UMD: A Globally Connected University

Robel Tesfay

Program: UMD Exchange: University of Melbourne
Term: Spring 2016

My exchange in Melbourne has impacted me in more ways than I could have imagined. On a personal level, it has improved my confidence, my drive and critical thinking. When you are suddenly thousands of miles away from everyone you know you are bound to be a bit nervous but you have to remind yourself that what you are feeling is independence and freedom. You will soon realize that you are only there for a short time, so you start to enjoy and learn from every moment. Personally, I found myself trying out new things, picking up new skills and really coming out of my shell. Academically, study abroad is one of the best decisions I have ever made. As a double major, I have always struggled with choosing a track to focus on. But after taking courses abroad, I noticed that I was extremely passionate about my global health courses and often found myself really enjoying the assignments and discussions in class. Coming back to UMD, I definitely feel like I finally know what courses I want to take and even what fields I want to focus on after my undergraduate years. 

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: It is safe to assume that coming from a unique background will make your experience that much more interesting. As a person of color and not the most fluent English speaker, there were definitely times I felt out of place. But you have to remember that you are there for a reason and the discomfort you feel is normal and room for knowledge and growth as a person. You might have to be the one that has to initiate conversation but soon you will realize that you are on the same boat as everyone else. It might be a little hard to get in touch or interact with the locals at first since they are most likely to have set friend groups but that is bound to change as you start attending classes or even sharing living arrangements with them. In the mean time, talk to other international students and share your background and experiences so far. In my experience, every student I interacted with was really nice and willing to help in need be.  

By far, the most memorable time abroad for was a trip I took to Tasmania during our mid semester break. I went on this week long venture with seven other international students, which made the experience even more worthwhile. We bought our air tickets, rented tents, packed our bags and set off to the island on Monday. When we arrived, we rented two cars and went shopping for food and other necessities. Once we had everything we needed, we started our road trip which included visiting several National Parks such as Mt. Field home of Russlle falls and Freycinet home of Wineglass bay. We also hiked Bay of fires and Cradle mountain. We spent every night at a camp, which consisted of cooking, playing games and sharing stories. On one of the last days, we visited a wildlife sanctuary and spent some time with the Tasmanian Devil. Finally, we explored local Museums, farms and shops before catching our flight back to Melbourne on Sunday night.  

Advice for future #TerpsAbroad: Start the process, you have got nothing to lose. I have wanted to study abroad ever since I stepped foot on campus but I always thought it would be unfeasible both financially and logistically. But one day I decided to take a chance and walked to the study abroad office to discuss a possibility of doing a semester abroad. The advisors were really welcoming and kind. They took the time to explain the vast programs and hand picked the ones that they recommend for me. They also explain the different financing options, grants and aids offered and help you budget your potential trip. Additionally, they help you plan your courses so you can stay on track for graduation. As I met with my advisor more and more, the myths of me not being able to graduate on time or not being able to afford the programs were "busted". The key here is to start early! Budgeting your trip and scheduling your classes is bound to take sometime. As rewarding as study abroad is, you really need to get an early start and plan well so your semester goes as smoothly as possible.