Wednesday, January 24, 2024

As a first-generation college student whose education needs to be funded entirely by her own means, I had never imagined that I would have the opportunity to study abroad. Before becoming a diversity ambassador, studying abroad seemed like the sort of thing that would be impossible for me to accomplish. I am also an older student, someone who returned to college later in life after dropping out the first time around. This has often left me feeling as though I don’t quite fit in within my elementary education program.

Non-traditional student Kayleigh Sutton cooking in Ghana
Non-traditional student Kayleigh Sutton cooks in Ghana.

My study abroad experience in Ghana changed that. I did not expect to make very many connections with my peers while I was there. I had decided to partake in the experience due to my deep interest in different educational systems and as an interest in broadening my horizons as someone who had never left the United States. I am happy to say that I was wrong. We were a group made up of people with many different experiences, but we were all able to find common ground. It wasn’t just my peers that I made connections with, though. I connected with my host family and was glad to take part in an exchange of cultural knowledge. For every bit of knowledge that I gained about Ghana from my host family, they gained some knowledge about the United States.

My study abroad program was truly the experience of a lifetime. I got out of my comfort zone and experienced many new foods, saw new places, and met new people. By the end of the trip, I no longer felt like I was an outsider in my program at Iowa as someone who was older and who had transferred in from a community college. I began the trip knowing one person in my program and left knowing so many more; people that I still see around campus today. I hope that first-year students, or any students who are “non-traditional” in the way that I was, realize that as a diversity ambassador, experiences like these are not as out of reach as they might think.

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