same pub that J.R.R Tolkien used to write some of his timeless stories in.”
In 2011, Chelsea Sundiang worked for Disney World, which not many students can say after leaving college. Her duties as a student intern for the Disney College Program included performing in the theme park’s shows and parades, meeting and greeting families, and sometimes gearing up in costume as a Disney character.
Sundiang went through a month of training in customer service skills and character choreography before being able to work in the park. Initially, she planned on staying for a semester, but later extended her internship to a year. Sundiang recalled the tough experience of her first Thanksgiving away from family, Orlando’s frequent, intense thunderstorms, and not getting along with her five roommates, but nothing stopped her from having a memorable time. It is “the happiest place on Earth” after all. Besides being able to call Disney World her backyard for a year, Sundiang also learned how to line dance in a nearby country music club and was introduced to the sweet life of Southern hospitality.
“I wouldn’t call it studying abroad. I did study, but that’s not what the experience gave. It was an escape from the California life because it was another world,” she said. “When you go to a place other than your home, you’ll realize there’s so much more than what you’re exposed to. You can learn so much more about yourself.”
Since leaving Disney World, Sundiang still keeps in touch with the myriad of friends she met living in places like Puerto Rico and the U.S. South and East Coast. Last year, MTV contacted Sundiang after viewing “It Gets Better with (365) Days of Disney,” a YouTube video montage of her life at Disney World. Sundiang is affiliated with It Gets Better, an Internet-based project working to promote optimism and hope among LGBT teens bullied for being gay or suspected of being gay by uploading videos created by users with one simple, positive message: Life after high school rocks.
“I’ve learned that if you want to do something, just do it. It’ll teach you so much more than what you expect learn,” she said. “Before Disney World, I used to think that life changes fast, then I realized the only thing that changed was myself.” Once a self-described “party animal,” Sundiang said being surrounded by students focused on their future careers helped transform her own goals. Her dream job is to work as the creative director for Vogue magazine.
Thanks to the glory of the southern hemisphere, Natalie Abbene spent her fall semester…in spring. But eternal sunshine wasn’t the only perk she experienced as a student of the semester-long media studies program at the University of Boston Sydney campus. “I went bungee jumping, camping in Byron Bay, scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, and road tripped to New Zealand,” said Abbene. “I was living the life.”
Though don’t be fooled, dear reader; actual studying did take place on this overseas exchange. Abbene took four courses at the University of Boston Sydney campus: Australian Culture, Australian Literature, and Australian Cinema. Her fourth course—media internship—included an actual intern position at one of Australia’s prestigious media production company’s: Fox Studio’s Spectrum Films, which has helped create such legendary movies as “Dead Poets Society,” “Mission Impossible: 2” and “Little Women.”
When Abbene wasn’t busy braving the outdoors or working with the Australian film industry, she spent her time simply getting used to a new home. She shared an apartment style dorm room with four other girls—two of which were fellow USF-ers. Living with Americans didn’t make it any easier adapting to a foreign country, however. “There are small things with the accent,” she said, “but really it’s a totally different English language.” Wearing a tank-top? In Australia, you’re wearing a ‘singlete.’ Thanking someone? All you have to say is ‘ta.’ And if you hear someone say they’re ‘fangin’ a duzzie’—according to Abbene, they’re just looking for a cigarette.
Indeed, it appears weather wasn’t the only thing Abbene found topsy-turvy in the land down under. “Things that are ‘iced’—like iced coffee—come with a scoop of ice-cream in it,” she said. “And you don’t have to tip.”
One final thing Abbene found flip-flopped: her opinion on Australia. “At first, I was upset not to be in Europe,” she explained, “but the trip was absolutely amazing; I wish I could go again.”
For some, studying abroad is a long awaited and carefully planned out trip. For others, it’s more of a shot in the dark. David Yount, who spent his past semester in Africa, falls under the latter. “I didn’t really know much about where I was going,” he said. “I liked the idea of doing something spontaneous.” Yount’s spontaneity landed him at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, a country in East Africa.
As an international studies student learning French and Swahili, Yount felt right at home in his African and International Politics course and his Swahili lessons. His environment, however, took a little more adapting. Besides getting used to a new culture, the extreme heat, and a standard diet of rice and beans, he also adapted to being, in his own terms, the guinea pig of his group. “I was one of the first kids from USF to go on this program, so I had to rely on improvisation,” said Yount.
Indeed, it was spontaneity that got him there and spontaneity that got him through the semester—especially when he was asked to assist in teaching French class at a local Jesuit high school. “There were no textbooks and no course materials,” he said, “but we made it work.” More than making it work, Yount helped to make the classroom a community.
In an area with over 70 spoken languages, it’s not surprising that no one really calls themselves ‘Tanzanian,’ explained Yount. But by establishing “bridges,” homerooms for teens of all ages, where the students participated in talks and activities, Yount hoped to create a community. “The principal and I focused on bringing the kids together by making learning a celebration,” he said.
When he wasn’t busy studying for classes (or teaching them), Yount spent his time on the soccer field with the local teams. “I travelled all over the city with these guys,” he said. “I even won a goat.”
Yount left the goat in Dar es Salaam, but he did bring back something more: a new place to call home. “Africa will always be a part of my heart,” he said, “and I will definitely be going back.”
*Written by Kathleen DeLara and Allison Fazio