“I’ve always wanted to study abroad, even before college,” said Amber Alvarado, a freshman chemistry major.
Urbana, Ill. — Amber Alvarado, a freshman chemistry major on a pre-dental track, was one of the first students to walk up to the Illinois Abroad and Global Exchange (IAGE) tent during Illinois Abroad Day on Wednesday, Sept. 6.
It was 10 a.m. on a hot and humid day in the Main Quad just outside the Illini Union when Alvarado asked Boswell Hutson, the assistant director for media and marketing at Illinois International, the usual questions; how to get started, who to contact, and what scholarships are available for studying abroad.
As she soaked up every bit of information Hutson gave her, her eyes sparkled, her head nodded, and her smile never left her face.
“I’ve always wanted to study abroad, even before college,” she told me in an interview after talking to Hutson.
Alvarado was one of hundreds of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) students who attended Illinois Abroad Day, which is the university’s version of a study abroad fair.
Those students were met with representatives from several of the colleges and units on campus that offer study abroad programs. Those representatives not only answered questions, but they also helped students realize how they can make a dream like studying abroad into a reality.
Alvarado didn’t attend the fair alone, she came with her friend, Ari Garcia, a freshman animal sciences major.
Garcia was visiting the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences tent asking questions, picking up pamphlets, and getting extra credit at the same time.
They told me that they were best friends since childhood, growing up and making memories together in Beardstown, Illinois.
It was easy to tell they were best friends for life because of the way they answered questions together and looked at each other for reassurance.
But attending UIUC together wasn’t intentional.
“This is like an out-of-pocket, last-minute type of deal,” Alvarado said referring to the decision to attend the university with her friend. “We didn’t plan that.”
“Yeah, we didn’t plan it together,” Ari responded, looking at Alvarado, smiling.
“And we live across the hall too, which is funny,” Alvarado said, responding to her friend.
“Yeah, we also didn’t plan that,” they both said simultaneously, as they burst out in laughter.
Studying abroad wasn’t the only thing the duo talked about. They shared their goals and explained what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives.
Garcia said she wants to be a vet because she absolutely loves animals, and Alvarado said she wants to go into dentistry because it’s always fascinated her.
In fact, she said she has a little pouch that’s filled with her baby teeth and her wisdom teeth.
Every. Single. Baby tooth. This is one of the coolest pieces of information I have ever learned about someone.
When asked about advice they can give fellow students when it comes to finding out about studying abroad, they both said to just go for it because nobody is judging.
They said if someone is truly interested in anything not just studying abroad, they shouldn’t hold back.
As for their own studying abroad initiatives, the duo said that their goal right now is just to plan. They said they want to look at all aspects of studying abroad like what country to go to, what program to do, and how to pay for it.
In the meantime, they’re going to continue to adjust and take on college together while also working on their own short-term goals.
Garcia said she wants to find that good balance between social life and school life by the time the semester ends.
Alvarado said she wants to have a solid GPA and be settled before heading back to Beardstown for winter break. She also said she wants to map out what next semester will look like.
“I just want to know what I’m doing,” Alvarado said.
After the interview and after sneaking them some more of the *Chamoy flavored candy we brought for the fair, and jokingly telling them “Shhh, run so no one sees,” I smiled.
Because the thing is, despite what Alvarado said, they already know what they’re doing, and they’re going to be just fine.
*Chamoy is a variety of savory sauces and condiments in Mexican cuisine made from pickled fruit.
Analicia Haynes is the storyteller and social media specialist for Illinois International. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.