The British Summer Institute
This past summer, I participated in the British Summer Institute, a study abroad program through the University of Kansas Honors Program. The program focused on British literature and British art history. We split our time in England and Scotland. Whether it was in the coursework or outside at cultural excursions — even conversations at a local pub taught me something. I gained:
- knowledge of British history
- understanding of British customs — both English and Scottish
- cross-cultural experience
- better understanding of United Kingdom’s political and educational systems
- sense self-reliance
- independence I proved that my
- adaptive capabilities and
These experiences in the UK would continue to improve and help me discover a world much larger than myself.
First Time Abroad
I had my first trip outside of the States in June 2009 when I participated in an Italian language study abroad program through the University of Kansas. I lived with an Italian host mother (we I called Mama) in the heart of Florence; our flat was just outside of the Piazza della Republica. Living with an older Italian woman taught me to be an ambassador for both KU and the U.S. The language barrier was difficult at times but always provided some strange looks and many laughs at the dinner table, which we would be at for to at least three hours every night. With an Italian-English dictionary as our centerpiece, we would spend hours drinking wine, dining on incredible Italian eats cooked by Mama herself and laughing at the communication errors and bad jokes. I enhanced both my written and oral Italian language communications skills through the intensive language courses. I gained a truly remarkable experience through cultural tours and culinary courses. At times I did not know it but this study abroad program has shaped my entire college career into something so much better than anything I could have imagined.
After the Italian study abroad program, I spent nearly seven months backpacking from July 2009 to January 2010. I first traveled extensively through a few European countries. I developed first-hand knowledge and understanding of the Italian, Spanish and Scandinavian cultures. I visited a family in Denmark and saw a glimpse of the Scandinavian way of life. Then I took an overnight train through Germany and France, and found myself committing to San Fermin in Pamplona. Running with the Bulls at the age of 19 was not exactly how I thought I’d be spending my summer. That experience changed the way I look at life. Running with the Bulls empowered me to believe I could do anything (sorry Mom and Dad). Now that I have experienced the culture of adventure travel, my bucket list has tripled in size. After leaving Europe, I returned to the States to surprise my parents. Then I traveled West and volunteered in Northern California. During my time volunteering and driving across America, I realized that I can learn so much from traveling in my own country, especially considering the size and diversity of the U.S.
In the fall of 2009, I traveled extensively throughout New Zealand for eight weeks followed 21 days in Australia. My semester spent backpacking taught me more than I could have anticipated. I proved my independence and gained motivational skills as well as problem-solving skills. I demonstrated flexibility and adaptability. I also learned about budgeting and planning. These skills have continued to help me succeed and as I grow and foster these skills, I hope to succeed in many aspects of life.
This past summer after my study abroad program in the United Kingdom, I flew to the other side of the world to backpack Peru with six of my friends. I expected this trip to be full of laughter and girls’ nights. And although the trip encompassed both of those, what really struck me about the trip was that it also opened my eyes to a continent I knew little about. A year prior to departure, I enrolled in Spanish 111 solely for my personal benefit because I knew I would be traveling to South America. Although I was relatively proficient in Italian at the time, Spanish proved to be more difficult for me to pick back up. I had completed the highest advanced placement Spanish courses in high school, yet I quickly realized that my Spanish skills had slipped away. My time in Peru was one of the best weeks I had spent abroad not only because I was with my good friends but because I truly prepared for months to better understand the culture. My preparation for this trip made a huge difference in my experience. Although my Spanish was considered elementary, it was great to comprehend most of the spoken language. From this experience, I am encouraged to continually educate myself to better understand the world around me, especially if I’m lucky enough to travel there.
Interested in South America
While in Lima we visited a terrorism museum, where I learned about the Shinning Path. I had never heard of this dark period in Peru’s history; it was full of genocide and violence. What struck me most about these events was that they occurred while I was alive. Granted I was young, but this cultural experience taught me that you can be so far-removed from a culture without even knowing it. I want to strive for better understanding of the world. I now have a newfound interest in South America, but then again there is not a part of the world I am not interested in.
During my times spent abroad, I have paid close attention to the role of language. After reenrolling at the University of Kansas in 2010, I have focused my time on volunteering with non-native English speakers to empower them to learn English. This passion for international students and my interest in teaching English stemmed from my time abroad in 2009 to 2010. As I continue to engage in international student events to continue my global understanding, I realize that I’m a very small piece of this global puzzle.
I had a short-term internship as the Communications Director for Dundori Orphans Project, a non-profit organization that a fellow KU undergraduate had stated. As the Communications Director, I was in charge of social media and event coordination for the project as well as the communications of the group. I developed creative content for the website, which I edited alongside a web designer.
Now I write
Now personally, I continue to write about my travels and connect with other travel writers through a network of social media and blogs. Through an independent study with a journalism professor, I created and designed a personal promotional website that tends to present itself as a travel blog. I create content and make connections around the world through the incredible power of the Internet paired with the written word. I never thought that a classroom project could lead to an independent study that would allow me to engage with over 35,000 online visitors in a few short months. The website has opened so many doors. I have been published on the Sports Illustrated website, and now, I write for the USA TODAY college blog as a college correspondent. I have even connected with travel writers from around the world online and even in person – a woman and I met in Peru to chat about freelance options. This website, www.sarahdweaver.com, is more than a simple personal blog; it proved to me that I can create a product that not only promotes me but promotes international understanding.