Student view:

Simon Zagata:
Knowledge and confidence gained

Oct. 16, 2013

Simon Zagata is a junior professional writing major. He spent three months studying abroad. In that time, he visited three countries, experienced traditional festivals and participated in the running of the bulls.

My major is professional writing, but when my sister convinced me that I needed to study abroad, I decided to deviate from my main studies. Of course, each study abroad program provides its own unique experiences, but I don’t think one could have been as personally fulfilling as the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sexual Politics course in Amsterdam. The program combined learning, culture and friendship in a way that I had never experienced before.

Although Manton, Mich., is a beautiful place to grow up, it does not provide many opportunities to be immersed in diversity since the population is around 2,000. My trip to Amsterdam, combined with exploring the U.K. and Spain in the week leading up to my study abroad, sated my cultural thirst. San Fermin, the weeklong festival in Pamplona centered on the famous running of the bulls, truly showed me how much Europe had to offer.

My mother was not very happy with me, but I traveled alone to Pamplona in order to participate in the running of the bulls. I knew the running itself was crazy, but nothing could have prepared me for the intensity of the festival itself.

Combine an entire city as crowded as the tennis courts on a home football game day, fireworks that put the 4th of July to shame and bullfights with gallons of sangria, and you have one overwhelming experience.

I traveled alone and slept alone in a public park, and in the morning I ran with the bulls. Even though my heart stopped when the first 1200-pound bull slammed into a barrier at the corner behind me, I survived to enjoy the festival and continue on to Amsterdam.

Being in Amsterdam for a month at the age of 20 was something going to Michigan State made possible that would have otherwise been impossible. Taking eight credits of James Madison courses in a month meant the workload was taxing, but I would not give up that month for anything. Between lectures by experts in sexual politics and gender orientation and participating as an ally in one of the world’s largest gay pride parades, my life was truly changed.

The life-changing experiences I had would not have been possible without scholarships. Even though my family did help with some program costs, scholarships and my own savings paid for most of it. I would recommend studying abroad to anyone, regardless of cost. The money may seem important, but the friendships, learning and confidence gained from the experience are priceless. If I had the option to go on the same trip with the same group again, I would in a heartbeat.