European visit opens heritage, opportunities

By Modjina Ovil

While studying abroad in Ormskirk, England, during her sophomore year at Rider University, Sophie Vakalis, junior graphic design major, was captivated by her experience.

Vakalis was motivated to study in England based on her desire to learn more about the country and to reconnect with her family’s traditions.

“My mom was born and raised there, and I still have family there,” said Vakalis. “I visited when I was little and wanted to experience it again as an adult. Traveling is an important part of the family.”

Vakalis was also sparked by an enthusiastic student ambassador who promoted the program.

“From my freshman seminar, a student ambassador from [the] Study Abroad [office] motivated me even more to study in England,” said Vakalis. “She seemed so passionate about her job as an ambassador. I wanted to experience abroad and be able to share my personal experiences as well.”

Kimberly Algeo, the assistant director of the Center for International Education, has an all-embracing leading role in preparing students to go abroad.

“I advise all students on study abroad and prepare them for their academic experience abroad as well as service the entire international student population at Rider,” said Algeo, who also creates and organizes a number of other trips that students benefit from, such as participating in the international service learning trips to countries including Costa Rica, Belize, the Dominican Republic and Morocco.

While studying overseas, Vakalis devoted some time to learning about different areas that surround England.

“I’ve visited Dublin, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Prague, Amsterdam and of course, London and Liverpool,” Vakalis said. “I did not do the ‘Beatles pose’ but a few of my friends did.”

Despite her longing to explore different countries and make lasting memories, there were a few moments where Vakalis felt anxious.

“Once I arrived at the airport terminal, I felt nervousness mixed with excitement,” stated Vakalis. “What helped me overcome the fear was knowing that there would be others in my exact situation and once I’ve made connections with other peers, I’ve felt a lot better.”

“Most, if not all, students were satisfied with their experience abroad,” said Algeo. “Studying at a new university in a new culture with new people is enough to change anyone’s perspective on education abroad as well as growth within themselves.”

Throughout her stay, Vakalis felt herself gaining confidence from adapting to changes and thriving through the challenges of doing things on her own.

“You don’t have to be afraid; I’ve learned that lesson in the most positive way,” Vakalis said. “There is more to the world outside of New Jersey.”

Algeo specified with appreciation some of the worthwhile moments during her career.

“The most rewarding part for me is when a student comes back completely transformed. They have completely immersed themselves in their host culture and have a great desire to continue learning about different cultures,” she said.

Because of her positive experience overseas, Vakalis is currently an undergraduate assistant where she promotes and advises students who desire to study abroad.

“I one-thousand-percent recommend students to study abroad,” she said. “If you have the flexibility in your academics to do it, give it a try.”

Rider’s Center for International Education offers a variety of advantages. There are numerous programs available and sufficient resources on campus to assist students.

“Be willing to try new things; it’s to your benefit,” said Vakalis. “Be completely open and embrace change.”

Algeo said the most common regret she hears from students in their senior year is, “‘I wish I had studied abroad.’ Students that are thinking of studying abroad should start planning as soon as they can,” she said.

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