Ashley Aguilera’s Study Abroad Experience

Tuesday, November 7, 2023
Phoenix College student Ashely Aguilera in York, England on her study abroad experience.
Phoenix College student Ashley Aguilera in Paris, France on her study abroad experience.
Phoenix College student Ashley Aguilera stands outside Edinburgh Castle in Scotland during her study abroad experience.

Phoenix College (PC) student Ashley Aguilera took part in a study abroad program this past summer, traveling to England, Scotland, and France. It was her first trip to Europe and she was not sure what to expect; “I was very nervous about all aspects of traveling,” said Ashley.  Being in new environments encourages self-reflection and personal growth. Students often learn more about themselves, their values, and their goals through the challenges and experiences they face abroad. PC president Dr. Kimberly Britt shared: “Study abroad experiences are fundamentally life-altering for students. In a global workforce, students are better international citizens and humans because of these experiences.”

The two study abroad courses Ashley participated in were Psychology and Culture (PSY 132) and Mythology (ENH 251).  Ashley and 26 other Maricopa Community College students – with two faculty members – spent four weeks traveling and learning together at museums, historical sites, and cultural activities, across three countries. Based in Nottingham, England, the group stayed in dorms and traveled to Bath, Brighton and London, England; Edinburgh, Scotland; and Paris, France. The students and faculty met twice weekly in a classroom to discuss assignments and plan excursions.

Professor Christina Ahles, who taught the psychology and culture course, explains that students were asked to observe social situations and to interview locals. For example, one assignment asked students to talk with locals about unique cultural phrases, called idioms.  Professor Ahles says that active engagement in the culture as well as the immersive experiences engaging with people from different countries, offer unique learning opportunities, broaden students’ horizons, enhance students’ understanding of the world, and promote cultural sensitivity. 

Memorable cultural phrases students heard:

  • Bits and bobs: Gathering miscellaneous items.
  • Gutted: Feel very upset or having one's feelings hurt.
  • Being cheeky: Sarcastic, mischievous, or joking.
  • Take the biscuit: Something annoying.
  • Bob’s your uncle: Ta-da, or there you have it.

Ahles also says that students may have “culture shock," the psychological process people may experience when traveling abroad. The group traveled by train and by foot, immersing themselves in the languages, experiencing various environments. For example, many cultures have different norms related to personal space. As the students and faculty traveled by train, it was common that people would be leaning on each other while riding trains, which seems perfectly normal to the locals, while making the Arizona students feel a bit awkward. Ahles and Professor Mary Aldridge, who taught the mythology course, helped students address culture shock issues directly by debriefing after excursions. Professor Ahles says she sees many opportunities to convey the experiences teaching and learning abroad back to the classroom in Arizona. Teaching and learning about topics such as culture shock and idioms, with first-hand examples, lead to deeper understanding. 

What Ashely Says About Her Study Abroad Experience

What would you say to students considering participating in a study abroad program?

“I would tell students who are thinking of going on a study abroad trip that it’s not as intimidating as it seems, and that being there as a group makes you feel supported.”

What are your most memorable experiences from the trip?

Ashley said she loved learning about the art, going on different excursions, making new friends, and exploring new places.  “As someone who is naturally shy, speaking with the fast-talking Parisians and gregarious Brit’s boosted my confidence,” Ashley says. Ashley tried Haggis, a Scottish dish of lamb, beef, onions and spices, served as nachos. “It was interesting,” she says.  But it was the Caribbean food and the people of England and France that captivated her heart. Traveling and studying in a foreign country challenges students to step out of their comfort zone, adapt to new environments, and become more independent. These experiences boost students’ confidence, resilience, and problem-solving abilities.

Has this experience changed your educational or career goals?

“The trip impacted me greatly,” says Ashley.After living in Europe for a month, I feel a great need to expand my knowledge of other cultural groups. I plan to travel to more countries throughout my educational journey, not as a vacation but as learning opportunities, to connect and serve. I’m still figuring out which career to pursue, as I want it to be something that matches my interests and allows me to serve people worldwide.”

Exposure to different cultures and societal systems can foster a sense of global citizenship, encouraging students to become more aware of global issues and contribute positively to their community. Professor Ahles is happy that Ashley was able to overcome her shyness during the interviews and interact so authentically, which she believes will benefit Ashley in many aspects of life.

Each year, the Maricopa Community Colleges offer a variety of study abroad opportunities.  If you would like to learn about summer 2024 study abroad opportunities, visit the MCCCD Study Abroad website.

PC alumnus Greg Adams established a Study Abroad Fellowship, which provides a $5,000 stipend to support Phoenix College students wishing to benefit from learning abroad.  Visit the PC International Student Services website to learn more.