Student Stories

Studying in France for the Year
Christina Hernandez, Sciences Po

Studying abroad for a year at Sciences Po Paris was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. While the prospect of living in a foreign land for that long and using a language that is not your native tongue may seem daunting, it is completely worth it. Possibly the most fulfilling part about studying abroad was the sense of independence and personal growth that I gained throughout the year. For one, I found my apartment, obtained my visas, learned my campus, learned the public transport system, paid my bills, and did daily tasks like grocery shopping alone, making myself feel empowered. Although I had no idea initially how things in France operated, I figured them out and overcame any struggle by myself, and now I feel more prepared for relocating and joining the “real world” after graduation. Another sense of personal empowerment came from attending the school itself. Half my classes were in French, and I felt a great sense of pride in not just being able to understand what the professor was saying (eventually after hard work and revision), but also mastering the different system of grading and paper writing that the French use in their universities. The classes were indeed rigorous, but as a UC student I felt able to handle the workload presented and in the end I felt my writing and language skills had greatly improved.

 In terms of social life at Sciences Po, there is no need to feel apprehensive. We are lucky to live in a modern age where social media allows for fast friend-making. Through the Sciences Po Exchange Student page on Facebook, which is very well organized, I was able to meet my first friends almost immediately after moving to the city through a picnic that another exchange student had planned. Not to mention, one-third of the school is made up of exchange students, and this provides many networking opportunities as well as a sturdy group of people that is always willing to explore and do fun things. Although we all were learning about Paris and dealing with French bureaucracy in our own ways, we were still all going through a similar struggle and often helped out one another. Studying at Sciences Po also helped me gain respect from the native French people as well; when I told people I was studying there, I always got positive responses from the locals. Not to mention, stereotypes about French people are widely untrue; at bars and clubs, I met a variety of French friends that were fun and sociable. Finally, clubs and organizations on campus also provided a nice place to make friends; I joined the orchestra there, where I not only met a lot of people but was also able to keep up on my violin practice. Overall, Paris was a great year where I learned a ton about myself and made friends and connections all across the world.


My Experience in Botswana
Marisol Montano, University of Botswana

My first visit to Africa was when I travelled to Ghana via the UCEAP program during the spring of 2012. At the conclusion of my semester, I realized that I would soon have to return to Africa. Without hesitation, I decided to travel to Botswana—a country I had only heard of through safari documentaries. After having spent a semester there, however, I have learned much more.  As a middle-income economy, Botswana fares a lot better than most other sub-Saharan countries and the people are extremely proud of their country’s accomplishments. Unlike other sub-Saharan countries I visited, Botswana had a vast network of paved roads and both constant running water and electricity. Sometimes all these things are easy to take for granted when living in a country such as the United States but, stepping out of the country it is easy to see how extremely privileged our lives can be. 

Botswana is definitely not anything like a typical study abroad program—you won’t find any cathedrals, old clock towers, or museums with famous artworks known all throughout the western world. Botswana is a small country with a small population but filled with plenty of opportunities to learn and experience the culture and environment of a region with history spanning for thousands of years prior to written records. What I enjoyed most and will remember best from my time abroad is not any one thing in particular but, the small moments and personal accomplishments that I made throughout the semester. Among those moments are the time I finally learned how to order food in Setswana (Ke kopa dijo tswetswe.), the mornings I woke up to find monkeys munching on fruit in my stairwell, the one time we were almost charged by rhinos, confidently learning to navigate the combi transportation system, mustering the courage to eat mopane worms, and witnessing the joy of a village during its bojale (initiation) ceremony. All of these things I could have never learned and experienced while sitting in a classroom and I am extremely glad that I chose Botswana for my study abroad program.

I think that although many more people have started studying abroad in less traditional programs like those in Africa and Latin America, there is still room for many more students to partake in these programs. Many of these countries, such as Botswana, are rapidly developing and are facing challenges of critical importance not only to their governments, but to the world as a whole. We are living in an increasingly interconnected world and I believe it is important for us to learn about the many neighbors we have around the globe.

My South Africa Experience
Devin Martens-Olzman, University of Cape Town

My experience abroad, like most who take the leap away from home, was unforgettable. I traveled to Cape Town-South Africa, recently voted #1 in the world for best places to visit in 2014 by

The University of Cape Town is a top-flight institution that excels in all sectors of education. While taking a history course it was fascinating to study the early twentieth century from the perspective of a non-American source, a portion of history Americans do not frequently view, though no less important.

Though study did occupy some of my time, the work hard/play hard attitude of UC Santa Barbara was able to translate into a South African medium quite easily. The nightlife at Long Street harked to the crowded balconies of Bourbon St, New Orleans, and often in the mornings I would find myself surfing in Muizenberg.  I was also able to travel around the country often as rental cars are relatively cheap and buses are almost free, so traveling outside of your host institution is simple and easy.

I learned the most abroad while playing for the UCT soccer team. We traveled to different neighborhoods to play the local soccer teams, and this was how I got an experience of the city that most do not get as tourists. Mostly we played teams from the least affluent areas of Cape Town. This more than any other experience abroad taught me the culture of South Africa and its distinct history as a nation recently liberated from the Apartheid government.

Checklist of “completions” during my time abroad:

- Kloofing at Suicide Gorge
- Afrikaburn
- Road trip through Namibia to Etosha National Park
- Road trip through the Eastern Cape to the Wild Coast
- Audited a physics class freely at UCT
- Wine tasting in Stellenbosch
- Surfing throughout Cape Town

- Played for the UCT 2nds football team
- Long Street nightlife
- Game safari in Hluhluwe
- Kirstenbosch gardens
- And much much more!

Please contact me if you want me to tell you about my experiences traveling abroad. I can be reached at, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  View more of my South Africa photos here.

Why I chose the London School of Economics
Thomas Dawson, EAP England
Member of Alpha Kappa Psi; Economics Major

When I chose to study abroad in London for the summer, I was not sure what to expect.  This was the first year that students from UCSB could study at the London School of Economics (LSE).  The school had a reputation for being one of the best schools in Europe and was right in the center of London, walking distance from all the main tourist attractions.  I knew that I wanted to challenge myself and also have an enjoyable experience abroad, so I applied.  The program was six weeks long, but I went a week early so that I could travel around on my own before school started.  I saw Big Ben, the London Eye, and also saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.    There were two sessions lasting three weeks long.  I took one class per session and classes were Monday through Friday.  It was a good thing I went early because the classes I chose at LSE were very fast-paced and didn’t leave much time to explore except on weekends.  They even sell t-shirts at the student store there that say, “Life of an LSE student: Eat, Study, Sleep.”

Needless to say, coming from UCSB, adjusting to the first week was difficult.  After the first week, you get used to the fast-paced environment and can do well.  LSE attracts students from all over the world. I had kids in my class from every corner of the globe, from Brazil to China.  I was surprised I never actually met anyone from London in any of my classes.  The school organizes socials for students that are very elaborate and designed for you to meet other people in your area of study.  They had a white glove service, serving appetizers and wine.  The school even had a party for students every Friday night at the campus pub.  My most memorable moment was the countdown to the beginning of the Olympic ceremony in Trafalgar Square.  It reminded me of New Year’s Eve in Time Square.

London is a city full of history and excitement.  I definitely recommend this program to anyone who wants to take challenging courses abroad while also being able to see cultures from all over the world brought together in one place.

 Why I chose Paris, France!
Merisa Vertti, EAP France

Rome, Istanbul, London, Madrid, Rio, Cairo. All these cities are beautiful and rich in history, but how do you choose which one to pick up your life and move to for a semester or even a year? There are so many countries to go to and a variety of programs in each- your fit is out there. That is how I chose Paris, France. I thought for a long time that I was going to go to Rome, Italy. I have Italian roots, I love pasta, and I wanted to soak in the grandeur of such a thriving city. But then, sophomore year, as I was getting serious about applying for EAP, I thought about my future. I love art, I am an art history major, and I wanted to go somewhere that would benefit my later studies and career. Though the churches and museums of Italy are lined with master paintings I have only seen in textbooks, I have a passion for modern and contemporary art, particularly French and American. I thought and thought about where I would be happiest. I always envisioned myself eating lunch daily at the Trevi Fountain and having a weekly date with the Sistine Chapel. But, as I familiarized with Paris, I began to love the idea of being a Parisian… until I could not stand the idea of being anywhere else.

I knew I wanted a large, cultural center of a city. I grew up in a small town that nothing happened in. Paris is located quite conveniently in Europe making travel easier. It is a city where the people take such pride in its beauty and heritage. I knew that every single day would be a new discovery somewhere in the city. Also, it is THE center for Modern Art. I started to browse the programs offered in France. I knew that I would not be ready to take classes in French yet, but I also knew that I didn’t want to. I wanted to take classes in English because I wanted to focus less on struggling through language barriers in my homework and more time discovering myself. I started to realize that I was looking for a very specific experience abroad- one that surrounded me with travellers and students who also wanted to discover new parts of their selves, and new parts of the world. I decided that UC Paris was for me. This program sends UC students together to study and live in Paris. It was definitely harder to meet French peers (though we definitely did and I am still in contact with them!), but I constantly felt that I was in a group of students with the same goals as myself. We studied French together in the classroom, but then we would go on picnics to the Eiffel Tower daily and try new bistros around the city and check off every historic and beautiful building or landmark that existed in the city. Our living situation (apartment complex/dorm) enabled us to be this close.

I developed a very intimate relationship with Paris. I am more homesick now for my City of Love then I was for California while there. I thought that I was going to study abroad to create an experience that would make Paris another part of my life. But I was wrong. I was a part of its life. Sitting on the banks of the Seine at 2am with your study abroad friends, because you can’t sleep knowing the city is alive right outside your window, makes me feel close to all those lucky enough to live for a short while in the most beautiful and proud city on earth. I cannot explain my attachment to Paris. Maybe I love it so much because of the person it allowed me to blossom into. I was by no means shy before I went abroad, I always was very outgoing. But, being able to transplant yourself to another culture so far from home and your comfort zone builds a confidence inside you that can never be broken. It was a life changing experience in that I saw and did so many new things; but it was a self-changing time in that I learned things about myself and what I was capable of that I never knew. The moment of realization that Paris was changing me was when I was grocery shopping about a month into my semester. I looked around and realized that I was becoming a Parisian. I confidently walked up to the cashier and have felt a pride in my honorary citizenship since then.

As much as it pained me to leave my city on some weekends, I had such an insatiable thirst to travel that I had to see other places and cities as well. I went on 5 weekend trips while abroad, travelled during the 10-day Fall Break (spent every one of those days all over Italy!), as well as a three week backpacking trip after. Though I was only able to spend a short while in each of the cities and countries I visited, the culture, sights, and food have given me an appreciation for all places new. I learned how to navigate my way through any airport, public transportation system, and any cities’ streets no matter how much I didn’t understand the language on the signs and maps. I am about to embark on an extended backpacking trip after I graduate (that of course will include a few weeks stay in my favorite city!) only because I gained this priceless knowledge and confidence in myself as a world traveller. Even after all this fantastic travelling and new experiences (canyon jumping in Switzerland, camel riding in Morocco, and Oktoberfest in Germany!), I couldn’t wait to get HOME every Monday. Paris was not just a home base that I used to hold my suitcases while I Euro-tripped. Paris is my home, and it will always have my heart. I will never forget my class in the Louvre where weekly I spent time with real art instead of a classroom, the crepe stand two blocks east of the Eiffel Tower (best in the city!), the metro (definitely the best in Europe), and even my roommate who I shared all of this with. I like to say that Study Abroad changed my life, but Paris changed me.