By Kimberly Wei Kim Ngoh, 2019-2020 SCS Student Advising Leader:
I am a huge advocate of study abroad programs, having done so through the International Programs in Engineering (IPENG), and as an international student here at the U of I. At the risk of sounding cliché, I feel hesitant to share about my time abroad but doing so has put me in contact with an extensive network of outgoing and incoming exchange students here. We connect over struggles of holding up the line to count foreign coins, as well as the sense of gratification when we master navigating the public transportation system of a new environment.
In the summer preceding my junior year, I studied abroad under the Global Research Scholars program, where I worked on a research project in a Multiphase Flow Loop facility at the National University of Singapore. While attending college here counts as a “study abroad” experience, the disparity between the two lies in the renewed excitement of a foreign city, accents and new food and friends – all only available for a finite amount of time, of which builds up an overall trajectory to reset the factory setting of a stressed-out student to starry-eyed and enthusiastic.
My perception of this program began with zero expectations—I was just looking for a way to be productive over the summer. I was handed a list of names of participants in the program, but it never occurred to me that these people would end up shaping my college experience. In addition, having lived in Malaysia all of my life prior to college, I had to rectify the misconception that exploring other parts of Asia would be boring. I have no regrets in hopping on a ferry from Singapore to Batam, Indonesia, nor do I wish I could take back island hopping in Krabi, Thailand and riding motorbikes in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Living abroad may come off as daunting, what with taking the plunge into a completely new environment—sometimes with a language barrier thrown in. But that’s where half the fun of studying abroad stems from: being tested in your resilience to change, adaptability to a myriad of cultures, ultimately leading to your willingness to step out of your comfort zone.
Aside from a personal appreciation of difference, I found the experience allowed me to consider the notions and perspective of the host country itself, satiating my urge to explore not just places, but cultures too. I didn’t just observe—I sought to understand why and how they function the way that they do.
Don’t let the process of searching for the right program and sorting out paperwork or finances hinder you from exploring options abroad. Illinois Abroad and Global Exchange (IAGE) simplifies the application procedure by providing a wealth of information on all the programs available, along with options to fund it. In some cases, it may cost less for a semester abroad compared to the cost of attendance here. And if you’re worried about missing out on a semester here, then take advantage of winter and summer programs.
Furthermore, the ease of studying abroad now, as compared to the logistics of traveling as an adult with a full-time job, is reason enough for you to immerse yourself in a foreign city as you study. Like every other student who has gone abroad, I have to say that studying abroad truly changes your life.