Sarah Brown is a senior elementary education major in the College of Education. She received a Jepsen International Scholars Program Endowment scholarship to participate in a four-week trip to Alcalá de Henares, Spain, in the summer of 2015.
Through the “Jepsen Challenge,” your donations large and small help aspiring education majors afford to participate in unique study abroad opportunities offered by the College of Education. Alumnus Keith Jepsen ’67, M.S. ’68, and his spouse, Kathleen Dore, will match up to $25,000 in donations made by June 30, 2016, to the Jepsen International Scholars Program Endowment Fund and the College of Education Global Initiatives fund.
Why did you decide to pursue this opportunity?
Spanish and education have always been two of my passions due to the influential people in my life. When I learned there was a study abroad program that combined both of my passions, I knew that it was something I was meant to do. I knew there would be challenges, but after the first few introduction meetings, both of my coordinating professors inspired me to join this program.
What were some of the places you visited outside of Alcalá de Henares?
We visited many different cities including, Madrid, Alicante, and even Lisbon, Portugal. Madrid was only a 30-minute train ride from Alcalá de Henares, which made it very easy to hop on a train and relax in the Parque Del Retiro. I also was able to visit Ávila, Spain, which is where my past host family lives. It was amazing to see them and spend time with another family that has impacted my life.
How important was the Jepsen International Scholars Endowment scholarship for you?
Spain is my second home. When I was deciding on whether I would participate in the Alcalá de Henares program, I was devastated when I realized that I might not be able to afford the trip. Because I was awarded funding from the Jepsen International Scholar Endowment, I was able to pursue my dream of studying abroad through this program. Without the funding, I would not have been able to experience the love and kindness of my host family, or the enthusiastic smiles from the Spanish students. I feel beyond lucky that I was able to participate in this program due to the funding from the Jepsen International Scholar Endowment.
How did this experience chance your perspective on other cultures, teaching?
I grew up in the same small town my entire life. Despite the fact that when I began at Illinois State University I was exposed to a higher level of diversity, I still struggled with the idea of how I would accommodate and adapt to a classroom of highly diverse, 21st century learners. Through studying abroad, I was able to have a first-hand experience of instructing and learning from a group of students who are extremely culturally diverse. I was able to understand how it might feel to enter a place that is completely unfamiliar to me, out of my comfort zone. As educators, we will have many students who feel this way as they go through their education. We must be empathetic and try to understand how this might influence their learning. Studying abroad has helped me to develop my teaching philosophy and allowed me to grow as a professional in education.
What was one of your most memorable experiences while studying abroad?
When I think back, it is so hard to just choose one memory from this amazing trip. I would have to say that the most memorable part of the experience would be the last night we had together as a group. When we started this trip we were just a group of strangers from different places, different ages and all scared to death of what was to come. We grew together during just four, short weeks and became united. I will treasure the memories I have made with these people for my entire life. We helped each other get through the tough nights and celebrated our accomplishments. During that last night, as were eating our tapas and reminiscing on our experiences, I couldn’t help but feel so lucky to have met every single one of my group members.
How would you rate the level of support did you receive from your Illinois State trip coordinators?
(College of Education Associate Dean) Barbara Meyer and (Bilingual Education Program Coordinator) Maria Luisa Zamudio coordinated our trip. These two amazing professors were there for all of us before, during and after the trip to make sure that we were surviving the cultural differences and keeping up with our coursework. Their passion for global education is astounding and pushes me to keep learning more and more.
What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
Don’t be afraid. Everything will work out no matter what. You might get lost, you might say something completely wrong and eat some very questionable food, but at the end of the journey it will all feel like a blur and you will not want to leave.