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Aug. 23, 2013

Elliot Zirulnik: Studying abroad—twice the fun!

Aug. 23, 2013

2013-14 Homecoming Court ambassador Elliot Zirulnik is participating in his second study abroad trip while at MSU. He shares what his experiences living and learning abroad have been like.

I am one of a very fortunate few students who have participated in two study abroad programs during their time at MSU. Every time I think about the locations I have visited and the unforgettable sights I have seen, a wave of awe, gratitude, and disbelief runs through my body. Most spectacularly of all, nearly all of my expenses have been covered by scholarships!

My major is media and information but I have long maintained an admiration for the animal kingdom. I chose to expand my academic boundaries and participate in a fisheries and wildlife program set in South Africa where our days were filled with safaris. Countless hours were spent searching for elephants, cheetahs, hyenas, lions and baboons. The vehicle from which we viewed the animals was the classroom and the dramatic savannah landscape was our textbook.

Over the course of that four-week program, I learned more about biology and conservation than I could have in an entire semester of classes in East Lansing. There is nothing that drives home the concept of predator-prey relationships more effectively than watching a pride of lions feast on a warthog!

I am currently in Malaysian Borneo as part of a zoology study abroad program. The focus of this course is rainforest ecology, a far cry from the dry grasslands of sub-Saharan Africa. Identifying the differences and similarities between the two regions is a total joy.

Participating in study abroad programs has allowed me to witness things I had never even dreamed were a possibility. Just the other day, for example, I watched a school of clownfish swim in and out of their anemone home. That symbiotic relationship had been drilled into my head since kindergarten and there I was witnessing it in person! In South Africa, I saw dozens of zebra crowd around a watering hole as hippos and crocodiles bathed just a few yards away. It was like something out of a classic Hollywood adventure film.

If you are intent on studying abroad but aren't sure how to make it financially feasible, start by looking into scholarships from your department, college and sources outside of MSU. Be sure to investigate funding that isn't explicitly intended for study abroad as this can also be used to cover program expenses.

There are literally thousands of scholarships out there and at least a handful are intended for someone exactly like you. Hone the skills you feel would make you a more competitive candidate (leadership, writing, community service, etc.) and demonstrate them through as many avenues as possible. If studying abroad is something you really want to do, I promise you can make it happen. Like anything else in life, all it takes is some hard work and determination!

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