Research shows the vast majority of study abroad alumni agree that their experience abroad is transformative. Many alumni go on to be leaders in the fields of language and culture, international education, politics, and beyond. Check out the GWC Study Abroad Alumni Spotlights below to learn more about their lives before, during, and after studying abroad!
Matthew Colunga Vega
Wondering how study abroad can change your life? Meet Matthew Colunga Vega, a GWC alum who studied abroad in London not once but TWICE, changing his whole outlook on life.
What did you study at Golden West and what are you up to now that you’ve graduated?
I studied criminal justice and social behavior sciences and just graduated. I am going to Cal State Fullerton in the Spring for Psychology or Behavioral Science, and I will potentially be working as a Study Abroad Ambassador at OCC. After I graduate with my bachelors and I’m looking for a real career job I want to maybe even work for Accent (the study abroad provider) in their study abroad facilities.
What made you decide to study abroad?
I studied abroad in London summer of 2016 and summer of 2017, and I’m thinking of doing it again next year too. Going abroad is something I never really considered until I came here and started seeing the flyers and thought why not. I used to see the fliers around but I never put much thought into it, until an anthropology professor sent it to us and said “hey check out this awesome opportunity.” So I went to an informational booth that Dr. Moore was doing. And I remember talking to my sister, who graduated from Chapman university, and she said her biggest regret was not going abroad.
And I did it and I had to go again. It is the best thing about coming to this college, is going abroad, in my experience.I have a bumper sticker that says “the world is too big to stay in one place”. That is just so true, this world just has so many different places to go, that I don’t think one person should just stay here in one spot their entire life. You need to expand your view of the world.America is great, but there are other places around the world that are just as great, and have the same opportunities. I run into people that say, like my sister, “oh wow I wish I did that”. And a big reason I went is that I don’t want to be saying “I wish I did this, I wish I did that”. Once college is done it’s done you can’t go back, so just do it.
How do you think study abroad has impacted you?
I think studying abroad really did open my eyes to different things, and going abroad, and the different experiences people can have. I’ve been able to be a part of so many things because of these study abroad programs I’ve done and helping Dr. Moore with the information booths. I got to go to the Coastline District in March and speak in front of the board of trustees and tell them about my experience studying abroad. I got to go right in front of them and speak to them and that was really cool. Doing profiles like this, and tabling for Dr. Moore and talking to high school students about studying abroad… Things I never thought I would be able to do, never thought I would do, that now I am getting the opportunity to do because I studied abroad.
What advice do you have for others thinking about studying abroad?
The trip to London is the cheapest study abroad program in the district. I think I spent $7,000 on the entire thing, the program, the plane, travel everything. I just tell students: you just need to do it. If you want to do it, do it, it’s really worth it.It’s way more expensive to do it on your own than it is to do it through a study abroad program like this. There’s no way you’re going to go by yourself to central London for 30 days on your own for under $3500 (the London program fee). It’s not that expensive, it’s really worth it.
It is the best thing I’ve done in college. I thought in my time here I was just going to take my classes, hurry up and graduate, and transfer. But doing stuff like this made me realize there is more to college than just going to school and doing my classes. There are things that can literally take you out of the country and you go do what you want to do.
My other advice is, when you’re there you’re in Europe and all the other countries are just so close to you, so take advantage and travel!My first time going we left early and went to Iceland and were there for a few days, we went to the hot springs over there, and we were there for a few days before coming to London and meeting up with the group. And Professor Moore always gives us a few long weekends, and so on our 4-day weekend we went to Scotland and were there for a few days. Our hostel was located right under the huge castle in Edinburgh.
People go to Paris, they go Scotland, they go to Amsterdam. And that’s a big thing I push, that while you’re there you don’t have to stay in England because everything’s so close and the airfare isn’t that expensive.
My final advice is this: You’re never going to have another opportunity like this to do this. And I know people are timid, scared to do it. And I say: you need to tell yourself “I can do it”. Once you go, you’re going to love it there. I think about London every day. Even my background on my phone’s wallpaper is the UK flag.
Previous Alumni Spotlights
Meet Coco, a GWC London study abroad alumni! She says she learned how to be more independent and open up to others from studying abroad. Her advice to you? It’s never too late to go! Learn more below about her experience and her useful tips for surviving London on a budget!
Q: What are some lessons you learned from study abroad?
Coco: I learned to open up. I was very shy before, but by talking to people from different cultures who live in a different world, I was able to open myself up to talk about my culture and where I’m from. That was one of the biggest impacts that study abroad had on me. Just because, in my culture we are kind of shy to talk about ourselves and to be confident about what we have.
Q: What is your favorite memory from studying abroad?
Coco: I would say the living experience. It was unexpected. The survival skills. Something very simple like how to navigate the streets, how to use Google Maps just to navigate and not get lost. First, in the London program we were lucky because we didn’t have to speak another language, but still it was different. We had to use public transportation, the Tube, the buses, and we had to get up and walk in the morning. And also because we were on a budget so we had to know about not eating out and learn how to go grocery shopping and cook for ourselves. The most impactful part I would say is that I was able to make friends with people who we are still friends now.
Q: There are a few long weekends on the program. What did you do during those weekends?
Coco: One of the weekends I went to Paris for four days. It was not my first time in Paris but it was my first being with another friend I just made through the London program. We planned ahead, we did not even meet before we planned it. We stayed in a hostel, we did the hop on/hop off. I think it was fun. We were less scared than before when we first arrived in London because after one week we got used to how to be independent. But it was a whole different world because we had to use body language.
I decided the other weekend to stay in London to save funds, and I went to Westminster Abbey, St Paul and different places to see things that I didn’t have a chance to see. And Abbey road! Of course I read about it at the university before I went, and so I got all that information. Because we were taking the British history class so I did not just go to places to look at things but to be able to understand the story behind it. And when I was on my own it was different than when I was with someone else. Because I had to be more aware of the surrounding areas and be proactive.
I liked both traveling with others and by myself. We had lots of fun going with others, as a small group or as a class. Because we could always help each other out, there was always someone behind us and that helped. But when I was on my own I learned a lot and I had time to stop and look at things deeper.
Q: What advice do you have for current students that are thinking about studying abroad?
Coco: In my current job at Coastline, when I meet students, I usually often promote study abroad. Some of them may not be aware, or for some of them, they are interested but there are stumbling blocks so that they cannot go yet. For me, it was the money that I had to consider. Because it was lots of money, especially for students. But I tell students it’s an investment. They have to plan months or a year in advance to save up and fundraise and get the money to go. Just to be out of their shell, to explore the world, and to meet other people.
When I was a student at Golden West and OCC I wanted to go but at that time, money was one of the factors but the other reason was I didn’t have citizenship. So that prevented me from going, but I always had that dream that one day I could go. And when I went to UC Irvine there was a cultural trip to Berlin for one week, it wasn’t a study abroad program, but because of that trip when it came to the London program it was easier for me to make that decision.
Q: Do you have any advice for students who are going on a study abroad trip?
Coco: I would say enjoy the moment! Some of you may miss home or miss some of the luxuries we have in the US. I would say live in the moment, when you look back, you will appreciate every minute and second you spend. We missed the trip a lot once we actually came back here. And don’t be afraid, explore. Even on a low budget there is a way around, we found a way to survive. And reach out, talk to the locals.
Q: What are some ways that you were able to explore on a budget? Any budget tips?
Coco: Cooking was one of the things that we saved a lot of money on. And also, being computer savvy. I looked online searching for the cheapest prices we could find. And for tickets we would have to search a lot and plan ahead of time, buying things ahead of time rather than on the spot. And look for some free stuff. Some places we could go for free as well, or get a student discount. If you don’t know if they have a student discount, you can ask!
But the program came with a monthly bus pass so we could take buses anytime so we could go to public places and look at things without having to spend money. At that time, I didn’t know about amazon shipping. In case we needed something else and we could wait, we could save money that way with Amazon. And we used Groupon.
I learned along the way that sometimes we don’t need lots of things. Just myself, and the place, the people, that’s all I need. I learned not to depend so much on material things.
Q: What did you do after studying abroad with Golden West?
Coco: When I came back from London I was charged with a new energy. I had a passion for study abroad. I wished at that time that I had the opportunity to promote study abroad. I was in my master’s program at National University when I decided to take the study abroad class at Golden West. And then I interned at Golden West until I got a job offer at Coastline. I helped with paperwork, worked on files, data, learned about everything, it was all brand new. I didn’t know anything about international students, so I learned everything.
Q: How do you think study abroad impacted what you decided to do after you got back?
Coco: After I got back, my eyes were opened to different cultures and I think a year after that I pursued another short term study abroad through Cal State Long Beach. We went to Vietnam. And two years later after that I went on another one, through OCC, to Rome. And ever since then I have been looking into study abroad programs that I can do. I am looking into TESOL or TEFL certification program because I hope one day to go to Thailand or Vietnam to teach English. But I want to do that program abroad to get that experience, instead of study here.
Q: Anything else to add?
Coco: I would say it’s never too late to study abroad. For me, it was “late” because I almost finished my master’s program. And I didn’t have to do it, I didn’t do it for credit. But I would say it’s never too late even for students who have already graduated and they still have the opportunity to study abroad if they want to. If they seek a certification program like TEFL or TESOL they could study abroad, go abroad, instead of just go travel.
It’s worth it, every penny. Even though I know it’s lots of money, because of the housing cost, transportation and everything, but it’s life changing, I would say.
Q: How do you think it changed your life?
Coco: First, in my career. Of course, on my resume I put that I had study abroad experience, and it helped me to get hired. But also because, for my field or most fields, we have to work with different people and if we know how to adjust ourselves to have that cultural understanding towards other people and to understand ourselves better, I think it helps a lot in the workplace. Especially with our students, we are so diverse here. It helps to be a global citizen.