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Studying Abroad Transforms into Career

UMD Alumnus Zach Lunderberg standing before his class in Japan.
July 31, 2018

Zach Lunderberg '15 talks about how studying abroad in Japan – and now teaching there – widened his world view. 

I’ve always been surprised that more students don’t take advantage of study abroad opportunities while they have the chance (falling only slightly behind ‘Why doesn’t everyone use the on-campus gym for free?’ and ‘Do people just not know they can use dining dollars at the Center Court Grill?’ on my list of college lifehacks and pointed questions).

In 2016, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, 325,339 college students from the United States studied abroad in some capacity. This represents just over 1.6 percent of all U.S. students enrolled at institutions of higher education in the United States.

Studying abroad in 2012 was one of the most formative events of my life. So much so that it’s truly hard to believe, even now.

It broadened my horizons, tempered my independence, and helped to sculpt my perspective into one more attuned to the world around me.

Don’t get me wrong, studying abroad has a real cost. It doesn’t fit into everyone’s graduation timeline. It isn’t cheap. It doesn’t necessarily help you get a job. But it makes you a better person, to an extent that is unmatched among my own limited experiences.

Adventures Cement Friendships
I studied in Nagasaki, Japan for one year, from August 2012 through September 2013. I forged bonds with my peers from various countries; not only Japanese students, but also those from Canada, China, England, France, Korea, and other regions of the United States.

We experienced Japanese cultural activities and festivals. We climbed mountains, competed in a canoe race among the people of Nagasaki, and (perhaps strangest of all) participated in a high-class dinner party with company executives.

My time abroad also helped me to find a job. After graduating from UMD in 2015 with a degree in Writing Studies (Professional Writing), I was granted a position as an assistant language teacher (ALT) as part of the JET Programme, an exchange program which places recent graduates in schools throughout Japan.

I have remained in Japan for three years now, teaching and interacting with students daily. I’ve enriched my perspective even further in this time, learning from and meeting peers from around the world.

I consider the latter a much more important development in my growth as a person and a professional.

Gaining Global Perspectives
As a successful graduate, if there were one piece of advice I could give to a college student, it would be this: take time, early in your college career, to seriously consider time overseas.

Not everyone is fully aware of their opportunities to travel while working towards their degree. There are generous scholarships and grants to help students travel abroad, and programs to suit multiple schedules and time frames, from short-term visits orchestrated by UMD to multi-semester programs made possible through partnerships with other schools and organizations.

There is a Study Abroad Office on campus. Use it!

In this day and age, with challenges stacked to the ceiling and tuition costs spiraling ever higher, you need to use every resource you can get your hands on. To leverage every advantage you can in improving yourself, and your lot in life.

We’ve reached a time as a country when our focus, for good or bad, has shifted inwards and become more hostile. Divisiveness and vitriol are running high, and not everyone takes the time or effort to empathize and relate.

Some view people from a different culture, or even those with a different perspective of our own, with indifference or contempt. Many shrug off their responsibilities to the world, seeing the burden of reaching out to others but not the mutual benefits of doing so.

It is for these reasons that I find time abroad so crucial to our development, not only students, or as professionals, but as people, as citizens of the world.

Now that I’m working abroad and can see the consequences of a limited perspective in the political climate of the U.S., I’m certain that it should be a higher priority.

Learn more about UMD's Study Abroad programs.