Elise Rooney has a mountain in her backyard, a beach down the street and unlimited Kimchi, a traditional Asian side dish. These are a few benefits she enjoys while living and teaching in Busan, South Korea.
Life abroad is not all glamorous. Elise, like many Blugold alumni who choose to live and work abroad, faces many challenges and has learned to live outside her comfort zone. It can be daunting at times, but she has found the rewards to be worth the struggles.
For many Blugolds, the desire to live and work around the world is sparked by one of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's myriad study abroad opportunities. Elise, a 2012 education graduate, was able to complete her student teaching experience in Buea, Cameroon. Elise remembers being faced with the challenge of a language barrier and an extreme lack of resources.
"Suddenly, it was possible to still generate learning with a broken chalkboard, no electricity, a lack of paper and rain pouring into the classroom," Elise said, "My eyes were opened to possibilities in the international world of teaching."
Katie Summers, a 2013 education graduate, caught her travel bug during a study abroad experience in Harlaxton, England. She wanted to travel abroad after graduation, but wasn't sure how to make it a part of her profession. Katie's answer came in a phone call from her friend Elise Rooney, who was working in the country of Bahrain, a large island in the Persian Gulf. There was an opening at Elise's school, and she invited Katie to join her.
The prospect of living abroad can be intimidating, and getting there is half the battle. Most students don't have a friend living abroad, so it can be hard to know where to start looking for a job, what paperwork needs to be completed and how to find housing and transportation. UW-Eau Claire has many resources available, such as the Center for International Education, for students interested in studying abroad. In addition, student organizations such as AIESEC help Blugolds find volunteer and internship opportunities in other countries and assist with the transition.
Lauren Bryant, a 2012 Spanish and marketing grad, joined AIESEC after returning from an immersion experience in Valladolid, Spain, as a part of her Spanish degree. Lauren wanted to return to Spain, but there were no openings, so she settled on a job in Budapest, Hungary.
The AIESEC office in Budapest helped Lauren secure housing and set her up with other interns from around the world. She built new friendships and connections that led to her next job in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
The most difficult adjustment for Lauren was getting used to a new culture and the Hungarian language. English is spoken at work, but Lauren had to adjust to living with the Hungarian language outside of work. Katie had a similar experience when she arrived in Bahrain.
"The Arabic language was hard for me, but I challenged myself to pick up bits and pieces, and it soon became something I enjoyed," Katie said.
Living abroad also requires lifestyle adjustments to fit in with the local culture and avoid looking like a tourist. According to Lauren, simple things like dressing like the locals can make a difference. Like any young person, staying on budget is critical.
"Here you have to live like the locals do because you have a typical Argentine salary and inflation is very common," Lauren said. "You can't live the same as you would in the U.S. when living abroad."
Elise said one of the biggest challenges for anyone living abroad is finding common ground with people, whether it's planning how to teach students living in a monarchy about democracy — or determining a polite way to turn down a meal of bugs. The reward comes when the connection is made.
"You realize that humans are humans. High schoolers are high schoolers. One may be Muslim and one may be Buddhist, but they are all in psychology class and need to learn about the brain. Finding something we all connect with creates an indescribable feeling of success," Elise said.
As Blugolds travel the world, teach and interact with the people around them, they become students learning about the cultures they are immersed in. As Katie teaches her high school students literature, they are teaching her about life in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the latest stop on her worldwide tour.
Living abroad has allowed Lauren to explore career paths she didn't think were possible. She is working in Argentina as a certified English teacher and as a freelance writer producing social media content for various clients.
Next year, Elise, who currently is working as a social studies teacher in Korea, will move to San Salvador, El Salvador, to start a new position.
"My career allows me to see the world and teach about the world to the world. It's like a dream," Elise said.
The secret to a successful experience abroad, according to Elise, is to let yourself be uncomfortable while remaining safe. The adventure starts at the edge of one's comfort zone, and students studying and living abroad often learn more about themselves than they ever imagined possible.
Top photo: Elise Rooney sits on Jansang Mountain in her backyard in Busan, South Korea.
First photo within story: Katie Summers
Second photo within story: Lauren Bryant