I never thought that the day would arrive, but it did, this year in May. As of now, I am a graduate of Temple University! It is still surreal that I’ve finished my undergraduate degree. My sleepless nights and irresponsible coffee habits have paid off, apparently — but this limbo period between life as an undergrad and life in the real world has got me feeling all sorts of different things. As I spend the next month or two reflecting on the whirlwind past four years, there are certain memories that I can’t stop fixating on — and (shocker) the majority of them are directly or indirectly related to the time that I spent abroad as a Temple Owl. Let’s get something straight: for me, study abroad was a delight, but the process of preparing to leave can be stressful. It is a privilege to study abroad, and I really had to work hard and stay organized to make my time abroad financially and logistically feasible. That being said, I would absolutely love to study abroad one more time as an undergrad (Temple Japan has my name written all over it)! So here’s the deal: study abroad is worth it, and will shape not only your undergraduate experience, but (in a crazy way) many aspects of your adult life. So, readers, here is my gift to you: where I studied abroad, what I learned, and how I used my abroad experiences to inform my post-grad choices.
WHO AM I?
Lulu Peach! Yes, that is my legal name. I started as a freshman at Temple during the fall of 2015 and graduated this May of 2019. I now have a BS in Environmental Science and a BA in French. I’m from Ardmore, PA (a close suburb of Philadelphia), and I love outdoorsy adventures, painting, Pinterest, my cat, and cooking delicious food. I was a bit of an eager freshman when it came to study abroad — I was planning for my junior year abroad pretty much the first week of class, and had settled on three potential locations (Ireland, England, and New Zealand) by winter break of 2015. As you’ll soon find out, I chose New Zealand, which later gave me the confidence to participate in an independent teaching program in Hungary and Slovakia during the summer of 2018.
WHERE DID I GO?
In New Zealand, I participated in Arcadia University’s program at the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university. I lived in a flat with 5 other students, some American, some French, and some Kiwi. Otago is located in Dunedin, a small-ish coastal town on the South Island of New Zealand. As an environmental science major, I was in heaven during the entire semester there. New Zealand is a champion of environmental policy, has many insanely beautiful, easily accessible national parks, and houses some of the friendliest (and quirkiest) people alive. As a student in Dunedin, I worked with a team of local ecologists to eradicate invasive plant species from the Otago peninsula and studied environmental philosophy — especially that of the Maori people. I found a beautiful family of friends there, traveled all over New Zealand and Australia, and tested my own physical endurance (check out my old post on NZ backpacking psychology, if you’re interested)!
Hungary and Slovakia
In central Europe, I worked as a community English teacher while living with host families in Alibanfa, Hungary and Iza, Slovakia. My mom’s family is of Hungarian descent, so it was incredible to learn (through slightly terrifying immersion!) how to speak Hungarian (a language that was initially mystifying to me), see where my grandpa was born, and spend ample time bonding with my adorable students, most of whom were elementary-school age or younger. While in Hungary, I learned a lot about local agriculture, which is guided largely by individual families that grow most of their own food. In addition, I feel that my communication skills really developed during my summer in central Europe, as I spoke zero Hungarian before arriving and was thrown right into life with an older (non-English speaking) couple! This turned out to be an incredible experience, even if I looked and sounded ridiculous the first few weeks in Alibanfa. Furthermore, Hungarian culture is centered around family, food, and music — possibly my all-time favorite combination of things. I also learned that my family is so inherently Hungarian without ever realizing it, from the cucumber salad with paprika that we eat to our obsession with bubbly water.
WHAT DID I LEARN?
1. Environmental management is shaped by culture.
In New Zealand, the way that the environment is cared for is based largely off of Maori philosophy, which dictates a reciprocal relationship between people and the world. This got me thinking a lot about why the environment is treated so differently in the US — more so as an infinite resource that is for us to take from.
2. I love being outside – like, a lot.
Enough said. I thought I loved Philly – but being abroad showed me that I am truly happiest when I can be around nature as much as possible.
3. How to communicate with someone who either doesn’t understand you or disagrees strongly with you.
This is probably the point I’ll emphasize the most. From speaking in broken Hungarian to navigating the sometimes confusing (and to Americans, offensive!) humor of the Kiwis, I realize how important it is to put yourself in the perspective of an acquaintance in order to really understand where they’re coming from, or even comprehend the literal information that they are trying to convey.
4. How to live simply!
In New Zealand, I spent a lot of time living in tents, and carried all of my worldly possessions on my back through Hungary and Slovakia. Minimum stuff, maximum happiness. Carrying a little adds value to the things that you do have (and really need).
WHERE TO NEXT?!
This fall, I am making a big move…. but this time, a domestic one. I’ll be a graduate student in forestry at Northern Arizona University, pursuing my Master of Forestry for the next two years! I was also lucky enough to find a paid position at NAU’s Center for International Education, where I get to continue helping students to accomplish their goals of living abroad. For the first semester of my senior year at Temple, I pored over grad school websites, talked to professors, and thought about those awesome lessons from being abroad. And with those lessons (and learned values in mind), the decision to study forestry just became kind of obvious – I am going to be able to work in a field that has a serious international component, allows me to spend time outside, and also will let me learn more about how American Indian environmental tradition shapes environmental management in the western US. From time to time, I think about the move with a little bit of anxiousness, but after living in three different countries in the span of one entire year, residing with once complete strangers, and learning more about myself abroad that I thought was humanly possible, I know that my new home in Arizona is going to fit like a glove in no time. I really don’t know if I would have had the confidence to make such grown-up, confident moves right after graduating without studying abroad and getting to know my true self as an undergrad. I am proud to say that being a Temple owl abroad has helped me to figure out my ideal career path, love myself more than I ever have, and embrace any adventure that comes my way. A life of being brave enough to try slightly scary new things is better than a life of regret and what-ifs. So enough of me and my story…. now it’s your turn! Apply for a passport, make a (small-ish) packing list, and figure out where in the world you will blossom. 🙂