03 November, 2016

TnCIS Conference 2016

I recently had the opportunity and honour of being the lunch speaker at the 10th annual TnCIS conference. For those of you who don't know, TnCIS is a study abroad consortium in the state of Tennessee, and I've traveled with them for three years studying in different countries. I had a lot of people come up to me after the speech, thanking me for my words and thanking me for my passion.

I always feel best when I'm in the company of like-minded individuals, and I feel right at home whenever I'm working with TnCIS. Everyone involved is so passionate about international education, and it really inspires me to continue to push my studies towards a more international curriculum. It also makes me realise that I should really continue to write, as I feel my thoughts flow more freely when I have a pen to paper or fingers to a keyboard.

I wanted to share with you all the general gist of my speech that I shared this afternoon. It is my goal and my passion to inspire students (and teachers alike) to do part of their studies abroad. I studied mainly with Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, and their scholarship program is absolutely marvelous.

I know you all are probably tired of hearing me talk about studying abroad, but I cannot tell you enough how much it changed my life. Here are the words I want to share with you:

When I first came to Tennessee, I was a senior in high school. I had every intention to continue my education at the University of Tennessee. I thought community college was the easy way out, and that I wouldn't have the opportunities I wanted from college at a community college. Boy, was I wrong. One day, Charles Miller, head of the theatre department here (at Pellissippi), contacted me and asked if I would consider joining the theatre program at Pellissippi. I came and toured the facilities at this campus, but it wasn't the facilities that brought me here. Charles told me that there would be an intro to theatre class taught in London over the summer, and I immediately knew I had to attend school here, as it was a dream of mine to go to London.

I couldn't be happier with my decision to come to Pellissippi State. Not only was London a dream come true, but it opened the doors for me to explore other countries. I've now studied in England, Turkey, and Italy, all through TnCIS programs.Most people were amazed when I told them I was going to be studying in Turkey. I was only 18 years old when I went to Turkey, and many people I talked to, who were well into their 50s and 60s, said they had never traveled as much as I had, and they were impressed and encouraged by my courage to be out in the world. Many of them told me how badly they wish they had this opportunity when they were young. Many people begged me not to go, as they thought it wasn't safe. They thought what the media showed of Turkey was all that was true, but I can assure you, it is not. I am incredibly lucky to have traveled to so many incredible countries at such a young age.

The most striking and important of my trips was to Turkey. Anyone who knows me knows that I am absolutely and completely obsessed with Turkey. The TnCIS program was exceptional. Dr. Sekman worked incredibly hard to make sure the students had a proper "Turkish experience." We were hosted by different universities throughout different cities in Turkey, and in each university, the American students were paired with a "Turkish Buddy" who would show them around the city, take them to classes, and always be there to hang out. I swear, I got the lucky straw with my time in Turkey. In Izmir, I was paired with a girl named Naz, and she immediately became my sister. I made so many friends that week in Izmir, and it was the hardest goodbye I've ever had to say. The connections I made on that trip are lifelong connections. I missed those friends so much, that I traveled by myself to Turkey this past summer to spend two weeks with the friends I had made on my TnCIS trip.

To me, the connections and friendships made all around the world are some of the most important parts of the experience. I've always had quite the travel bug, and having the experiences I've had in all of these countries has allowed me to feel comfortable in any situation, be it in the States, or in another country. I never felt unsafe on a TnCIS program. Every staff member was incredibly helpful in getting us around the cities, and making sure we knew how to stay safe. Brickey even made personal maps for each and every one of the students on her trip! That's above and beyond excellence. The lessons I learned in England, Turkey, and Italy are lessons I carry with me every day. I'm far less fearful than I have been in the past.

These trips have even inspired me to push my education further. I now have a degree in performing arts, but am completing my bachelors in linguistics in Colorado. I have a heart for foreign languages, surely heightened by my experience abroad. My next steps are figuring out how to internationalize my major. I want to work overseas. I want to continue to travel and explore and see what this world has to offer. And I know none of this could have happened without the help of TnCIS.

Being a student at Pellissippi had additional perks, being the incredible Dr. Wise and Dr. Edwards. I can definitely say I wouldn't have been able to travel so frequently if it weren't for their generosity in scholarships. Pellissippi offers 40-60% scholarships for students studying abroad, and I've heard many students say they wouldn't be able to travel without this assistance. It breaks my heart when I hear that students at other schools are unable to attend due to lack of financial aid. The state of Tennessee has received recognition in the number of students sent abroad, but I know that financial aid and scholarships could push those numbers higher. With the influx of Tennessee Promise students this year, I have a feeling more students are going to want to travel abroad, especially once they hear about the experiences TnCIS has to offer. I will preach until my dying day the glory of TnCIS. It completely changed my life. There's no way to go on one of these programs and come back completely unchanged. It is single-handedly the best experience I've had as a student. It has not only broadened my view on different parts of the world, but it's given me a new love for cultures, for new foods, for learning in my own country. Everything I do is in the shadow of my time abroad, and in the hopes that I can one day return to my homes overseas.

My dear students--WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? I know you might be scared. You might miss home. You might miss your friends, your family, your boyfriends and girlfriends, but I promise you, the three weeks you will spend abroad with TnCIS will be some of the best days of your life. Now is the time to do it. Get out there and explore. The world is waiting for you.