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Meanwhile, Deep in the Jungles of South America 

Turning yourself from Captain Never-Leaves-Campus to Captain Planet.

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It’s Friday afternoon and Spain is closed. I stare uncomprehendingly at the man at the ticket counter. There is no way I could have heard him correctly.

Spain can’t be closed. It’s a country, for goodness’ sakes.

When asked why Spain, a major European country with a population of approximately 46 million would be closed to all trains, the ticket man shrugs and says that sometimes countries just close. We look at each other, stranded in a European city, with no way forward and no desire to turn back. It’s fall break in France, and we are completely lost.

Most who study abroad call it the best experience they ever had in college. For decades upon decades, United States students have been taking their education into the wilds of South and Central America, to Europe, to Australia and Africa. It’s an exciting opportunity. You’ll meet new people, discover a new culture, learn a language, and find out how the rest of the world parties it up.

“At first, I was terrified — I had three Spanish roommates right away, and most of the time I had no idea what people were saying,” Whitworth student Awbrey Gilliam said of her 2010 spring-semester trip to Spain. “After a while, it got way easier. I met a lot of people, started to improve my Spanish, and in the end, I got to see every corner of Spain.”

Most universities offer an endless array of study-abroad options, and it’s important to start looking at these options early on. Schools like Whitworth and Gonzaga give students the opportunity to study abroad. Sometimes students join with other students from their university; other times, the university sends the student off alone.

Gonzaga offers direct exchanges with 15 universities across the world, including Akita International University in Japan, the University of Notre Dame in Australia, and the Casa de la Solidaridad in El Salvador.

Programs can have different language requirements depending on the university, the destination country, and the courses offered to international students. Programs may require two years of Chinese language proficiency or three years of French — or may not require any foreign language knowledge at all.

Sometimes it’s best to become a foreign exchange student. It’s more intensive, more immersive, and for many students, more satisfying.

Gonzaga offers direct exchanges. Those are easier to transfer credits and maintain communication with your home university.

But course and language limitations can make organized university-to-university exchanges frustrating. You may really have your heart set on traveling to Guatemala, say, but if you aren’t majoring in Spanish, it may be difficult to convince the school to let you tag along.

Whitworth runs its study-abroad program through ISEP, the International Student Exchange Program. You can pick pretty much any program of study at hundreds of schools around the world. Along with the ISEP fee, you pay the tuition amount you would pay at your university back home, and end up provided with a meal stipend and housing.

This program is perfect for getting a feel for the culture and completely leaving your comfort zone. The one caveat: It’s more difficult to transfer credits and communicate with your university back home than with the direct exchanges.

So pick your location, dust off your language skills and grab your visa. Hopefully, you’ll end up completely lost in another country.

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