Studying abroad can be the experience of a lifetime for college students. Yet the cost and the length of these programs may make some students question whether it’s a realistic option.
Jessie Silguero was almost one of them. Almost.
“I currently work two jobs and I’m the oldest in my family,” he says. “I have a lot of responsibilities.”
Silguero is a criminal justice major at O’Neill. He was interested in taking his first trip out of the country through a summer study abroad program to Ireland. It would require two weeks of time off and about $1,400. The financial burden and time investment required worried him.
That’s when Kris Schuster, an O’Neill career advisor who oversees O’Neill International at IUPUI, offered Jessie an alternative. O’Neill International’s spring break study abroad program—previously only available to students in Bloomington—was opening to IUPUI students for the first time.
“Leaving for one week was more convenient and affordable for me,” he says.
The new spring break options open the door to four experiences: Germany, Poland, the Cayman Islands, and the United Arab Emirates. Costs range from $500 to $1,500 depending on the destination, not including airfare and some meals.
Silguero was drawn to Germany.
“I loved the concept of being in Berlin,” he recalls. “I wanted to know the history of that place, especially during World War II, and I wanted to learn more about the Berlin Wall.”
The trip to Berlin focuses on how Germany has thrived economically since its reunification in 1990. Students learn about the policy decisions that have helped the nation rise up through the ranks of global economic leaders.
“We learned about how their school systems differ from ours,” Silguero says. “We learned about how their salaries and work weeks are different. We talked about how different maternity leave is there compared to the U.S.”
But the experience extends beyond economics. Silguero says another difference really caught his eye: public art.
“I really enjoyed Berlin’s art culture,” he says. “They’re more expressive and open-minded when it comes to art. The whole city is covered in graffiti. Here, we see it as dirty or criminal, but they use it to express themselves.”
He says he was especially moved when looking at the different sides of the Berlin Wall, and seeing the messages people on either side were sending through their art.
Cultural lessons were everywhere Silguero looked. That includes remembering a dark part of the nation’s past by honoring its victims.
“They still focus a lot on the Nazi regime and World War II,” he recalls. “They don’t forget about it. They talk about it and there are memorials everywhere. It’s a different perspective than in the U.S. where we tend to gloss over parts of our past.”
Yet Silguero found much more on this trip than the lessons learned in the classroom or on excursions.
“It provides you a soul-searching opportunity,” he says. “You don’t have your family or friends there, so you learn what you actually want to do. Being on your own helps you better understand who you really are.”
He says that portion of the trip has made him a more confident and culturally aware person, two traits that will come in handy in his future law enforcement career.
“Knowing how to work with people from different cultures and finding a common point with them is important,” he says. “It’s nice when people who aren’t from here can see there are people who care about them and their culture and understand where they’re coming from.”
Silguero says the experiences and education provided by his study abroad trip were worth the cost, but he points out there are scholarships available, too. He received a scholarship to document his trip on social media.
He says it was also worth taking the time off from his two jobs and away from his family.
“Even if you have a very busy schedule, college is the perfect time to explore and experience new things,” he says. “Don’t stop yourself from enjoying a whole new aspect of life. It’s only a week and it’s well worth it.”
So worth it, in fact, that Silguero—like many students who study abroad—says it won’t be his last time globetrotting.
“I definitely want to go overseas again,” he says with a smile. “I really want to visit Japan, South Korea, and Italy. This trip was my first step in making those dreams come true.”