A Reflection on My Year Studying Abroad

Lauren Girard, ’21 // International Business
May 15, 2020

Nĭ hăo, kia ora, and hello are just three greetings I’ve used this year during my time studying abroad. I began my journey in the summer of 2019 interning in Shanghai, China. Then, I spent the fall semester in Dublin, Ireland, and now I’m studying at AUT in Auckland, New Zealand. Each semester was a unique experience with its own highs and lows. They’re hard to compare, but I’ve learned something from all of them.

Shanghai, China

I remember thinking to myself “wow what am I doing here…and how do I use chopsticks?!” during my program dinner on my first day in Shanghai. Studying in Shanghai on the Freeman Foundation Grant was the furthest I’d ever been from home. So many things were different in China than I was used to. I remember being amazed by how classy Pizza Hut was there. The American chain known for simple pizza was a white tablecloth restaurant in Shanghai. Little differences like that made me laugh, while others, like office etiquette at my internship, took longer to adjust to. 

My Data Analytics Internship

The office culture was different than I had expected. I was not given much to do at first because usual Chinese interns at my company only worked a few hours a week and couldn’t be relied on for long-term projects. Eventually, I earned my boss’ trust and became a staple on their team. It was a learning curve for both the team and me to find my place there for 8 weeks of full-time work. I gained valuable experience with the team and job shadowed several positions. One of my tasks was to create a presentation for the Data and Insights team to explain how big data works. I included the 5 Vs of big data, information on data storage, Hadoop, ETL, and cloud computing. I explained the differences between IAAS, PAAS, and
SAAS and how they fit into the industry as a whole. Doing the project taught me more about big data and it was helpful for the team to see the entire process laid out.

Posing with fellow Champlain student, Madi, at our internship placement

Life Outside the Office

Outside of the office, I spent lots of time exploring the city. One of my favorite things to do was to walk around trying new street foods. On weekends, I would visit new neighborhoods of Shanghai. The city is so enormous that it can take hours to cross on the metro. I took a couple of weekend trips while in China. One was to the mountains and the other was organized by the host program, CAPA, to Beijing. Learning about Chinese culture was great because it was different from anything I’d ever experienced before. Navigating the country without speaking Mandarin was difficult at times, but it has given me the confidence to navigate uncomfortable situations. I took that confidence and carried it with me to my semester in Dublin.

Lunch at the East China Normal University campus

Dublin, Ireland

Once my program ended in Shanghai at the end of July, I flew home to the US for just two short weeks. I unpacked and repacked, off to another adventure. The Dublin program stood out for me because I was there long enough to become part of the community. The Champlain Dublin staff gave students all the resources to live like a local, starting with the meet the shopkeepers tour. We got to know the street vendors and become part of the community in the Liberties neighborhood. The Champlain Abroad staff are a huge advantage to the Dublin campus. Tony, the student life manager, was always around to show us cool events I may have not come across on my own. For example, one Wednesday night he guided us to a local pub for a silent disco! It really felt like I was living in Dublin and not just visiting. I learned what it was like to live in and create a routine in another country like a local.

Whelan’s silent disco in Dublin

I spent most of my free weekends traveling to other European countries. It was nice to have become comfortable enough in Ireland to feel like it was a home base. Without the help of the Champlain staff, I may have accidentally overlooked the rest of the country with the excitement of traveling to other countries. They went above and beyond by facilitating heavily subsidized trips around Ireland. Some of my favorite memories were on the West of Ireland and Northern Ireland trips. The Champlain Abroad staff held workshops to help us slow down, think about our goals, and really get the most out of our semester.

Cliffs of Moher in the West of Ireland

Auckland, New Zealand

I arrived home from Dublin by mid-December. My semester in Auckland did not start until the end of February, so I got a job at home in Maine and made frequent trips to Burlington to see friends. I had just over a month of a normal semester before the reality of COVID-19 set in. This semester has certainly been unusual. 

Wondering where I’m headed next

Studying at AUT

Before the lockdown hit, I noticed that this program gives more independence than the others. I took the confidence I gained in Shanghai and combined it with the knowledge the staff in Dublin gave me to succeed here. I’m one of nearly 30,000 students at AUT, so there’s more personal responsibility involved in making sure things run smoothly. It’s entirely worth it because AUT is fairly similar to Champlain in its hands-on learning style. However, I don’t have the same support network of peers in my classes. At Champlain, I know the majority of students in my classes and can collaborate on assignments if need be. Studying at AUT is different because I don’t know the students in my classes. I have to actively connect with my professors when I have questions about assignments, especially in my Managing Data for Business Analytics class. Reaching out to other students who have studied together for multiple terms is pushing me out of my comfort zone. I’ve successfully connected with students in my Travel and Tourism class for a group project and I think my international perspective adds value to the group.

Life in New Zealand

Culturally, New Zealand is great because the lifestyle is relaxed, the people are friendly, and nature here is beautiful. I’ve enjoyed exploring all Auckland has to offer. Before the lockdown, I was going on several small day trips during my free time. Now I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the country since the restrictions for COVID-19 are easing up. I have a few more trips planned before returning home at the end of June. I’m grateful for these upcoming opportunities and my entire year abroad. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned this year into my final semesters at Champlain in the fall.