I entered William & Mary wanting to major in International Relations and work in the humanitarian/NGO field, so study abroad was a natural part of that path. Studying abroad in my junior year changed my entire life. My senior year was spent juggling the balance between the idea I should do something “normal” like get a job in D.C., or do something crazy like go to France again and look for work. I pursued the second option and that led to two years of teaching English in France, two years of Master’s study in Europe and then working for the past six years for the IFRC in Geneva, Switzerland in various capacities related to international humanitarian work.
Perhaps the biggest effect this international path has had on my life is it led me to my wife, a Norwegian who has worked for the United Nations since 2006. We just moved to Oslo, her hometown, and I will soon start a bike tourism company here while continuing as a consultant with the IFRC in the off-season. In May 2012 I will launch Viking Biking Tours of Oslo, targeting English-speaking tourists, many of whom arrive on cruise ships as a starting point for the fjord tours.
When it comes to studying and living abroad I would recommend everyone go in with a completely open mind, like a young child who is ready to try anything and do everything in a new way. Even the most mundane and small task like food shopping or going to the doctor can become a learning experience. Don’t think of study abroad as a time to hang out with other American students, but fully immerse yourself in the local culture. Get out of your comfort zone and live with a host family or local students, or work overseas, perhaps as an intern. The more contact you have with another way of thinking, the more you will develop as a person during your time abroad. With this open-minded attitude, your life will be enriched and you will likely find that there is a post-study abroad version of you that is different from the pre-study abroad version. Study abroad really can be a life changing experience, taking you in directions never expected but will always appreciate.
Curtis Rojakovick graduated from W&M in 1999 with a degree in International Relations and a French minor. He currently splits his time between Geneva, Switzerland and Oslo, Norway, working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. He spent his junior spring semester (1998) studying abroad in Nantes, France.