National vs. International: Before Studying Abroad in Another Country Consider Studying in Another State
Are you one of those students who wants to spread your wings and fly to new places? Do you have dreams of exploring the rainforests of the Amazon or back packing through the Swiss Alps? These are some of the many reasons why college students choose to study abroad in other countries. When I made the decision to study abroad in Sweden, though, it wasn't for the sake of some epic adventure, but in hopes of finally meeting my long lost family. However, ever so slowly, it did transform into an epic adventure the longer I stayed and learned about the country.
If there is one thing I've learned about study abroad and travel in the last six months, though, it's that you don't always have to look outside of the United States in order to experience a different culture. This last summer, I completed an internship out in Roosevelt, Arizona at Tonto National Monument-once home to the ancient Salado culture. When I initially entered the region my first experience was that of geo shock. As a native New Hampshire girl, I was not used to experiencing 110 degree summers followed by 90 degree autumns in a desert-scrub land characterized by wet and dry seasons. Surrounding me stood tall majestic Saguaro cacti baring the keystone fruits that fed the Native Americans and enormous vermilion cliffs that shaded the hot sands in the valleys below.
It was so different compared to the maples and birches closed in by the dull grey granite mountain peaks that stretched across the width of New Hampshire. Some visitors have equated the experience of transitioning from the Northeast to the Southwest as "landing on Mars". In New Hampshire I use to complain during 90 degree hot spells and humidity so thick I almost couldn't breathe. Out in Arizona though, the air was as dry as the temperatures were hot easily forcing me to break a sweat as I made my ascent to the Lower Cliff Dwelling everyday.
When I greeted visitors at the Lower Cliff Dwelling, they often asked me where I was from because of my pale skin or my accent (one guy thought I was from Belgium). Usually I'll laugh and reply, "I didn't realize I had an accent." Though I tended to stick out a little, the cultural demographics were not so alien from the northeast. However, Arizona is home to the largest Native American Reservation in the country: the Navajo Nation-which is so large it over laps four states. All together in Arizona there are about 14 different Native American groups divided up into ver 20 unique bands. Sometimes visitors from the northeast mistake them for Latinos, but regardless Arizona along with much of the southwest has a vast Hispanic cultural influence compared to the English and Italian cultures that occupy New England.
Some of the visitors are also awed by the fact that I traveled all the way from New Hampshire just to work at Tonto National Monument. I explain that the reason why is due to the fact that the Department of the Interior (DOI) does not manage much public land in the east. If I had any hopes of working with the National Park Service, my best chances laid westward; getting any kind of job in the east anyway feels like fighting in piranha tank due to demand being greater than supply.
As I have told the visitors at Tonto National Monument, America is so large and so culturally diverse that it could be divided into at least five different nations. So before checking out the beaches in Italy or the rolling green cliffs in Ireland, think about checking out a different geographic region of the United States. You may just be surprised at how different one state can be from another. It is a great way to wean yourself from national to international when making a decision to study abroad.
Photo credit: www.thewayofbeauty.org