This summer, I had the opportunity to partake in the UCLA Study Abroad Program. UCLA offers students a variety of programs that varied in location, major courses, and even duration. I ultimately chose the Political Science program in Europe because it aligned with my major and it allowed me to complete some major preparation courses, but it also gave me an opportunity to learn about political systems and life of other societies without the constraint of the American narrative. The European Program satisfied my dream of visiting countries like the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France. Lastly, the best thing about this was that even if you did not choose a program that aligns with your major, you could still have a blast learning about different cultures and experiences while on your trip.
For the program, we mostly stayed at hotels, except for Paris, as we were placed into university dorms. For our meals, we were only provided breakfast in Brussels and Amsterdam. This was because our meals and stays varied from location to location. In London, we were able to take a boat cruise to the city of Greenwich and experience the prime meridian. This program specifically included many day trips such as to The Hague in Amsterdam, the United Nations headquarters in Brussels, and Napoleon’s Tomb in Paris. All of these outings were optional, but sometimes, depending on the professor, they might show up as well. Just like several classes at UCLA, you had a professor and a teacher assistant (TA) for your course. Several times, the professor and teacher assistant also served as chaperones, especially when arriving and departing from certain countries and on various outings. Ultimately, the best thing that I have noticed was that you get to learn more about other countries and of its people because the program takes you outside the regular classroom as much as possible. Being abroad definitely felt more like an experience, rather than taking courses because you had to.
Once the program ended, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was still abroad, so I chose to travel to Italy and Spain with several friends. The program itself was three and half weeks long, but once it concluded, my friends and I stayed an additional ten days just to continue exploring Europe. That is five weeks abroad! If you ever get to study abroad, I highly recommend taking time to explore neighboring countries on your own. Traveling between all of the countries was also cheap because you were able to split the costs with your friends. Since my program did not include any meals, I had built meals into my overall spending budget, however I did take advantage of accommodations that had a kitchen, just so I could cook or microwave meals. Lastly, a tip for study abroad is to be mindful of how much you are packing, just because it can be a hassle when traveling. Studying abroad was one of the best highlights of my UCLA undergraduate experience. Traveling after the program only added more to that experience and honestly, being able to experience different countries and their cultures was truly unforgettable.