Above: Wassim Hadweh at Statue Stanislas in Nancy, France.
Wassim Hadweh recently made a big move. This junior majoring in professional studies with a concentration in organizational management and development is spending the spring semester studying abroad at EM-Strasbourg, a business university in the Alsace region of France. EM-Strasbourg is one of 28 exchange programs available through the College of Charleston’s Center for International Education. As part of CofC’s exchange programs, students pay their regular tuition to the College, study abroad at one of CofC’s partner universities and receive transfer credit upon completion of the program. It took an enormous leap of faith for Hadweh, a recent transfer student from Trident Technical College, to go abroad. Here, he chronicles some of the details of his experience so far.
For me, studying abroad has been a unique and rewarding experience. I knew before making this decision that I would be living in a new country, immersing myself in a different culture and making new friends from around the world.
But it’s also true that studying abroad can be challenging. It always involves adjusting to a new environment, adapting to different customs and ways of life, and possibly dealing with language barriers. Despite all of that – and in some ways because of it – I’m learning that studying abroad is a valuable experience and an opportunity for personal and academic growth. It’s one of the most effective means of helping college students develop a new perspective on what life is about and how the world functions.
When I first arrived in Strasbourg, I was so scared of certain things that I hadn’t experienced back in the U.S. Using public transportation, for instance, made me worried about getting to my residence safely. Still, I learned that I can push myself. I had to choose to either make sensible decisions that would help me navigate this new city or just wander around lost.
I have learned that there is nothing weird about asking questions, such as ‘how do I get to this location?’ Really, there is no such thing as an embarrassing question for a student communicating in a foreign location.
One of the challenges I have faced is the fact that I don’t speak French properly and a lot of people here don’t speak English. Consequently, using the translation app on my phone has been my No. 1 asset in Strasbourg, along with help from the international office here at the university. Now, when I want to do something, I always try to speak French until I get to the point where I am stuck. Then, I never hesitate to reach for my phone to translate because, otherwise, I’m not be able to express what I need.
I’ve learned that one of the key advantages of studying abroad is that it will accelerate your pace in learning a new language. I was a little daunted by the language barrier when I first arrived, but now I am not afraid to speak French. I do make mistakes, but everyone understands that this is not my first or even second language. Now, being in a group where everyone speaks a different language excites me to the point of trying to speak their language because I want to understand what’s going on around me.
It’s important to emphasize that studying abroad can help you develop skills such as adaptability, independence and cross-cultural communication. Since I am in a new place and I don’t know anyone, I have made it a priority to try and make as many friends as possible.
I’ve been told that friendships made while studying abroad can last a lifetime. It’s also really interesting finding so many people from all around the world who have the same interest in business. And for me, someone who represents a young generation that can grow and change the meaning of business, this is exciting.
Additionally, I’ve learned that studying abroad can provide access to unique academic and career opportunities. For example, I have a project in one of my classes now that requires me to research the technology company Lenovo and its innovations. My group in this class is charged with finding out everything we can about the company. As a group, our task is to try to innovate new ideas that we think would be helpful to the company and will increase the company’s revenue. Consequently, we actually went to Lenovo stores to ask questions of the associates. We also arranged a Zoom meeting with Lenovo France’s district manager to ensure that our findings are accurate, and that we have proof of our group’s conclusions.
In Europe in general, and France specifically, the education system is very different because it allows students to experience firsthand what they are studying in the classroom by way of group work with professionals. To me, that will become a key advantage that will make me a more attractive prospect for employers, as it demonstrates my willingness to take risks, to adapt and to pursue a global mindset.
But studying abroad certainly isn’t only about work. I’ve enjoyed my time in Strasbourg because it’s also been fun and exciting. Overall, it’s been an adventure, allowing me the latitude to explore cultures, make new friends, meet new people and grapple with languages.
In general, studying abroad has opened my eyes to lots of aspects that I never thought of back home, and I am so happy and proud of the decision that I have made to represent the College abroad.