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Many students consider traveling abroad for sight seeing and embracing the culture of a different country, but for this international studies minor his experience studying abroad changed his life forever.
Senior Jeremy Hunziker spent this past fall semester traveling abroad throughout 14 different countries. The University of Virginia is affiliated with the Institute for Shipboard Education who funded the ship, created itineraries and supplied a crew for Semester at Sea. The program is a typical study abroad program that emphasizes global citizenship.
Hunziker spent five months out of the country starting with departing from Montreal, Canada. From there he went to: Morocco, Madagascar, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Tibet, Japan, Hawaii, Costa Rica flying through the Panama Canal to Honduras then eventually ending back in Ft. Lauderdale, Fl. He would stay in each country for two to three days, a week at the maximum.
Keeping communication with family and friends back home in the United States was limited. The students were given 100 minutes of internet but depending on the country, bandwidth was limited. Using Facebook was the best resource and it was easier to pick up signal in cafes in selected countries.
When being placed in various countries speaking different languages, communicating with locals can be an outsider’s biggest challenge. He has taken sign language and through pronouncing words, a lot of countries could pick up on his English. Motions were helpful he said with expressing wants and needs or a simple clarification on directions.
“The locals are more than welcome to help you. I didn’t really have any issues with people being negative towards us because we were from out of the country but it was mostly a positive experience asking people for help,” said Hunziker.
“Not knowing what to expect you find yourself in interesting situations but you just have to improvise. When things happen you really find out who you are as a person,” said Hunziker.
There was no chaperone or advisor for their voyage overseas, the students were completely on their own. Prior to leaving the country, the students signed a piece of paper knowing that if anything should happen to them while abroad that it wasn’t the company’s fault the responsibility was theirs.
The students lived on the ship, and occasionally in hotels, but for Hunziker and Sigma Chi fraternity brother Brian Morris, they spent a few days living in a hut in Tafi Atome a village in the Volta region of Ghana, Africa. The two traveled 120 miles inland and took tro-tros, a van system, to get to the village. The huts were made of mud and had tin roofs and within the rainforest were malaria carrying mosquitoes.
The men stayed in the village for three days and lived on a diet consisting of potatoes, rice, boiled eggs and tomato sauce. The elders of the village wanted their help on how to bring in tourism into their village but the students explained that bringing tourism would bring tourists and profit but would corrupt the environment.
“What they had there was truly special and untainted by Western culture,” said Hunziker.
Being able to interact with the natives was a life-changing event Hunziker explains while they were there, they were presented with Kente Sashes that are usually only presented to royalty as a way of thanks for their insight into change.
The transition back into America can be a culture shock and Hunziker says even being back now six months he is still getting used to being here.
“Coming back into America and seeing all of the American convenience was incredible. Incredible in that I wasn’t used to it. When you go into a developing country even if it was Japan or China or South Africa, yes they are developing, yes they are somewhat like the United States, but nothing is quite like the United States anywhere in the world,” said Hunziker.
After graduation Hunziker would like to become an English teacher in Seoul, South Korea. He plans on continuing to travel and thinks it would be a great experience to teach in a foreign county while also traveling amongst the country.
“I’ve always wanted to travel around the world, kind of funny how things work out. If you want something bad enough you can make it happen that’s for sure.”