Riley Brandhorst is a junior studying communication with a minor in media. During the school year you can find Riley studying at the Illini Union and eating California rolls. In her free time she enjoys watching The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.
QUESTION: Why did you decide to study abroad? How did the process work?
ANSWER: I have always been desperate to get out into the world and explore it for myself, but I never imagined I would get the opportunity to study abroad anywhere. Then, a close friend of mine studied abroad for a semester in Brussels, and it really inspired me to look into it for myself. She was a really big help in figuring out my program options, and I finally found the perfect one in Rome. It was a long process, with several meetings with advisors and plenty of essay applications. It was worth all the hassle and stress. I would write 100 more essays if it meant I got to do it all over again.
Q: What new character traits did you develop after studying abroad?
I think after studying abroad I gained a new sense of independence. Although I was with a small group of students and staff, this was my first experience traveling without my family, let alone moving across the ocean for two months. Studying abroad allowed me to find a deeper sense of self, and I got to go off and explore a new country on my own. I was always surrounded by support, but I was free to make my own plans and decisions, which was a new and liberating feeling.
Q: Have you gained self esteem after studying abroad? Why/why not
I would say I have gained a certain sense of self- esteem. I feel more confident in my abilities as a traveler and communicator. Being able to fully immerse myself in a new culture—and come back without anything going terribly wrong—sort of solidified that I am capable of doing things on my own.
Q: Do you think differently after studying abroad?
It would be crazy for someone to go live in a new country for two months and not come back thinking at least a little differently. For me, I learned so much through my classes and internships, it makes me look at the world in a different light. All of the hands-on learning we did allowed me to explore things like historical sights and fully be engaged in what it might have been like to live in ancient Roman times. You come back from that with such a different outlook on life, and how times really change. It makes you wonder what future historians will think of the modern way we live now.
Q: How did studying abroad affect how you view your major?
Currently, I am pursuing a major in communication with a minor in media. When studying abroad, I had to change the way I would normally communicate and engage with others drastically. I was faced with the challenge of cross-cultural communication. Through interacting with people from diverse backgrounds I was able to sharpen my ability to navigate cultural differences and understand varying communication styles. I think being exposed to different conversations with local students and communities allowed me to become a more culturally sensitive communicator, which is a very important skill set to have in the communications field.
Q: What did you learn about communication by studying abroad and through your internship?
I was able to apply a lot of what I have learned from some of the communication and media classes I have taken in my experiences abroad, especially surrounding my internship. As a social media intern, it was my job to connect with an audience I wasn’t used to in order to promote the restaurant I was working with. I had to apply what I knew to tailor my communication strategies based on the audience and cultural context in order to increase the effectiveness of my posts.