Skip to Main Content

Growing Abroad: How Students Develop Grit through International Experiences

Jun 26th, 2018

Growing Abroad: How Students Develop Grit through International Experiences

This story is featured in the Spring 2018 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU prepares students to grow in the midst of studying abroad in this essay written by Celia Glenn, ’18.

Celia Glenn
Celia Glenn, ’18

Looking back, I’ll admit it — there were times when I felt unprepared to study abroad.

I pictured myself filling out applications, booking plane tickets, packing bags and living an exotic, Pinterest-inspired, international lifestyle like I’d seen my friends seemingly do. It’s easy to get lost in romantic thoughts about traveling the globe.

But then I felt the first wave of uncertainty as I boarded my plane to Chile. I was the only High Point University student on the trip, which meant it was up to me to find a group of friends who would make this corner of the world seem like home for a semester.

And then I stepped into a world where English wasn’t common. All the Spanish classes I’d taken didn’t stop me from stumbling through my first few conversations with native speakers.

Soon, though, I realized I’d been thinking about it all wrong.

Being prepared doesn’t mean you’ll always be comfortable in new situations.

It just means you’ll be able to grow in the midst of it.


Into the Unknown

Studying abroad in Valparaíso, Chile, gave me some of the most exciting and adventurous moments in my life.
I traveled to a few of the world’s most beautiful spots, like the mountaintops of Machu Picchu and the glaciers of Patagonia. I bus-hopped to Peru with other college students, and I hiked to lagoons I’d imagined were only seen on National Geographic.

The fun, picturesque memories are easy to recall. But there were challenges, too, and lots of daily adjustments to my new way of life. Like living with a family who didn’t know me, but would grow to become my second home.

As my life adjusted there, I realized later that HPU hadn’t just prepared me to adapt to my experience in Chile. They’d prepared me with the information and techniques I needed to navigate the unknown.

First were my professors. Within the Spanish department, faculty challenged me to study abroad and asked me to raise my expectations of myself. They encouraged me to not just study Spanish as a hobby, but to really dedicate myself to the language and commit to being a double major. They helped me choose classes that would keep me on track toward my degree and helped me choose Chile as my destination based on the types of experiences I wanted to gain.

Then there was HPU’s Study Abroad Office. The staff was instrumental in finding the opportunity that would take me to Chile. They helped me submit my applications and line up all travel requirements before I departed. Without staff like Joy Mondalto, who was so instrumental in making sure I was keeping up with all deadlines and documents for international travel, my semester abroad would not have been possible.

A ‘Can Do’ Culture

And finally, there’s HPU as an institution. The university culture has given me the opportunity to meet and love so many people who are different from me. Because of my years spent on campus, it was easier to make new friends abroad who came from all corners of the world. HPU worked to connect me with the world every day
on campus — recognizing the importance of global connection. It readied me for when an opportunity abroad came.

Living in Chile was by far one of the best things I’ve ever done. It gave me a family who took me in as one of their own and introduced me to their culture in such a welcoming way. It brought me fluency with a language I previously hardly knew and an understanding of a world completely different from my own.

I brought back a deeper understanding of ways I wanted to use my degrees in communication and Spanish — ways I hadn’t thought of previously. I’ve worked regularly at the twice-yearly High Point Furniture Market, where people from all over the world come to see the latest developments in the industry. Many of the clients who visit the showrooms there aren’t native English speakers. When I returned from my trip abroad, I was able to walk them through studios and explain pricing in their language, which was helpful for both the customer and my employer.

Celia GlennI have a strong sense of independence and a new perspective that carries me through different aspects of my life now. I understand other cultures more than I ever could have before living with a host family. I became a second daughter to them, gained new friends and built compassion for a country so different than my own.

So no, my study abroad trip wasn’t easy. It stretched me and required me to grow in all sorts of ways.

But that’s what HPU prepared me to do — face the unknown with confidence and return a changed person.

When it comes to preparing for a life of adventure, no university does it better than HPU.