Studying abroad is a priceless experience and our goal is for every student to have the opportunity to experience the wonders of the world and gain a different perspective through their travels. It is because of this that every year we award $10,000 in scholarships through the STA Travel Scholars Program to create opportunities for students studying abroad.

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One of our STA Travel scholarship winners, Nate Hovee sat down with us to chat about his experience while studying abroad at Yeditepe University in Istanbul.

How did you hear about the scholarship?

I first heard about the Foundation for Global Scholars/ STA Travel Scholarship when I visited the study abroad office at my home university (Western Kentucky University) and read a listing of local and national scholarships and grants. I learned about the specific information of the STA Travel Scholarship on the Foundation for Global Scholars website.

Why did you decide do study abroad?

Apart from being an avid international explorer with an ingrained passion for traveling, I recognized early on in my undergraduate career that studying abroad would be extremely beneficial to my academic, professional, and personal life. I knew that taking my education overseas would be a challenging adventure with countless learning opportunities (both within and outside of the classroom) in unfamiliar environments and cultures.  I also was eager to customize my studies and develop skills through firsthand experience in some of the most amazing places on earth. With significant academic and financial support from my university and multiple scholarship organizations, I had every reason in the world to study abroad!

Why did you choose Istanbul as your study abroad destination?

I had previously studied abroad in England and New Zealand for semester-long programs, so I wanted to step outside of the English-speaking Western world and experience a culture, language, and society very different from my own. I wanted a location that would be nontraditional (not Paris, London, or Rome) and challenging. I wanted to be pushed outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis, because this would provide valuable learning experiences, not to mention opportunities of a lifetime that I never would discover in the comfort of my own environment and culture.

In selecting Istanbul specifically as my study abroad destination, it was a city I had strongly desired to visit for years. A number of my friends and family had recommended Istanbul and shared amazing stories about this “city of the ages.” My uncle from Washington state, who has visited the Middle East multiple times, told me about the vibrant culture and history of Istanbul. Some of my friends who had been to Turkey for vacations, work, and study abroad programs said over and over, “If you go anywhere in Europe, you have to see Istanbul!” From multiple television shows and films, I had created a somewhat romantic and energetically wild view of Turkey’s largest city. The more I heard about Istanbul, the more I wanted to go. When I discovered in early 2012 that my home institution, Western Kentucky University, offered an exchange program on the Asian side of Istanbul, I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to combine my academic endeavors with my building passion to see Turkey and Istanbul for myself.

What did you learn most from this experience?

I learned how to not only adapt to a foreign culture, language, and society, but also confidently interact with others in my community overseas, form connections and lasting friendships, and independently overcome challenges thousands of miles away from my home country.  I developed valuable personal, academic, and professional skills that will strongly benefit my future career, both at home and abroad. I also developed a far greater appreciation, understanding, and interest in exploring the world beyond the borders of the United States.

What was your favorite travel memory during your adventure?

There are so many incredible memories from my study abroad adventure in Turkey. Aside from exploring the many fascinating sites throughout Istanbul, one of my favorite experiences just outside of the city was a day trip to the Prince Islands, which are located a few miles south of the Asian shores of Istanbul in the Marmara Sea. Several of my European friends from the university came with me to Büyükada, the largest in the island chain. Once we arrived by ferry, we rented bikes from a local shop and rode along the car-free roads and coastline trails, visiting a number of beautiful parks, forests, and coves along the way. The small island neighborhoods were very different from the crowded districts of the nearby city. Large, colorful Victorian-style homes boasting sprawling gardens and picture-perfect views of the surrounding sea dotted the hillsides. The architecture and landscape reminded me of what I had observed several months before in parts of Charleston, South Carolina. My friends and I biked along the paved trails, weaving between richly decorated horse-drawn carriages hauling tourists around the seven-mile island loop. When we arrived back in the main port town, we enjoyed some delicious gelato and shopped at a small outdoor market featuring local artwork and traditional Turkish clothing. On our way back to Istanbul in the evening, we saw the glow of the city lights slowly spread from the Old City mosques and Bosphorus Bridge to the far hills of our university. Simple, yet somehow quite magical, enjoying the beauty and unique island life of this “secret gem” of Istanbul with my friends is definitely one of my favorite memories from my study abroad experience in Turkey.

If you could give someone studying abroad a piece of advice, what would it be and why?

GO FOR IT!! From my own international experiences, I strongly believe that study abroad is by far one of the best opportunities for any college student, regardless of majors or career goals. By taking your education overseas, you not only expand the amount you learn academically, but you also gain so much on a personal and social level. The connections and friendships you make abroad will be one of the best rewards. On top of that, study abroad will provide limitless benefits for future academic endeavors and careers. You will learn to problem-solve independently and take on new challenges enthusiastically outside of your comfort zone. You will develop skills to not only live, but thrive in a culture very different from your own. Your life will no longer have borders… after all, there’s a whole world waiting out there for you. With countless opportunities to turn your education into a global adventure and explore some of the most amazing destinations on the planet, now’s the time to find the program that’s right for you and form your own memorable experiences overseas. Trust me when I say you’ll really thank yourself later for not only reading this and thinking… oh yeah, I’d really like to do something like that someday… but seriously just taking that first step now to make an unforgettable international adventure a story of your own. So, what are you waiting for?

Read Nate’s first account of his studies in Istanbul here or check out his travel documentary, Istanbul: An Introduction about life in Istanbul.

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