Turning Dreams into Reality

April 16, 2018,  Blog by Mahleah Grant, Environmental studies- Conservation Science & Management, From Andes to Amazon Peru: Biodiversity, Conservation & Sustainability.

From the first time I learned about the study abroad program as a high school graduate in 2010, I have wildly dreamed about participating in such an amazing educational experience. As much as I yearned for an opportunity to study abroad, the idea seemed so far from reality for me. The financial obstacles between myself and studying abroad felt like the steepest, most treacherous mountain to climb. Though I constantly kept the idea in the back of my mind, it seemed like just that–an idea.

When I was first accepted into UWB, one of the first things I did was apply to an environmental study abroad program in Costa Rica for the early fall. I had no professors to write a letter of recommendation for me because I had not established any relationships with them yet–it was my first quarter. Excitedly I waited for the trip leaders to accept me into the program–it felt so right I was sure I would be accepted!! After a couple weeks went by, I randomly received an email that my study abroad application status had changed. My heart started beating and I happily logged into the study abroad website. Five beats went by as my computer slowly loaded..When my application appeared, I read it over and my heart sank. A staff member had withdrawn my application. I had received no letter as to why or any information. I was simply out. And that was that. I felt so discouraged and disheartened. Why was my application withdrawn? Would I ever have the chance to study abroad?

Truth be told, I could not afford to study abroad anyways. I just wanted it to happen so I went with it and thought that if I applied, money would magically appear and all would fall into place. Though I never found out exactly why I was withdrawn from the application pool for the environmental program in Costa Rica, my guess was that because I had taken no classes at UWB yet and had no letters of recommendation I was automatically removed from the selection pool.

Despite feelings of remorse and apathy, I knew that if I truly wanted the study abroad experience while in college, I would have to plan. And plan in advance. I have always been the type to do things on a whim or last moment. But I have come to learn over the years that planning is the key for success in making a big trip come together. Over the summer, I constantly checked the study abroad website and read up on upcoming programs. During one of my sustainability courses, the professor mentioned a program of interest to me, Biodiversity, conservation and sustainability in Peru with Dr. Valdez. As an environmental studies major, the sound of this program immediately sparked my interest and seemed intriguing. I knew that this program would provide me with an experience that I would never be able to recreate. When would I ever have the opportunity to visit the Amazon river or hear monkeys swinging through their native habitat? I knew that this was something I needed to experience; not only to benefit my education but to grow as an individual.

I kept this vision of myself backpacking through Peru, tired yet excitedly making my way through the tropical forests, feeling more alive than ever before. I never let this vision escape and when I began fall quarter, one of my classes happened to be taught by Dr. Ursula Valdez. On the first day of Ecology and the Environment, I waited for students to shuffle out then I made my move. I asked Dr. Valdez about the program she taught in Peru. She had just returned from her early fall excursion weeks before and excitedly told me about the program and the amazing opportunity it was. I proclaimed my interest in the program and told her I planned on applying for the next round! Every time I saw Dr. Valdez, I shared my excitement and interest I had in the program. When it came time to apply for the program, I submitted the necessary documents as soon as possible and made sure to have two letters of recommendation from professors that I had at least one or two courses with. Though I heard the program was competitive and was offered across all three campuses, I passionately pursued my dream without any doubts or second guesses. When there was an info session, I eagerly attended to gather a more transparent picture of the program in my mind. Attending this info session completely strengthened my will to join this program and provided me with much daydream material because we discussed the itinerary and learning objectives. Going to Peru was just the challenge I need and have been prepared for in the last year. Once I finished submitting my study abroad application, I would obsessively check the status every single day, several times a day. One rainy afternoon, I logged on drearily to my study abroad account and discovered I was accepted into the program!! My daydreams became my reality!

If there is something you feel strongly about, especially when it comes to your education, it’s amazing how far a conversation will take you. If you ask questions and show your interest, doors open and stay open. Do not become discouraged or compare your progress to the progress of others. We all have a journey to take and asking questions can take you so far!! And asking for help will help to carry you further than you can imagine. I have never been able to afford to study abroad, but planning ahead and preparing, asking questions and being persistent will pay off in your educational journey.