U of R Students Share Their Study Abroad Stories

After sitting down with students who have just returned from their semester abroad, it is evident how influential this time was for personal growth and development. Traveling to far away destinations was both daunting and thrilling. It’s not easy to settle into another reality for a semester, and then have to say goodbye to the new people and places that have become home. The experiences abroad often instill a new confidence and outlook within students. 

Salzburg, Austria- a semester beyond Mozart and The Sound of Music 

Olivia Senoff, a junior who is a double major in Studio Art and Media/Video Culture Studies with a concentration in photography, was studying in Salzburg, Austria. Senoff, along with 18 other students, experienced their Fall 2022 semester at the University of Redlands’ Salzburg campus, a building that was once a monastery.  There, students live, sleep, eat, and learn all in this building situated on a hill surrounded by nature. 

“[It’s] a little fairytale. Where we stayed, the Monchsberg… we basically lived in the middle of the woods. It’s safe, it’s beautiful, you can walk around. Life is slow and I love it,” Senoff described. 

The Salzburg program has a large emphasis on travel. Students and faculty have three excursions while abroad, exploring Vienna, Italy, and the Balkans region. These trips made the experience more memorable for Senoff and other students.  

While some students, including Senoff, were worried about being around other Redlands students during their semester abroad, this turned out to be an aspect that they cherished most. 

Senoff described how special it was to make close friends in that type of setting. At the Redlands campus, she would have never been able to cross paths and build such intimate connections with the students who were on the trip, Senoff reflected. Now, when walking around Redlands, she gets to bump into the familiar faces who shared such a remarkable experience with her.

“You get to meet so many people from so many different backgrounds and majors and you get to get so close to them, and you get to go back and still have that connection and build upon that and I think it’s so amazing,” said Senoff. 

The current director of the Salzburg program is Katherine Baber, a Redlands alumni and current professor. Baber teaches a course titled “Travelers and Citizens,” where students learn about the culture and history of a place before they go and visit. Being taught how to be a respectful traveler was a surprising component of the course that Senoff appreciated. 

“You’re like, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to go to Italy!’ You don’t think about ‘Well, how am I impacting Italy by me going?’ That was something that now I think about all the time whenever I go somewhere. It’s so awesome to have an experience to go somewhere, but it’s even more impactful when you know what certain countries and cities have been through, and you know the history there, and how you can positively contribute to their community as well,” Senoff explained. 

Students returning from abroad often say that the experience is life changing. Perhaps that change happens with the unfamiliarity, a greater view of what the world holds, or being given a new amount of freedom, but for Senoff, the change was felt when Salzburg allowed her to slow down. 

“I liked experiencing a culture that was slow, cause that’s not my life at all, even here. We journaled, we were on buses for like five hours, trains for ten hours, just doing nothing and I have never just done nothing. Now, it’s not like that. Coming back here I came back to my old self a little bit, but I think it [Salzburg] really gave me time to be with myself and time to be with others,” Senoff reflected. 

Senoff knew a good majority of the people in the program, but she shared how “…we were traveling with basically strangers and just like that we were alone together walking around a city for hours and I just remember talking… It was just super wholesome and we became a family and I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to a group of people in such a short amount of time. Ever. It taught me a lot about myself. I was really scared to come. I was really nervous, but once I got there I was so ready for everything. It taught me how flexible I am in situations of change.”

The study abroad experience is easily glamorized, because it is a glamorous thing, Senoff mused. She recognizes just how much of a privilege it is to study abroad. Not every major is given the flexibility and not everyone has the finances to fund it. For Senoff, it is a privilege to travel around Europe and see some of the most iconic sights and works of art with your own eyes. 

The experience isn’t picture perfect, however. Getting the flu on long bus days, missing trains and sleeping at the station, the inescapable feeling of homesickness, and imposter syndrome are just some of the more challenging moments Senoff faced. For Senoff, she felt a pressure to be happy, because if she wasn’t she felt as though she was being ungrateful. It didn’t make sense to be missing home in this gorgeous landscape, but those feelings are inescapable. 

Her advice to those thinking about going abroad?

“Cry. Laugh. Be homesick. Be scared. Do all the emotions, cause it’s four months. You’re going to feel everything and more.”

Olivia Senoff ’24 outside of St. Georges church which overlooks the city of Piran, Slovenia during a group excursion to the Balkans region. Photo contributed by Olivia Senoff.

Bali, Indonesia- Art, Religion, Social Change, and Tetanus Shots

Eli Staats, a senior in the Johnston Program with an emphasis in Multimedia: Critical Intersections between Art, Film, and Creative Writing was studying in Bali, Indonesia this past semester. Looking at the list of approved options, they were intrigued by the title “Art, Religion, and Social Change” for their program. With previous experience traveling around the West, going to Asia seemed like it would be a cool experience for them. 

The Bali program was centered around experiential learning with lots of opportunities for travel and new experiences. Staats and the twelve other students from around the globe were split up and lived with host families on the island. The program center was in the village of Kerambitan on the island of Bali. 

When asked about the learning experience and structure, Staats shared that they were “learning Indonesian language and… would go around to different areas and temples and learn the history and the religions in the area. It is a majority Muslim and Hindu country, so there’s very different cultures there and every island also has its own unique language, or two, or three.” 

Whether it was going to the island of Java for three weeks, attending lectures at university, or listening to guest speakers, students were being exposed to many forms of teaching and a diversity of material. The last month of the program was dedicated to independent study. Staats chose to go to South Sulawesi and learn about the Bugis people and their culture through interviews with locals. 

Staats explained that the Bugis people, one of the three dominant ethnic groups on Bali, recognize gender as a spectrum. They appreciated this expression of gender diversity, outside of the Western world.

Currently, Staats is in post production working on finalizing translations for a documentary they filmed as a part of their final project. 

Within the first three weeks of being abroad, Staats managed to get bitten by a monkey not once, but three times. Perhaps this was all a part of the process of becoming familiar with this new country. Visiting the seemingless harmless “Sacred Monkey Forest” in Ubud wound Staats up in the hospital for multiple doses of rabie’s shots. 

“I tried to pet it like a cat and it did not like that. It turned around and hissed at me and bared its horrible humanlike teeth and it just latched onto my side, right on my love handles, and I did not know what to do. So it just gnawed on me for a little while and then it bit my shoulder,” Staats recounts. 

Aside from the traumatic monkey bites and the draining hot and humid climate, Staats loved getting close to the rest of the students there, knowing that at the end of their time together, they all may never see each other again. 

A​​ trip highlight for Staats was during the last weekend. 

“We went to this island off of Bali called Nusa Lembongan, and it was just very beautiful. We got to go snorkeling and that is something that I’ve never done. It was over this coral reef, and there were all these fish, and I love the water so I was just in a dream,” they described. 

Going to Bali was a great experience for Staats, but they are grateful to be back in the familiarity of Redlands, where no monkey threats are posed. 

Eli Staats ’23 filming the Mappalili ritual in Segeri Pangkep, South Sulawesi during their month of independent study. Photo contributed by Eli Staats.

Copenhagen, Denmark – a dive into the unfamiliar

Senior Yurika Hirata, a Computer Science major with a minor in Studio Art, returned this semester from Copenhagen, Denmark where she studied Game Programming and Development with the Danish Institute for Study Abroad. Since her freshman year, she knew she wanted to study abroad and take advantage of the fact that here at the University of Redlands, the cost of tuition remains the same while abroad. Being from Japan, Hirata is familiar with diving into new places and experiences, so Europe was naturally a place she wanted to immerse herself in.

The DIS program is much larger than both the Salzberg and Bali programs. Rather than studying with groups of twelve or twenty students, the DIS program has international students live and learn like the other students at the University of Copenhagen. The program focuses on specific program curriculum, rather than learning through travels. 

In Copenhagen, there were multiple options for housing: a homestay, a residential community (with just DIS students), or a “kollegium” (living with local students). Hirata chose the “kollegium” and got to enjoy a small apartment with “a living room area, kitchen and shared bathroom with two other people.” 

She got along with her roommates, but the most memorable people were the ones she met on Thursday nights, which consisted of board games and snacks; an ideal way for Hirata to spend the evening. 

Being put into the middle of an already existing system where people have their niches and solid friend groups makes it difficult for new students to make connections. Hirata noticed how Denmark has a very homogenous population, so it was strange to walk around and not see many people who looked like her. What helped Hirata navigate these new feelings and situations was going to lots of events and activities that interested her. It was there she met like-minded people with similar hobbies and views. 

Hirata loved the independence of cooking her own meals, the easy access to public transportation, and overall experience of just being in Europe. She shares how much fun it was since she was able to venture into a field she wasn’t very familiar with and one that isn’t offered in depth at Redlands.

For those interested in the DIS program in Copenhagen, Hirata recommends packing lightly, Vitamin D, taking time to explore the city, and if for some reason you find yourself in Lisbon, try ginjinha!

Yurika Hirata ’24 at the Palau de la Musica Catalana in Barcelona, Spain over winter break, before returning to Redlands. Photo contributed by Yurika Hirata.