Personal Growth Through Study Abroad

Jessica Mendoza, staff writer 

Planning out one’s study abroad experience takes time. It’s wise to start as soon as possible, even in the time of COVID. Our writer interviewed senior Shamsa Ahmed, a recipient of the Boren Scholarship, on her experience in this intensive language and culture study abroad program. Ahmed used her scholarship to study Swahili in Tanzania. 

Ahmed (fourth person to the right) with her friend’s host mom. The host mother brought Ahmed to her family’s village by Kilimanjaro and also spent the day with her host’s mother.

In Ahmed’s opinion, the cultural exchange was the best part of the program as she was able to build relationships with a Tanzanian family that she is still in contact with today. She appreciated the way they helped her learn to navigate her new environment so that she could do things independently. Ahmed says that “[host families] are really helpful because they are the first step in getting to know the culture and getting to know the country you’re in. They’ll teach you things that you can’t learn at school, things that your teachers or advisors won’t be able to.” 

Ahmed’s biggest advice to new applicants is to think about “the end result…the end goal, where you want to be, like how you’re going to acquire a new language, travel to a new place, and how the program you choose is going to help you with your future career.” 

The Boren program gives students the opportunity to learn about their host countries culture and language before actually traveling there. This helps students feel supported throughout their experience through pre-departure orientation programming and advisors that focus on concerns so that students can focus on the culture and language learning. 

Once Ahmed received the scholarship, she traveled to Florida where she took several courses and tests to evaluate her language skills. Through the courses she was able to eventually test into an advanced Swahili class. In Tanzania she continued her language study through staying with a host family and other instructors. 

She heard about the program during her first year but proceeded to work on the bulk of her essays and application during her sophomore year with support from the Undergraduate Research and Graduate Opportunities (URGO) office on campus. “The process of applying is very long and tedious,” she says. “But once you finish you feel at peace, and then when you get there, you won’t even think about the application process and how rigorous it was.” 

To anyone considering studying abroad that has the opportunity to do so, Ahmed says it is an experience that “is about your own inner growth, because now you’re able to meet new people and immerse yourself in a new culture.” 

Left: Shamsa Ahmed with her teacher Mwalimu Masanja.

Right: Ahmed and her group went on a safari and saw some giraffes along the way. Photo Credit: Shamsa Ahmed