Of the over 4,000 students who study abroad each year, dozens share the impact international education has had on their lives by documenting their experiences abroad as part of the Global Ambassadors program.
Since 2018, Texas Global has selected students to serve as Global Ambassadors and record their international experiences in real time on the education abroad blog as well as social media. This year, 27 Global Ambassadors documented their experiences interning, researching and studying in 18 countries.
Two of these ambassadors—computer science senior Avi Minocha and biology senior Ally Gunderson—shared with us their most memorable moments from their time abroad in 2019. For Avi, his semester in Singapore motivated him to flourish in new and unfamiliar environments. Ally says her time in Australia changed her career trajectory and inspired her decision to pursue a graduate program in ecology.
Read about their experiences in the Q & A below.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Australia, Ally?
I was looking for something radically different than anything I've done at UT. I was at a point where I didn't know what I wanted to do with my degree or career. As I was narrowing down universities, I really looked for classes that I'd never thought were real. Then I came across one called "Wildlife Conservation and Management" at The University of Western Australia. In the syllabus it said the course required a few days of field experience tracking and tagging animals. After that, I was sold. I knew, no matter how much experience, this kind of course would be beneficial—personally and professionally. And it was! I can't be sad I'm leaving because my time here was so rich.
What drew you to Singapore, Avi?
Singapore seemed perfect for me because it’s a melting pot of a variety of southeast Asian cultures, with residents from China, Malaysia, India, and other places. I also wanted to fit in an internship in the summer after I studied abroad, and Singapore’s academic calendar was very similar to UT’s.
Why did you become a Global Ambassador?
Ally: I've studied abroad before and felt that afterwards I couldn't remember or talk about everything I did because I never reflected on the experience. There was plenty I knew I would do that I didn't want to forget.
Also, I'm a minority within my college and a first-generation student. There are so few female ecologists, so few first-generation students who go abroad, I knew that these facets of my identity would uniquely shape my experience. I wanted to document those for the next student like me.
Avi: I decided to apply after going to the “Share Your Study Abroad Story” session at Pre-Departure Orientation. I thought it would be fun to write about my experiences abroad and have other people who are interested in studying abroad read them. I also thought blog posts would be a great way for me to capture my experience, so I can have something other than pictures to look back on later.
What was it like volunteering with animals in Australia, Ally?
I volunteered at Caversham Wildlife Park. That experience was amazing! I learned about captive animal husbandry and so much more. Everyone who works with animals wants to hold something cool, but we know the limits and boundaries to that, so I wasn't expecting to hold a koala or anything. I wanted experience working anywhere near animals, but as I settled into my role, I got to work with birds, marsupials, reptiles—just about everything.
For my last day, as a surprise, the keepers let me hold just about anything—squirrel gliders, kangaroo joeys, a woma python, and even a koala as a special treat! It was so rewarding to know I was helping enrich the lives of these animals on a daily basis. I'd encourage everybody to look into volunteering at their location because you never know what you'll find!
How has your study abroad impacted you personally and professionally, Avi?
Personally, I felt like it was such a unique experience that allowed me to grow as a person. It helped me realize that I really enjoy connecting with people and learning about their backgrounds and cultures. Professionally, it has been great practice working with people from different backgrounds in group project settings. Also, it has been a great ice breaker when networking with people who have also lived in Singapore or studied abroad!
What was the most challenging part of your semester abroad? What was the most rewarding part?
Ally: Australia challenged me in so many ways. I always said that Australia is just similar enough for me to get complacent, but just different enough to leave me unsettled. The style and culture of university in Perth was the most difficult. Professors here aren't keen on grades or assignments. University is more of a nine-to-five job. However, The University of Western Australia really values hands-on experience which ended up being the most rewarding takeaway. Every course I was in had at least one experiential learning field trip. This really helped me develop my interests and sense of what a professional ecologist does day-to-day, and has helped me narrow down other research and volunteering I want to do, as well as graduate programs for after I graduate. When I had limitless interests, I felt smothered in all the choices, but now that I can articulate what I'm interested in, I feel like my options are limitless.
Avi: I think the most challenging part was moving to a new country where I didn’t know anyone. The first few weeks were definitely an adjustment period, but after that I felt much more relaxed and Singapore started feeling more and more like home. The most challenging part also ended up being the most rewarding part. Being in a new place allowed me to meet so many different people that I wouldn’t have been able to meet in the U.S. It was definitely hard moving to a new place across the world by myself, but I feel like I grew so much as a person, met so many amazing people, and had such an enriching and memorable experience, which made it worth it.
Tell us about a memorable moment that has stuck with you.
Avi: One of my favorite memories was volunteering at the Singapore chapter of Cycling Without Age, or CWA. CWA volunteers go to different senior homes around Singapore and give the seniors trishaw rides. The goal is to try to get the seniors some more time outside and fresh air. Even though a lot of the seniors I gave rides to didn’t speak too much English, it was still lots of fun getting to know their stories and being able to spend time with them on the trishaw rides.
Ally: In my animal structure and function course, there was a TA I got on really well with. One day in class he mentioned he needed a field assistant for a weekend to catch the bush crickets he studies. Instantly, thought I wanted to go. I came to Australia to do something I never could do at home and I felt this was it. The week before we go, the TA reaches out that another assistant dropped out and I could come along for another weekend. I close my eyes and say yes.
Turns out, it was a total of seven days of moderate camping in tents, eating dinner in canyons, and tracking through tick-riddled bush for a tiny, grasshopper-like bug. It was everything to me. The TA was so accommodating to me as an American and showed me all the sights along the way, including a gorge called Nature's Window and the famous Pink Lake. I saw snakes, kangaroos, emus, quolls and thorny devils. I look back at the photos and can't believe I went and I'm so happy I did.
What advice do you have for students who want to study abroad?
Ally: Pick a place with meaning! You can take classes anywhere in the world, but it's the location that will influence your stay. Australia is in a huge conservation crisis, there's a lot of on-going research, and it was the perfect place for me, for my major, and what I wanted out of my experience. I've gone on programs before I didn't enjoy because I wasn't invested in it. Spend time deciding, looking up several programs until you're sure it's right for you.
Avi: Just do it! Even if you are just considering studying abroad, I would say go for it. It’s cheaper than you think and there are so many options out there that you’ll definitely be able to find a place that will give you the credit you need in order to graduate on time. I feel like studying abroad is such a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience that can open your eyes to the world, so everyone should try to take advantage of it!