Gigi Cloney

About My Study Abroad Program

Major/Minor: Public Policy/ German
Program: IES European Union
Location: Freiburg, Germany
Email: gcloney@live.unc.edu
Term: Spring 2020

 

Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you select your program?
I chose to study abroad because I wanted to make the most out of my college experience, and I truly think study abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I knew I wanted to be in Germany to improve my German skills, but I also did not want the program to be completely in German. I wanted to use my public policy major as well, so when I found the IES European Union program, it was a perfect match. It aligned all of my interests, is in the perfect location, and allowed my to enrich my learning experience and travel throughout Europe.

 

What did you learn about yourself?
This study abroad experience taught me so much, but it really showed me that I am far more resilient than I thought. I have never been out of my comfort zone to that level before, and when you’re in a foreign country, you are almost always in some way out of your comfort zone. Whether it be the language barrier, meeting new people, or immersing yourself into a new culture, I was constantly having to adapt. This taught me that I can branch out so much more in my life and that I will be able to not only survive, but excel in a new environment. The prospect of change is now a little more exciting and less daunting. Especially with the abrupt departure and unknowns with the pandemic, I had to learn how to make the most of everyday because I truly did not know how much longer I had.

 

What is one of your favorite memories from your program?
One of my favorite memories from my program was a day trip to Geneva, Switzerland. Geneva was one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, the streets were clean, the buildings were gorgeous, and all the people looked put together and professional. I went for a class field trip to the United Nations, which was one of the most interesting school ventures I have ever been on. The combination of the learning experience, being with my friends, and being surrounded by so much beauty, made this memory stand out among the rest. We took a two hour bus ride into the city and we were all wearing our business formal outfits on a cramped bus, excited for the adventure ahead. Even though we were all uncomfortable in our blazers, tired from having to be on the bus by 6am, and slightly on edge because of the pandemic, we still enjoyed every moment. This was towards the end of February, so the uncertainty we were facing with COVID brought us together even more. We knew that might be our last excursion during our study abroad experience, so we all tried to make the most of it. We went to a massive food hall that was more expensive than it needed to be (although everything is absurdly expensive in Geneva) and had some of the best food I have ever eaten. As a foodie, I definitely associate the places I visited with the food I ate. Geneva is a city that I don’t think I would have visited at any other point in my life, so I am very thankful I had the opportunity to do so because of my program.

 

What advice do you have for future study abroad students?
There will always be uncertainties, that is inevitable. Majority of the things that go wrong will not be in your control, but what you can control is how you deal with them. Enjoy the moments that you can and deal with whatever happens to the best of your ability. If you can’t handle it on your own, do not be afraid to reach out to friends on your abroad trip, friends and family back home, or advisors. Sometimes the uncertainties become the best memories. Spontaneous trips or curveballs can create some great moments. I know for my trip, I bonded so much more with the people in my program within two months due to the uncertainty of COVID that would not have happened otherwise. Even though it was not ideal, we packed in as many experiences and moments into the two months that we were there to make up for the two months that we were missing out on, and it made the time there so much better. So, roll with the punches and just make the most out of what you can and trust that everything will ultimately work out in the end.

 

How do you identify?
Scholarship Recipient

 

Could you share any experiences where your identity played a role in your time abroad?
As a scholarship recipient, money was constantly something I had to keep into consideration. My study abroad experience was contingent upon me getting scholarships and saving up money from the previous semester. Once I arrived in Europe, I realized how quickly I could blow through my funds. From purchasing groceries for myself, going out to eat with my new friends, traveling, and any other activity to enhance my experience, it all cost money. I had to learn how to budget and more importantly, had to prioritize the things that were important to me. I had specific places I knew I wanted to travel or things I wanted to do, and I unfortunately had to say no to some other opportunities. Although I had to be more mindful with money, I tried my best to make sure that would not stop me from doing anything that I really wanted to do. Ultimately, it forced me to prepare a bit more and be more responsible with money, which was certainly an important lesson for me to learn.

 

Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
My advice would be that there is nothing wrong with saying no to things that are not in your budget. I struggled with this a lot at first because I did not want to feel left out or miss out on an amazing experience. I would also say to make the most of the scholarship. The school is giving you money to have the best experience possible, so use it! You should not feel bad for having fun and enjoying yourself, even if it costs money. Finding a balance and prioritizing is the best advice I could give

 

If you faced any challenges abroad, where could you turn to get the support you needed?
I would turn to my support structure back home, especially my parents, for advice about how to best budget. My parents were extremely helpful and generous, so I was extremely fortunate.

Memories

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