At first Study Abroad can be an exciting, yet daunting experience. You’re suddenly in a new country with different customs and ways of doing things, often with a different language, and very different people. A tendency of many students is to flock with the people on the program from their home country/university, creating a sort of new comfort zone abroad.
This is also how it started for Heather Upin who spent a summer in Greece on a program sponsored by her home university. But Instead of continuing to just follow the group, Heather decided to take a different approach. “Life is short and I wanted to spend my time on study abroad immersed in the local culture as much as possible,” she says. “I didn’t want to be just a tourist.”
Heather turned to her passion for inspiration. “I’m happiest surrounded by people while rock climbing.” Heather works at a climbing gym while away at university in Massachusetts as well as back home in Minnesota during the summers.
Despite not having the language skills, and feeling slightly intimidated by going alone, Heather made the trek to Redpoint, a climbing gym she had found about a half hour outside of Athens. This decision would prove to be a pivotal moment in her study abroad experience.
“The very first day I met a number of locals who quickly became my good friends,” said Heather. “I still keep in touch with some of them today actually.”
They introduced her to neighborhoods she wouldn’t have discovered on her own and authentic local experiences she might not have had otherwise. Thanks to her incredible self-awareness, and willingness to put herself out there, Heather enriched her study abroad experience in Greece, surrounded by new local friends that shared her passion.
Not only was Heather selective in who she spent her time with on Study Abroad, she was also selective in who she shared these experiences with back home. While she posted pics on Facebook for her larger network to see, the rich stories behind each photo she shared with a small, close group using an app called High Low Glitter. It is an easy way to share your experiences in a meaningful way with the people who matter most.
In Study U Abroad I write, “Deciding who you let in on your study abroad experience is just as important as figuring out what to pack in your bag.” High Low Glitter allows you to consciously do just that.
“High Low Glitter allowed me to go deeper into my stories and share this with my core people,” says Heather. “When you know who your audience is, your content changes – you feel safe sharing your most honest and vulnerable self.”
While High Low Glitter was meant to quickly capture the best part of your day, the worst part, and the fun, unexpected, delightful moment, Heather’s entries got longer and longer. Ultimately they became a sort of travel journal that she now has to look back on and recall all of the wonderful experiences she had on study abroad.
“As I look back on my High Low Glitter posts from Greece I realize that they all had a trend and all my glitter moments were from my time spent at the climbing center with my friends I had met there,” said Heather. “Thanks to High Low Glitter I was able to stay connected at home, but also realize how influential Redpoint was to me. I loved everything about Greece and I’m proud of myself for having the courage to do it my way and for being able to capture that so I can remember that feeling in the future”
Thank you to Heather for sharing her story and demonstrating how to Study YOU Abroad – embrace who you are and step out of your comfort zone with confidence.
Stay tuned for an upcoming Study Abroad Tip Of The Week by Heather and don’t forget to check out High Low Glitter.
Heather Upin, ’16, studies geology at Smith College. During summer 2014 she traveled to Greece where she participated in Smith’s Global Engagement Seminar studying the archaeology of Greece in its geologic context. This experience sparked an interest in travel and deepened her passion for rocks. After completing her education at Smith College, she hopes to pursue a master’s degree in geochemistry.