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Study Abroad Experience Changes Student's Degree and Career Focus Prompting His Move to Rome, Italy

Sam WashburnThanks to a once-in-a-lifetime study abroad experience through Lone Star College-Fairbanks Center, Samuel Washburn will be finishing his studies at the American University of Rome in pursuit of a new degree and on a new career path.

“I’m interested in government, foreign policy and world communities as a whole. Going abroad to Italy last summer really put me on the path of wanting to get a degree in international studies,” said Washburn. “That’s where I am at today.”

In 2006, Washburn graduated high school a year early and went on to college as he felt that’s what he was suppose to do. However, after two years of going through the motions at Blinn College to appease others, he quit and began full-time work.

However, when he moved to Cy-Fair, he decided to make school his number one job and enrolled in Professor Rob Coyle’s history class at LSC-Fairbanks Center.

Greek temple in Paestum“I’ve always been a big history fan and I like all the liberal arts, which is part of the reason I’m 24, still in college and have no clue what I want to do with my life,” he said.

The plan was to raise his grades in order to transfer to Texas State University to major or minor in English and history or vice versa. But a June 2011 study abroad opportunity to live in Italy and study history and geography at the Vesuvian International Institute in Castallammare de Stabia changed everything.

 “I really had no intention of going abroad, but Professor Coyle put the study abroad application on my desk and said ‘I need it back by the end of the week’ and ‘I was like okay.’ Then we just figured out how to make it work,” said Washburn, who has a passion for travel, experiencing different cultures and viewing the world from different perspectives. “I’m a fairly open-minded person, go wherever the wind blows me, with no really pre-conceived notions about the world. I was along for the ride and what a ride it was.”

In addition to earning credits in history with Professor Coyle and geography with Professor Buck Buchanan, Washburn spent three weeks of summer in Italy immersed in the culture, picking up some of the language, learning the social aspects of another country, connecting with people and making lifelong friends. In the fall, Washburn changed his academic and career focus. With his new 4.0 GPA, he applied at Texas State University, Texas A&M University and, why not, the American University of Rome.

Mount VesuviusWashburn said he was “blown away and speechless” when at the end of the American University of Rome phone interview, he was told he’d been accepted.

“What better place to achieve an international studies degree, than in an international city such as Rome that is so diverse culturally,” he said. “And the career opportunities (with this degree) should be fairly vast and endless – work for foreign government, state department, local or international sales or administration, learn languages and be a translator – I haven’t quite narrowed that down yet.”

So this spring, Washburn is preparing for an Italian lifestyle taking Italian and working to save money for his return to Italy in May. He also plans to minor in English as teaching English could help him get a residential visa. Between semesters, he hopes to return to the Vesuvian International Institute and work for room and board.

“My study abroad experience was definitely worth it, 100 percent - it will change your life. The financial support is there and people are willing to help make it possible for you,” he said. “And the friends I made are a big part of the reason I’m going back.”

LSC-CyFair’s study abroad program is also such a life-changing experience because of the behind-the-scenes work of college staff and all the additional hours the professors put into the program and support they give, said Washburn. 

 “As influential as Professor Coyle was in getting me to go to Italy, Professor Buchanan was equally as influential in helping me really embrace the experience, use it as a stepping stone and parlay it into something bigger,” he said.

Latari mountain rangeCoyle and Buchanan believe a significant advantage to offering study abroad at the community college is the opportunity to reach students early in their college careers. Study abroad can serve to help students define their interests, see opportunities and to develop the discipline to undertake long-term projects.

Coyle said he felt Washburn, an alert curious student who analyzed and mused on the lessons in class, was the sort of student who would thrive in the environment of LSC-CyFair’s study abroad program, which turns all aspects of the program into lessons.

“We know that for some students, this will awaken them to the idea of learning in general and translate into improvement in their studies after they return from study abroad. We also know that for students, like Sam, who are already more alert and mature than some of their classmates, that the study abroad experience can be absolutely intoxicating and life changing,” said Coyle. “I can not begin to describe the incredible feelings that we experience as we watch Sam launch himself into a bold new future.”

Scholarship applications for 2012 Study Abroad programs are due Feb. 6. Applications for are due Feb. 1 for LSC-CyFair’s Study Abroad to Costa Rica, with biology and kinesiology courses; March 1 for Italy, with geography and history courses, and South Korea, with math courses; and April 1 for Sri Lanka, with an accounting course. For information, go to LoneStar.edu/study-abroad.