I am thankful for the opportunity I had to study abroad at the American College of Thessaloniki (ACT) in Greece this fall semester. Studying abroad in Europe was something I have dreamed of since high school. I was lucky to have made this dream come true. Before I arrived in Thessaloniki, Greece, I had certain expectations because I had talked to a few upperclassmen and alumni who had studied abroad at ACT during their junior year. My expectations included getting immersed in the Greek culture, taking non-Nursing courses, making friends from all over the world, and travelling in Europe. Now that the semester is over, I can happily say these expectations have been met.

Overlooking Vergina, Greece
Overlooking Vergina, Greece

As a Korean-American who grew up in New York City, I have been exposed to multiple cultures and interacted with people of different backgrounds. Coming to Greece and traveling in Europe were experiences that have allowed me to widen my knowledge on different cultures even more. It has also encouraged me to reflect on the importance of respecting a language and navigating through cultural communication differences. As an immigrant myself, I understand the difficulties that arise from communication barriers in a foreign country. As a foreigner in Greece and other European countries I visited, I encountered what I had experienced in my early years in the States: learning a new language and communicating to the best of my ability. Even though these experiences made me comfortable to some extent with living in a country  with a different native tongue, I realized that some peers in my program handled it differently than I did.

I witnessed some of my peers being frustrated, in some instances, when the locals did not know English and when there was no English translation next to foreign text. Even though English is becoming a universal language, we cannot expect that everyone will be fluent in it. In a country as diverse as ours, we have many people who learn English as their second language and we must understand people in this situation. This experience reminded me of the significance of culturally sensitive nurses and translations services in U.S. healthcare. When I was in Europe, I was comforted by sympathetic locals who took the time and made the effort to understand and help me. I want to help others like those locals helped me, especially in times of physical and personal discomfort. I hope healthcare professionals including nurses will overcome language and cultural barriers with hearts full of understanding, patience, and care. As Professor Simonelli once stated, we will never be fully culturally competent nurses, but we can still be culturally sensitive and aware. We have so much to learn not only in our nursing courses, but also in our clinical experiences, especially with the diverse population we work with.

Posing with the White Tower in Thessaloniki, Greece
Habin Cho in front of the White Tower in Thessaloniki, Greece

With regards to the coursework I was able to take five non-nursing courses at ACT. This was the only semester I was able to choose courses outside of the nursing curriculum. I took advantage of this and selected courses I would not have taken if I had stayed at Boston College. My courses included Greek language, Greek art history, Greek mythology, philosophy, and psychology. I was worried of falling behind my peers in CSON, but looking back, I can say that I have grown and my perspective has widened after taking these non-nursing courses. The Greek students, in general, were far more laid back than my peers back at Boston College. It took me awhile to get accustomed to a “relaxed” classroom setting, but in this new setting, I was reminded of the importance of education. At Boston College, it was easy for me to become consumed by my grades and not fully enjoy my studies. At ACT, I was reminded that I am at a great institution to learn great things, not only to get great grades. I hope to return to Boston College with this renewed mindset and truly enjoy Nursing instead of getting caught up with my GPA.

A lot of people wonder how nursing students are able to study abroad. It is possible. And I highly recommend it to students in Track B. I personally appreciated a semester off from nursing school. I was able to gain an experience I would not have gained in CSON or at Boston College. This semester allowed me to question my decision to pursue nursing. During this period of questioning, I remembered why I initially chose nursing and I learned why I still want to continue pursuing nursing. A semester away from my home and college in the States brought homesickness, discomfort, and stress, but it also brought me open-mindedness, courage, and opportunities to take advantage of. I am much more determined and motivated to grow as a student leader now than I was before I studied abroad.