Life-changing study abroad experience made possible by donor
Development, International Studies, Political Science | February 22, 2016
By Alexandra Schweigert
Alexandra is a senior majoring in Political Science and International Studies. Below she recounts a transformational international internship experience made possible by a scholarship donor.
I vividly remember thinking as the plane left the runway, “Oh my, what have I just gotten myself into?” I had prepared for months, packed my bags, said goodbye to my parents, and gone through airport security; however it wasn’t until the plane left the ground, until there was no turning back, that I realized the enormity of my decision to pick up and move to Geneva, Switzerland for three months. For as long as I can remember, I had wanted to travel the world, experience other cultures, and see what the moon looked like from the other side of the world. However, suddenly a jump across the pond felt more like a full-on mission to the moon.
In just under fifteen hours I would land in a country I had never been to and start a full time internship with the U.S. Department of State. My professors had prepared me well and my friends reassured me that I would have a great time abroad, but it was more than the amazing support system that I had at home that convinced me that I was capable of excelling. For me, a large motivating factor was my scholarship and the donors who had graciously offered it to me. I was offered the David Allen Memorial Scholarship, a $2,500 scholarship from the Colorado State Department of Political Science. It was a daily motivator for me that a donor, a complete stranger, another Ram who had been successful in the world, took a look at me and said, “Not only can she do it, but she can do it well.”
My experience in Geneva was distinct from any other. Specifically, I was afforded the opportunity to work with the U.S. Delegation to the Conference on Disarmament. The Delegation is the main negotiating body for U.S. nuclear interests. Part of this work included following the Delegation to plenary meetings where I would take notes and summarize statements made by ambassadors from all around the world, including China, Russia, England, India, and many others. While observing diplomacy in action and hearing statements of different countries was amazing, I learned so much more about other countries and cultures. During plenary meetings I was able to observe how various ambassadors held themselves, how they greeted one another, which ones arrived fifteen minutes early and which others arrived a half hour late. By observing these small differences I slowly started to redefine my understanding of what is “normal.” Moreover, I started to redefine myself – what aspects were intrinsically part of who I am and what characteristics had been culturally ingrained in me.
My experience in Geneva concluded with the U.S. ambassador asking me to write his statement for the plenary meeting on gender and disarmament. The statement had to be cleared not only by the Ambassador, but also by high level officials in Washington D.C. The statement was approved, given in the Conference, and well received. It was also published on the U.S. Mission Geneva webpage. This amazing, educational experience started with the support of a few great professors and a wonderful donor and sprouted into full-backed support and encouragement from the U.S. Ambassador and other state department officials.
Like all good things, my time in Geneva came to an end and I headed back to the States. However, I did not cease from exploring; rather, when I arrived back to where I started out it was as if I was seeing my home for the first time. Suddenly I questioned everything about the States and what it means to be an American. I fell in love with questioning and redefining the world around me. During my time in Geneva one of my coworkers had told me, “Traveling is like a drug; and like a drug, the more you get the opportunity to travel, the more addicted to it you become.” Finding this to be true I set off for another adventure, to study abroad in Alicante, Spain for a semester.
If I had thought Geneva was a shock, Alicante was close to a full-on electrocution. In Geneva I had worked and lived with Americans, whereas in Alicante I am living and taking classes with Spaniards. In the States I am timely, productive, and I value my eight hours of sleep. The majority of Spaniards who I have met rarely follow a clock and revolve their days around two things: siestas and fiestas.
This is not to say that Spain is not a magnificent experience. In fact, Spain brings with it something magical. Spain has taken me back in time; suddenly I feel like I am five years old again, struggling to perfect a language and copy the customs that I witness around me. Everyday I learn something new and everyday I grow a little bit. Some days I take a step back and realize how incredibly blessed I am to have been afforded such great opportunities; opportunities that would not have been available without the support and encouragement of my professors, parents, friends, and donors. Other days I live in the moment and try to take everything in as quickly as possible because I know I only have a few short months to be five years old again and take in the whole world.
What I know for sure is that these experiences have forever changed me. I will be a better worker, a more understanding friend, and an involved global citizen. These experiences have and will continue to allow me to contribute to the world in a positive way and it all started with my decision to be a Ram.