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Student Experiences in International Programs

Student Testimonials

Claudia Vallejos-Valdivia, Exchange Student from Peru

Claudia Vallejos I picked The University of Tennessee and found it very welcoming. Without funding or sponsorship from my government I was still able to support myself at UTK. In fact, I had an assistantship! Professors were approaching and helpful and they encouraged me to go on and do my best as a student and as a person. I liked Knoxville very much.

The challenge I experienced at UTK was to understand information that was not in my native language. Studying in another language can be mentally tiring and is a process. The reward was that I learned a lot about understanding the person not only from the psychological perspective (which my undergraduate degree is in) but also from the environment perspective considering the external factors and how they can impact a person’s life. Another thing great reward was coming to understand the person from the neurobiology perspective. I found all of this to be very interesting!

I am now back in my home country of Peru and am able to incorporate the knowledge received at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in the classes I teach at a private university. In fact, the first course I taught at the university I utilized some of the books I used at the UT College of Social Work!

Albertina “Tina” Ozor, Exchange Student from the University of Ghana

Tina Ozor, Exchange Student from GhanaI picked the University of Tennessee, Knoxville College of Social Work because of information I had from a UTK exchange student at my university at the time. But most importantly, the College offers several classes which met my interest and my university requirement for exchange students as well.

My major challenge was transportation to my field placement, However, I have received an amazing amount of help from students and the College in general. The College of Social Work is one place in my entire exchange experience that I felt most welcome, listened to, respected, and treated equally and fairly. I guess I cannot express it all, when you come to the College, look up and read the welcoming statement in the hallway. It says it all!

I had a great learning experience and academic success as well as an amazing student /student teacher relationship. And the wide variety of field placement options met my interest and I had a great work experience.

Ayat Nashwan, Degree-Seeking PhD Student from Jordan

I applied to 10 schools of social work in the USA. The curriculum of the PhD program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville College of Social Work matched my needs in the focus on research and teaching. I received personal email back to my initial inquiry by the Director of the Program and have continued to feel supported and part of the Program community since then. Upon receiving my acceptance I quickly confirmed!

The College of Social Work is open to diversity which is important to me. I came to UTK with a spoken language and religion that has been accepted by the college and university community as well as in the larger community of the city.

I have found a social environment here at UTK which has been helpful not just to me but also to my family who came with me to the U.S. In the classroom, professors draw upon my experiences in my home country of Jordan by asking how related topics are viewed and addressed in Jordan. The class size is small, allowing me the opportunity to participate in class and to get to know my peers. At UTK there is an English Language institute and additional English supplemental course to assist in the transition to America. The International House is very familiar with assisting foreign students and was able to assist in meeting my needs by connecting me with local resources.

Andrea Prince, Exchange Student from United States to Ghana

Andrea Prince, Exchange Student to Ghana UniversityI chose to study abroad in Ghana to gain a wider perspective on the world around me, and because I was interested in living in a completely different culture. I learned that living in a new environment and culture was in itself the biggest challenge and reward. I was constantly challenged to question my thoughts and beliefs and I forged friendships that continue to this day. Four months was not enough for me, so I went back a year later!

Attending the University of Ghana was an excellent choice. I learned how different systems of education work. I believe the time in Ghana has helped me in my practice with refugee clients today. Though my experiences in a new culture are not the same as my clients, I do believe I can empathize with feeling like a stranger, thus, helping me connect better with my clients.

Allison Sculley, Exchange Student from the United States to Botswana

Allison Sculley, Exchange Student to BotswanaStudying abroad was by far the most amazing, challenging, emotional, incredible experience of my life. I will go so far to say, I think I will be hard pressed to do anything else in my life that will measure up. After I changed my major and had extra time, I knew I wanted to study abroad. I had a list of all of the places I could go, and I diligently researched each and every one.

For some reason, I fell in love with Botswana. I had never heard of the small country before; the more pictures and websites I read, the more my heart was set and I was sure I would absolutely die if I had to go anywhere else.

I didn’t admit it to anyone, but I was terrified when I first got there. How do you prepare for a country few people in the United States have even heard of? How do you make expectations? Luckily, I had nothing to worry about, and jumped head first into everything this place had to offer. I even ate worms and goat intestine my very first night, a Motswana traditional side dish.

I will say not every day was a positive one. I had my fair share of tears and frustration while I was there. It is difficult sometimes to have an open mind when you are in a place completely foreign to everything you have ever know and been taught. I had to keep remembering that to the local population, I was the one who had things wrong and backwards, not the other way around. I was a guest in their country.

I think that studying abroad prepared me to be a better social worker more than anything I have ever learned in a classroom. It taught me how to be open-minded, how to not force my beliefs on to someone else, even though I am convinced I am right! I learned how to give people second chances, and that first impressions are not always correct. I learned that having an open mind is important, but also so is having your own personal morals to stick to. I learned that getting out of your comfort zone is scary but important. I learned it is ok to make mistakes and to be wrong about something, you are only human. It is ok to ask for help, and admit that you have no clue what you are doing. I learned that the world is so much bigger than you think and everyone has a story to tell, it is just a matter of if you are willing to listen. I experienced what it feels like to be alienated and left out, and maybe that is how some of my clients will feel one day.

I would never trade my semester in Botswana for anything in the world. It was the best place possible for me to visit, and I am a better person, student, friend and one day a better social worker because of this experience.

Florence Paquet Exchange Student from the United States to South Korea

Florence Paquet and friends in South KoreaI picked South Korea because I wanted to go somewhere I might not have the opportunity to go again, something different and far away, so I was looking into Asia, Africa, and South America. Then, a friend of mine said they were going to teach English in South Korea. That kind of settled it for me since it meant being some place very different, but still having someone there I can go to, if I need to.

Turned out I didn’t need to, being home sick was an issue, but I found relating to others studying abroad, developing those relationships, finding super fun things I could only do in Seoul, and finding things I could do in South Korea that I liked doing back home to be some great ways to adjust to living in South Korea, and getting over homesickness. I ended up falling in love with the country, and learning that it wasn’t some place I would never get the chance to go to again. I learned that no place is off limits, you can go anywhere! Diving into the culture with other students studying abroad has ended up in me having lasting, wonderful friendships like no other friendships I have made before. It has also made some very special memories, that although sad that I can’t recreate, make them all the more special and wonderful.

The challenges coming home were learning how to make traveling something that will always be a part of my life, you feel kind of in a haze, or empty after coming home to the “same ol’, same ol'” when everyday used to be an adventure. So thinking about studying abroad again, perhaps even seeking a degree abroad, working, especially teaching English abroad, and visiting/staying with friends from travels have all been good plans for me that I have even had the opportunity already! Students should know that when you make friends abroad in one country, you’re going to have friends all over the world, and it’s a great way to get more traveling in! See old friends, really experience their culture, stay with them for cheap! You have to learn that that time can never be recreated, you can’t relive it, or even have an experience quite like that again and it can be bittersweet to reminisce, but that is what makes it so special, so unqiue, and wonderful. I wouldn’t trade or change that for anything.

I think any country could have ended up being the best choice, there’s no telling, but I certainly believe that I would have had a wonderful experience in any country as long as I got to know other students studying abroad and took advantage of that country’s unique aspects!

Melissa Meinhart Exchange Student from the United States to the University of Ghana

Melissa Meinhart, Exchange Student to the University of GhanaDuring the Social Work 200 class, we discussed the vast opportunities available within the field of social work, one of them being international social work. I had never put much thought into the applications of social work internationally, but I knew that my strengths and interests could be applicable in an international context.

It was quite difficult for me to choose which country and university to study. I wanted to study in a culture unlike Tennessee; yet, receiving a thorough education was vital. University of Ghana provided the best opportunity for my interest in culture and education. I was able to experience a different way of life without falling behind in my studies.

Arriving in Accra, I was naive to my ability to work with varying cultures. I should have been more honest with my feelings and concerns. My overconfidence led me to ignore the signs of culture shock, until it overwhelmed me. My two main cultural barriers were ideas about social justice and opinions toward homelessness. I worked directly with both at my field placement. Despite the challenges associated with experiencing culture shock, those experiences helped me grow as a person and as a Social Worker.

The rewards of studying abroad are incalculable. Never before had I experienced such a welcoming people, with such amazing stories to share. Ghanaians are certainly the friendliest people that I’ve encountered, and they were eager to include me as part of their lives.

I cooked local delicacies with a market mother, climbed mango trees with the children in Takoradi, danced along with the people of Boameng-Fiema, followed a local guide to the top of Wli Falls, played Oware with the children at my field placement, and developed lifelong friendships with some of my classmates. I will forever be grateful and indebted to the hospitality of Ghana and her people.

Lyndsay Lewis Exchange Student from the United States to Prague

Lyndsay Lewis, Exchange Student to PragueI chose to study abroad because I knew there was more out there then what we see in America and in our media so I wanted to explore that for myself. Being abroad is one of the only times in your life where you can be young and independent in another country for a long period of time. The main challenge was learning to communicate with others by not necessarily using your words or English.

The biggest reward for the opportunity to study at Charles University in Prague was to learn about what life is like as a student there and also just the overall experience. Prague was hands down the best choice for me and I definitely vote it the most beautiful city in the world. I wouldn’t change my study abroad experience for anything and I would STRONGLY recommend it to anyone.


Being an Exchange Student
For Degree-seeking International Students
Student Testimonials
Peace Corps Coverdell Fellowship
Social Work Study Abroad Manual
UTK Study Abroad Office