Studying abroad, in the past few issues, has shown how students adapted to new locations. For Kaila Russell, adapting to a new place also meant changing a part of her character.
Russell, a 20 year-old anthropology/sociology and Women and Gender Studies double major from Yellow Springs, Ohio, tells how she pushed herself out of her introverted nature to take advantage of the experience.
“I’ve learned that while it’s definitely okay to take time for self care and to recharge, it’s equally as important to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. I think in order to consider something ‘life changing’ there has to be some amount of struggle. You can’t grow as a person without a struggle or challenge,” said Russell.
For her, traveling to Brazil was more about experiencing something she might have otherwise said no to. Her program, she says, focuses on the students, making sure they have good experiences and can do as much as they want to.
They have gone on a variety of day trips to show students the island and country they live in. The program directors have also taken students rafting, hiking to a waterfall and on a tour of an old military fort.
Although her abroad experience sounds expensive, Russell said she picked Brazil for the relatively low cost.
“Look into all your options, especially if you’re low-income or think you can’t afford to go abroad. With my program, the cost was so low that my scholarships covered all of my expenses. There are definitely programs you can go to that cost less than a semester at Denison does,” Russell advised.
Money was one of two obstacles for Russell when abroad. Once she tackled the first, it was time for her to deal with her innate desire to stay introverted.
“I wish I knew from the beginning to push myself more. For about the first month, I started withdrawing more from my host family, staying in my room to talk to friends back home. It’s good to keep connected, but that stuff can also wait. I’ve been a lot better at sitting out in the living room, watching soccer with my host brother, having coffee with my host dad, or watching the telenovelas with my host mom. Making a little more effort to hang out with my host family has helped me a lot in understanding Brazilian culture, as well as helping me get over homesickness,” Russell said.
Russell has spent the latter part of her time challenging herself and discovering who she is away from Denison. She says that she has made a lot of progress, but it hasn’t been easy.
For the first part of her academics, Russell had to take an intensive portion of language classes. This is four hours of Portuguese class every Monday through Thursday.
“It was definitely a challenge, and within the first week of class I cried at least three times,” said Russell. Due to this struggle, she had one of the worst moments studying abroad.
During the second week and half of the third week in Brazil, Russell couldn’t keep up with her language class. She was homesick, tired and really lonely.
After trying to communicate with her host family, who she also struggled to understand, she had a moment where she felt completely isolated. One particular moment that stood out was at dinner with her host family.
“My host mom doesn’t speak English at all, and asked me what time I would be home. After a couple tries to understand her, my host brother translated for me. I answered in Portuguese, but I messed up the language and apologized. Everyone got quiet and looked at me, and my host brother asked why I said sorry. He’s since asked me why I say sorry more times than I can count. I just say sorry for things he doesn’t think it should be used for. For some reason, being wrong, not understanding, and having everyone look at me at once made me feel terrible,” said Russell.
Luckily, Russell has used the bad experiences to garner more confidence. She has since completed the intensive language classes and looks to learn more abroad.
After all, some of her best experiences have come from her time in Brazil.
“My best experience would definitely be the boat trip my program took to an old military fort. We got to see capybaras on the island where the fort is, eat lots of amazing traditional Brazilian food, have fresh cut fruit on the boat ride back, and we stopped for anyone who wanted to swim. I decided to do so, jumping off the boat and into my first time swimming in the ocean. It was extremely cold and slightly drizzling, so no one stayed in long, but I don’t think I’ll forget that first time I swam in the ocean.,” Russell said.
By putting herself in a situation that she isn’t used too, Russell has discovered more about herself than she could imagine. Studying abroad isn’t always like the wild stories people tell, and the transition can be difficult.
Russell advocates to those who are too scared to put themselves in unfamiliar places to fight that urge to keep to yourself.
“This is mostly for students who are introverted or shy – don’t lock yourself away. Really push yourself to interact with the people around you, either the other students, your roommates or your host family. My worst moments have been while I’ve been locked away doing nothing. Get out of your comfort zone and push yourself more than you originally think you should.,” Russell said.
Russell shows that studying abroad is not a walk in the park, but rather a climb up a mountain with a beautiful view on top.