As part of the University of Redlands’ first internationalization summit, which recently gathered feedback from the community on how to enhance global opportunities, several U of R students and alumni spoke about their life-changing experiences studying abroad. Sonia Gomez ’17, ’18 shares some of her remarks below.
Before enrolling in the University of Redlands School of Business, I never would have imagined that study abroad opportunities were possible for me. I have a family and a full-time job, and I had never left the United States. Study abroad always seemed like something that was only possible for younger college students—not people like me who waited 25 years to go back to college.
But, because of the opportunities available through the University of Redlands, I have now studied international business abroad during three trips to 10 countries: Austria, Cambodia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Netherlands, Poland, Scotland, Slovakia, and Vietnam.
In my travels, I have listened to lectures from economics professors in Poland, networked with angel investors and entrepreneurs, visited U.S. embassies and consulate offices, played games with children at a school in Cambodia, asked questions of business owners in Vietnam, and listened to and learned about many cultures and traditions by talking with locals everywhere I went. I worked with a small team of consultants to create a marketing plan for a start-up company in Iceland, sampled ice cream and gelato in every city I visited, and rode through the busy streets of Saigon and Hanoi on the back of a scooter.
One of my favorite memories was in Hanoi. I was walking down a street with a friend when an elderly man came out of his house and waved us in with a smile. He didn’t speak a word of English and we didn’t speak a word of Vietnamese, but we both had cell phones and started a conversation with Google translate. He prepared coffee for us and we all sat on his patio, talking and sharing our stories.
I recently listened as an international student from Hanoi shared how friendly and welcoming people are from her home town. I could immediately relate to her cultural traditions because of the kindness we had been shown in her country. With current technology, many language barriers have diminished, giving people an opportunity to listen and learn from each other.
With each study abroad trip, I grew in positive ways that can never be reversed. Every city I visited and every person I met allowed me to be more open to new experiences and to stretch beyond my comfort zone. I was able to see life outside of my familiar bubble and develop a deeper level of empathy and understanding for all people. These encounters have helped me become more confident in who I am as a person. On the final leg of my last group trip, I chose to add a solo trip to Scotland for an additional few days. This is not something that I would even have considered without the encouragement of my professors and classmates and the new confidence I had acquired.
There’s one huge additional benefit from my experiences that I could never have predicted: Every time I returned home, my family saw a better version of me. They listened to my stories, looked at my pictures, and learned from my experiences.
My daughter recently came home from school with some paperwork advertising an educational school trip to Washington D.C. Without much thought, I set the paperwork aside. My husband, however, found the information and suggested we consider the trip. Because of my experiences and the changes he saw in me, he wanted to make sure that our daughter had opportunities to expand her horizons now instead of in 30 years. My daughter will be traveling to D.C. in a couple of months, and our family is busy planning our first family vacation abroad.
My study abroad experiences had a life-changing impact on me, but, even more important, they had and will continue to have a positive impact on my family. I’ve seen first-hand that sometimes “What is caught is more important than what is taught.” Thank you, University of Redlands, for providing international opportunities that truly make a difference.