Look beyond Europe when studying abroad

The study abroad experience is nothing new to TCU students. One area our university excels in is in providing ample opportunities for students, resulting in one in three TCU students making a trip abroad at some point during their college careers.

The most common destination for study abroad students is Europe by a landslide. They call Italian, French and Spanish romance languages, and there is a romantic appeal to the entire continent. Who hasn’t been mesmerized by images of Parisian lights or the grandiosity of the Alps? There are certain whole-heartedly European experiences that are not to be missed, like having high tea with an eye on the Houses of Parliament, or taking in a fiery Flamenco performance in the Triana section of Seville.

Europe is a fantastic place to study abroad, not least of all because of the excellent infrastructure that makes taking university courses possible even thousands of miles away from TCU. But what about other parts of the world, places like Africa?

As someone who has studied in London and Africa and a few places in between, I can say that while I received more course credit in London, I learned a great deal more during my time in Ethiopia.

While England and other European countries have rich cultural heritages all their own, there are many similarities with the United States, by sheer virtue of being a Westernized nation. In a place like Ethiopia, everything was different.

Mekelle, Ethiopia, located in the highlands of the Tigrai region, is a magical place. People there are intensely religious, and wear flowing white robes from head to toe. Many rise before dawn each day to walk to one of the many Orthodox Christian churches in the city. In fact, most mornings we were woken by the beautiful chanting of the seemingly endless throng of white-clad men and women making their way to the nearby Tekla Haimanot church. I was impressed with their dedication, knowing that the majority of the worshippers would be working the fields of teff, the local grain, after the morning services were concluded.

We stayed in a hotel the entire time we were there, and at the price tag of $3/night, we spent less staying in the hotel than we spend on a month’s rent here in the states. Every morning, we’d walk to a local cafe to have a macchiato. We’d lay down a few birr (about fifteen cents) to drink the delicious concoction out of tiny cups. That same habit at Starbucks would have set us back hundreds of dollars.

In all of my travels, I have never encountered people more hospitable than Ethiopians, and this in a country where most people earn less than $2 per day. Our taxi driver invited us to his home, a one-room structure he shares with his wife, three children and mother-in-law. The quantity of food put our Thanksgiving dinners to shame.

The most rewarding part of traveling to Ethiopia is the opportunity to really see how a large percentage of the world lives. It’s difficult to comprehend from our Western perspective how almost half of the world lives on less per day than many of us spend on our breakfast. Traveling to Ethiopia helped me gain a better understanding of the global community, while at the same time giving me the opportunity to help in whatever way I could.

Traveling to Ethiopia means facing difficulties that you would be unlikely to encounter in Europe. We didn’t always have electricity or even running water. However, if you’re looking for a truly unique experience, consider expanding your travel options beyond European borders. Whatever difficulties we encountered in Africa, we came away with unforgettable friends and memories, and with greater understanding and appreciation for the rich diversity of the globe.

Sarai Brinker is a graduate student from Levelland.