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MSU RCS Students have been busy learning all over the world during the '18-'19 School Year. From Quito, Ecuador to Valencia, Spain, these students have shared their learning experiences below!


Keith Tindall

Keith studied abroad for semester in Quito, Ecuador with a host family. While he lived with a host family during his program in Valencia, Spain in the summer, he now lives with a larger family, which he requested, and there are more opportunities to do activities with that host family. In addition, in Valencia he lived with another MSU students, which he enjoyed very much. In Ecuador, it is just him living with his host family, which gives him more time to speak Spanish. In a typical day during the school week, Keith wakes up for his 10 o’clock class and takes the bus to campus. His ride is about 20 minutes, which is relatively short compared to other international students. He goes to classes during the day, and during his free time he stays on campus and hangs out with friends or studies for classes. Once the day ends, he usually goes home and plays soccer with his host brothers, or goes to the movies with family or friends. Most weekends, he and his friends take a bus to another city so that they can see the sights  Ecuador has to offer.

Keith has been on two previous study abroad experiences, a First-Year Seminar Abroad in Spain, as well as a two month program of Hispanic Studies in Valencia, Spain. Starting with the seminar abroad, his programs have gradually given me more independence. While in Valencia, he was participating in a school that only had students from MSU and University of Virginia, but here in Ecuador he attends La Universidad San Francisco de Quito with other Ecuadorian students. In addition, he has an internship with the Comisión Fulbright in Quito, and that just further enriches his experience. All of his study abroad experiences have had their own strengths and weaknesses, but this program in Quito has made him am more prepared professionally, and more prepared to live in a Latin American country.

According to Keith, Ecuador has it’s differences when compared to Spain. First of all, the Spanish language in Ecuador is in his opinion more clear, and better suited to students who may be beginners in the language. "Ecuador is also different in the sense that it is still a developing country." Says Keith.  "There are places where you will realize that the infrastructure is not properly kept up, or realize that there are still very large wealth gaps.At the same time, almost everyone that I have met in Ecuador has been enthused to help me with my Spanish, or ask what parts of the country I have been to. While Spain has a lot of regional divisions, Ecuador has a sense of pride in what their country is (developing and all), and they would love to share it with foreigners." 

While he has learned a lot about Ecuadorian and Latin American culture, he would say that he has learned more about himself than anything else. It has been a semester of personal growth, whether that is understanding who he is, how others see him, what he wants to do in his future career, or what his strengths and weaknesses are. "When people say that study abroad really lets you understand yourself better, they are not lying." says Keith. 

Once he finishes this program, Keith is very excited to have gotten a position working as a steward with the American Semester Program this summer on campus. He will be assisting with programming for the International Students who come for the summer short courses on campus, and he is very excited to get more involved in International Education!

Zak Hill 

Zak studied with the Universidad San Francisco de Quito exchange program through the Department of Romance and Classical Studies for approximately two months. He lived with a host family which he was very grateful for. "My host parents treated me like their own college-aged son, and welcomed me into their family life." says Zak. His host parents also helped with acclimating to the culture and provided lots of advice, being very patient and helpful as he worked to improve my Spanish. To Zak, the most valuable part of the program was the structure which allowed for immersion in the language in  classes at the university as well as time to travel and see other parts of Quito during weekends. He feels that his formal studies and informal studies through socializing his free time combined to solidify his ability in the language.

The hardest part of the experience for Zak was deciding how to fill his free time. These decisions were always a challenge since he had so many good options to consider, whether to spend time with his host family, travel with other international students, or spend more time with domestic students from the university.What he would say to a student considering this program is that he is immensely happy with my choice to do this program, and that if they select this program, he is convinced that they will experience self growth as a scholar, a global citizen, and an individual. To Zak, participation in this program has greatly improved his abilities in Spanish and allowed him to feel well-equipped to use Spanish in his studies and subsequent profession. It has also strengthened his connection to the language and understandings of the world.

Jaclyn Rey 

  In Spring of 2016, Jaclyn participated in the Quito, Ecuador study abroad program at Universidad San Fransisco de Quito for six months. 

She lived with a local host family in a comfortable apartment building just caressing the base of inactive volcano, Pichincha. She can remember the breathtaking view from the windows of the living space which overlook a wide section of the city. When the sky was clear enough, she could receive a generous mountain view of those that make up the Andes.  "I shared the space with María, the kind hearted, helpful host mother, Alegría, the beautiful sister, Ricardo, the intelligent, eldest brother and of course the black cat, blutón." says Jaclyn. During the 6 months living in Quito, she felt like she finally had the opportunity to truly explore and embrace her independency and natural instincts. She grew up the youngest in my family, therefore always have those “older” or “smarter” than herself on which to rely. She became aware  of her habit of co-dependency while in Ecuador when she realized she needed to trust herself and listen to her innate intelligence, especially when traveling through the country.

 She began to cultivate courage, a fondness for adventure and a deeper self-awareness upon her return to the United States. To Jaclyn,  the hardest part of the experience was the language barrier. She had briefly studied Spanish in high school, and casually completed SPN 202 before departing for her travels. This meant she had not yet taken a basic Spanish grammar course, so as she always likes to say, there was no “method to the madness” when she spoke. The surprising part and also an invaluable lesson: she was completely capable! She managed her way through any chaos, confusion, misunderstandings or feelings of doubt. She developed the practice of genuine listening and playful observation. Jaclyn says that her Spanish-speaking undoubtedly improved after the program’s completion.  To any future students considering this program, she says, do it! Take the leap! Jaclyn says,  "Ecuador is an insanely beautiful country with so much to offer including a variety of landscapes, wonderful and kind humans, delicious foods, exotic fruits and a very neutral Spanish accent, making it the perfect place to begin your journey to fluency. Universidad San Fransisco de Quito, simply put, is so cool! The environment is quaint, buildings colorful, students chill, weather mostly sunny with many chances to learn different skills and make new friends." To those wishing to study abroad in general, she insists, travel is worth every penny, intense emotion and deep-rooted fear. The opportunity to travel, especially alone, allows us to develop an open-mind, grateful heart and new perspective. Things happen when we travel that we could never anticipate, plan for nor expect but through this we make unforgettable memories and learn to appreciate the present moment. After returning to the United States, due to the satisfaction of completing the program, excitement for all she had learned and awe of my experiences, she was inspired. She put in the work and within the following year she began my next adventure to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a three-month internship. The initial study abroad in Quito changed the course of her college career not only because she realized what she was capable of, but also, she dipped her toes into an internal yearning for worldly adventure and knowledge. She made post-graduation travels to Costa Rica, researching future pursuits to volunteer in Peru. She cannot say any confusion has gone away, but due to her experiences abroad, she reacts more from a space of ease, curiosity, greater awareness and motivation to keep moving forward. 

Kellen Harris

Kellen participated in the French Language, Literature, and Culture in Tours for 8 weeks. He lived with a host family. 

It was a wonderful experience! "They were truly my parents away from home, and they gave me a lot of great info regarding the city and region, practice speaking French, delicious French meals, and they even did my laundry!" says Kellen. To him the most valuable aspect of his experience was being completely immersed in the culture for 8 weeks and forming so many great relationships with students and faculty from MSU and all over the world. "Studying abroad has also been the single greatest thing that I’ve done yet to improve my French" says Kellen. The most challenging part of the experience for Kellen was getting situated in a new country. There’s a lot of independence when studying abroad, and it can be a little bit stressful to get adjusted to someplace new by yourself. But luckily, he had his program directors, host parents, and classmates by his side to help out if need be. The challenging experiences, though, are what built his confidence and showed him that he was capable of more than he realized. Kellen says, "Studying abroad is an exciting adventure in every sense of the word, for those who are 110% willing, ready, and eager to experience something new. You will be in a different country with people, customs, values, traditions, cuisine, education systems, etc. that will most likely be different from the world, as you know it. The thought of getting a taste of French life for 8 weeks should be very exciting!" Possessing a flexible, optimistic, and positive attitude, and taking advantage of cultural and social activities offered to you, will make your study abroad the trip of a lifetime, and have you longing to go back. His study abroad was really the cherry on top of his college experience. Especially as a French major, it was amazing to see French brought to life in a way that he had never seen before. He highly recommends studying abroad to anyone who’s willing to go on an adventure!

Sam Kozulis 

Sam participated in the Hispanic Studies in Valencia, Spain for 2 months.

His experience with his host family was incredible. Sam says, "it was hard at first because they didn't speak English (and my Spanish was terrible upon arrival), but they were supportive and helpful in every way. Paca was truly like a mother to me during my stay. She made sure that I was well fed and comfortable. I could tell that she genuinely wanted me to have the best experience abroad possible". To Sam, the most valuable aspect of my trip was being immersed in a foreign culture. He learned so much about himself and grew tremendously as a person. "Being able to see how people live and interact in other parts of the world is what these trips are all about" says Sam. The hardest part of his experience was the first week he recalls. He was embarrassed with his 'incompetent' Spanish, was unsure about the food, and was halfway across the world without familiarity. It was hard to understand his professors, he says, and he didn't know how he was going to make it through the coursework. It was after the first week that he realized that he was going to get out what he put in. He asked questions and conversed even if he was afraid of sounding stupid, he says. He realized that this was a great opportunity to learn about myself and the world, and decided that he wasn't going to spend it in his room because he was embarrassed. Sam was shocked and elated at how fast the language comes when you have the right attitude. It was eye opening to see what he was capable of, says Sam, when he wasn't afraid to put himself out there. Sam' advice to students considering this program? "DO IT! You're going to have reservations and you're going to feel incompetent at times. But those aren't reasons to say no and stay home. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a new world and to see what you're capable of." Sam can confidently say that studying abroad is one of the best decisions he made throughout his college career

Iyana Williams

Iyana participated in the Hispanic Studies program in Valencia, Spain for one year.

Iyana lived with her host family and says it was the best. She had her mom and her sister who, "were and still are just as much family as mine back here in the US. I know I may be biased, but I hands down had THE best host family out there" says Iyana. They made her experience so much better, and always treated her as a real member of the family. To Iyana, it is important to learn how to not be afraid, step out of your bubble to try new things, and meet new people. Some of her favorite experiences and best friends came from that mindset. According to Iyana, the hardest part of the experience was having to leave. ""You meet all of these amazing people, you get to do all of these amazing things, and one day you're there, and quite literally the next you're halfway across the world from all of that" Iyana's advice for prospective students is this:

"Enjoy every second of it. DON'T SPEAK ENGLISH ALL THE TIME!!!"

Iyana believes that this experience generally made her a better person, and she was able to transfer a lot of what she learned, academically and not, to her life at state.

Maddy Alpert

Maddy participated in the Hispanic Studies in Valencia, Spain program for a semester, so about three and a half months. She extended her trip for two weeks to travel on her own in Europe. 

Maddy lived with a host family which to her was fantastic. Her host family experience was one of the best aspects of the program. Her madre and padre were about sixty years old and she had a host sister who lived at home who was in her twenties. They also had the sweetest dog named Bruno. Once a week her host parents would babysit their grandson, Miguel, who turned one when she was there! "Living with a host family is the ideal way to develop a new language and understand another culture" says Maddy.  For every meal they would sit, eat authentic Spanish cuisine, and talk and enjoy each other’s company. She was able to be open with them and ask them whatever she wanted so that she could learn everything about what Valencia, Spain, and Europe had to offer. She still keeps in touch with my host family! 

The most valuable aspect of Maddy's experience was meeting new people from Spain and outside of Spain and developing proficient Spanish speaking skills so that she could speak to even more people. She will always remember the people she met in my program, while traveling, and throughout Valencia. She loved attending language exchange events in the city where people who speak 

many languages could go and practice with native speakers. At these events it was so fun, says Maddy, to practice speaking Spanish and meet people from all over the world. She also loved speaking Spanish while traveling. "Whether I was chatting with a woman working at my hostel in Madrid, sharing a cab in Milan with a new friend from Argentina, or speaking to Valencian girls in my hostel room in Florence, the Spanish speaking never ended!" Overall, being in the city of Valencia and in Europe in general gave her so many opportunities to develop the Spanish language and meet great people that she learned so much from. The hardest part of Maddy's experience was adjusting to live in a new place with a completely different language. It was the first time she was living in a place other than Michigan and there were so many cultural differences to adapt to. Living her life completely in Spanish was very difficult and she learned very quickly that little problems that occur in daily life in the United States are much harder to solve when you are unable to speak English. Upon arriving, her computer charger broke and she had to go to many stores throughout the city to try and find a good one that worked. Along the way she utilized all of her translation resources and learned a lot of technology-related vocabulary. "Nobody tells you that study abroad can be extremely challenging and there are many new customs to be aware of" says Maddy. "Everything is new and a bit scary but adjusting to a new culture is an amazing learning experience and caused me to grow as an individual". To a future student considering this program, Maddy says: "Do it!!! Hispanic Studies in Valencia, Spain was an amazing program and I met so many new people, did amazing things, saw many beautiful cities, and ate great food. If you want to develop great Spanish speaking skills, this is a great program. I also would recommend going for a semester, the longer you go, the better your Spanish will be. I wish I could have gone for a year!"

Upon reflection, Maddy considers how this program has greatly impacted my college experience. Whenever anyone asks her about her favorite experience in college her answer is always her study abroad in Valencia. The skills obtained and the experiences she had are so amazing and really shaped her as an individual. Upon returning to the United States, she participates a lot more in her Spanish classes and has been able to develop great relationships with her professors. She also is an active member of Pláticas (MSU club where students practice speaking Spanish) and she also has attended language events with the Detroit Spanish Meetup Group. 

Alexa Stechschulte

Alexa studied abroad with The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) Language and Culture Program in Lisbon, Portugal for the fall semester of 2017. She lived with a host family, which was an amazing opportunity, says Alexa. She was able to practice the Portuguese language in a nonacademic setting, gain two host siblings, and have a home away from home. Her host family was so welcoming and an amazing resource for learning all about Lisbon! CIEE is a non-MSU program Alexa chose because she wanted to spend time in a Portuguese speaking country. While there are many great advantages to choosing an MSU program, CIEE is awesome because you get to meet so many students from different states and countries who are in the program with you, says Alexa. She really values the diverse friendships she made through this experience. The hardest part of her experience was a class she took taught completely in Portuguese titled History and Theory of the Portuguese State. The language was certainly a barrier for her, but catching up to a university level on centuries of Portugal’s history was also a big challenge. She reached out to a Portuguese student who had taken the class before and attended the professor’s office hours quite a bit. She was surprised how kind, patient, and willing to help they were! Alexa's advice to students considering this program is: "Do it! The program fee is expensive, but both CIEE and MSU have so many great scholarship opportunities. Take advantage of them. Portugal is a beautiful country with the most hospitable people, and I don’t regret one thing about choosing to participate in this program". This program has significantly impacted Alexa, largely by restoring some confidence and independence she felt she had lost during her first few years of college. It has also inspired her to work in the field of international education, where she hopes to one day work for a large non-profit such as CIEE or with an education abroad office at a university!

Elizabetta Markaj

Elizabetta participated in the Italian Language, Literature and Culture program in Florence for six weeks. She lived with a host family and it was definitely one of the best aspects of this study abroad for her because it really created a full-immersion experience. Her host family was incredibly kind, welcoming and fun, and above all, really dedicated to making sure she had the best experience possible. They were also such a great resource for Elizabetta to have because they were always telling her about all the great local things to do and places to see. They also told her that she'd always be welcome and made her promise to visit them the next time she returns to Florence. Elizabetta was also able to meet a lot of other international students who were also staying with her host family during their study abroad. Having Italian be their only common language was so beneficial because they were forced to use the language to communicate with one another, so their fluency improved greatly. She also got the opportunity to learn a lot about other countries and cultures that she definitely wouldn’t have gotten if this program didn’t include a homestay. The most valuable aspect of her experience was just being immersed in the Italian culture every day. Between her host family, the wonderful Italian instructors at the language school, and the coffee shop owners she got to know in Florence, she made it a priority to speak as much Italian as possible. She made a point of just embracing everything around her by exploring new sights and shops and striking up conversations with as many people as she could to take advantage of her surroundings. Elizabetta knew she was going have an incredible experience, but what she didn’t expect was how much she was going to absolutely fall in love with Florence, and just how hard it was to leave.To a future student considering this program, she would say: "Don’t consider it, just do it! It will be one of the best experiences of your life!" This program stands out to her as one of the highlights of her college experience. She learned so much, met so many wonderful people, and got to experience Florence like a real Florentine, and for that she will always be grateful!

Carla Simone 

Carla was prompted to start the CAL student council when Dean Christopher Long reached out to her because she was one of the General Assembly representatives for the college and he wanted the college to be more connected. They agreed that having a council within the college would make that a reality. "The purpose of the council is for students that have different majors and minors to come together and talk about things that are directly influencing the college, such as if students want to see changes in courses or if communication should be improved. Also, to have events that CAL students would want to go to or to go to events that the college puts on." says Carla. For the first year they sent out an application to students who have a major or minor in the college and for the next year they are deciding if they want to do an application again or if any student who is interested wants to join can.  Carla is involved in MSU Circle K International, which is a community service organization, Sophomore Class Council of ASMSU, which plans events for students at MSU, and the General Assembly of ASMSU, which advocates for the student voice by passing bills that directly impacts students. She plans on becoming a Secondary Spanish teacher and possibly teaching English overseas because my minor is Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages or TESOL. To future RCS students, Carla recommends signing up for CAL News newsletters because they have so many opportunities such as internships, study abroad's, and career talks where alumni come and talk about their careers.   

Brandon Lawler

Brandon has become a Safe Zone Trainer for MSU RCS this year. "I wanted to be a Safe Zone Trainer for multiple reasons" says Brandon. "One of the driving forces in making me want to pursue such a role is because of my passions for education and how that pairs with my educational experiences as an LGBTQ+ individual. Being a trainer allows me to use my experience and my passions to improve the educational experiences of minority groups." The process of becoming a trainer may look different for others, but for Brandon it was a very intense process involving application processes, his first time on a plane, and the effort of many humans. Long story short, Brandon was flown to Rochester, New York for about 2.5 days to attend the Safe Zone Train-the-Trainer training offered by the Out Alliance (formerly Gay Alliance). It was a great experience and to date, together with his colleague (who also attended the training with him), they have produced roughly 197 Safe Zones, which includes 16 employees here at MSU.  This academic year, Brandon served as the Undergraduate Representative on CAL's College Curriculum Committee, as well as on RCS's Department Advisory Committee. He also was a SparQ Mentor through the LBGT Resource Center. Unfortunately, trying to balance classes, work, adulthood, non-MSU extracurricular activities, and his well-being takes up a large chunk of my time, otherwise he would have much more involvement as an undergrad student. Brandon also thinks that as a commuter student, it is harder to be involved and immersed in the university community, so he tries to do what he can when he can. "I think that my Spanish major can offer me a lot moving forward" says Brandon. He plans to become a highs school world language teacher. He thinks eventually he would like to be a college/university professor, and would also like to use his knowledge of the language and culture to combat social and racial justice among minority groups. Brandon would also like to spend time researching with the language to try and provide voices for individuals who cannot find themselves in a gendered language. To future and current students in the department, Brandon says "I think it is important to be the person you wish you had. Do not be afraid to fight for yourself in any setting. If folks cannot hear your story, how can it spark change? I know problems can seem larger than one person, but each person can contribute to cleaning the dirty air we breathe. We must speak out, rise above, and live our lives to the fullest. Even if you fall short of saving the world in your lifetime, you can at least claim to have saved yourself. This alone will inspire those around you to fill the shoes you leave behind."