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|Volume 10 Edition 6: March 2011|
Q&A with Michael Tuso, former study abroad student by Katie Ostrowka
Recently I sat down with Michael Tuso, an undergraduate Political Science student who studied abroad in fall 2010 at the University of San Ignacio in Loyola (USIL) in Lima, Peru. During his time at UNCG, Michael has been involved with the Global Leadership Program, student government and various other committees (For more details, see UNCG’s story on Michael). Currently, Michael works for the Dean of Student’s Office as a case coordinator and is an intern with the Sustainability Office on campus. Michael also assists his professor, Dr. Fabrice Lehoucq, on researching coups in Latin America in the 20th century.
Since returning from Peru, Michael has been doing presentations in Spanish for the Romance Languages department, proof of his hard work and dedication to learning the language. His experience abroad shows firsthand how immersion programs help students succeed in language acquisition.
Katie Ostrowka: You just recently returned from studying abroad in Peru. Can you tell me, in general, about your experience there?
Michael Tuso: It was definitely an interesting insight into developing countries in general, something that I was seeking in a study abroad experience for professional and academic reasons mainly, so Peru was the perfect fit for that and for learning about some of the issues that I research here as a student. My experience there was definitely eye-opening. I was able to travel and get to see the whole country, to go to Machu Picchu and the jungle and really improve my Spanish a lot which was something I was always apprehensive about. But being in Peru really, really improved my Spanish so that’s something that I took away.
Culturally it was interesting not just to compare the U.S. to Peruvian culture and a lot of the differences but also regional cultural differences—like Peru and Ecuador and Peru and Colombia are really close together but there are quite substantial differences among those countries. Also between the other international students there from other countries—that was particularly interesting to me as well, comparing how we view things here and have little fun debates with some of the Europeans, for example.
So overall it was a really great, eye opening experience. Obviously there were some things that were difficult to get used to initially, but I think we adapted well. Things don’t function the same way as they do here so sometimes that would be a little bit difficult to get adjusted to. Universities are totally different so that was also initially a difficult thing to get used to.
KO: What was your favorite aspect of life in Peru?
MT: We took a trip to the jungle and that was my favorite part. I went with two friends and I think that was their favorite part too. It’s something we definitely don’t have here, the Europeans definitely don’t have that in Europe, so it was rare and cool to see animals like dolphins in their natural habitat, things like that. And then we were on a boat for three days with a lot of indigenous people. That was really cool. You felt like you were so distant from everything else but with technology, I still had my blackberry that would function. (laughs) So I felt that was interesting, it was so remote and really cool.
KO: How has your reentry been? Did you have any issues readjusting to life back in the U.S. and in Greensboro?
MT: I guess the biggest thing in retrospect is that I didn’t acknowledge that reverse culture shock was a real thing and so coming back I guess I was really shocked about how weird I felt at first. It’s kind of gone now but in the first 2-3 weeks, I was like “Whoa, what is this place?” I didn’t realize the difference in how I would feel when I came back. I just kind of assumed that everything would be normal. Adjustment has been really good so far. It’s really helpful to have friends that have been abroad. It helps to keep in contact with other students abroad, people that you talked to while you were abroad. Just in general, my friends have been really supportive.
KO: And here’s the big question… How has studying abroad impacted your life?
MT: First of all, now I really crave to travel more and I think I value other cultures a lot more. So I’m looking into programs and things that I can focus more on international education. Also I never thought that I would be able to learn Spanish well and I think I’ve come a long, long, long way with Spanish. It was one of those things that I always wanted to do but I didn’t think I would ever be even kind of good at, so now it kind of inspired me. I feel like I have a good enough grip on Spanish to take courses in other languages and just infuse more international travel into my educational and professional experiences because it’s so important. And it’s just cool, it’s fun, and I think it will definitely make a big impact for a long time to come. I’m always talking to my friends and family about how important international education is.
KO: Any advice you can offer to other students going to studying abroad or who are thinking of studying abroad?
MT: I know from friend’s experiences there’s a lot of apprehension about going for some people. I know some people want to back out of but it definitely wasn’t anything to be intimated about for me and for the people that I was with. I know being gone for extended periods of time isn’t for everyone but if you can’t do a whole program, do a summer program.
But it’s definitely one of the cool experiences that I think you can do in college, especially at UNCG. It’s so affordable and there’s so much support. To people that have committed and are on the track to going, I would recommend doing something extracurricular abroad. It just helps with even more immersion. Definitely travel a lot and talk to as many people as you can because by doing that, you’re going to learn so much and bring so much more back with you and it’ll help with enriching your experience.
KO: Is there anything else you want to add?
MT: Again, I think everybody should study abroad. I think that’s definitely one of the strengths of UNCG that I think everybody should take advantage of in one capacity or another even if it’s a summer program. There’s such a strong learning process that comes along with it and that’s something that you’ll always carry with you, so I definitely highly recommend it to everybody.