The UGRAD experience

Years ago, I've never imagined that one day I'll be in the U.S. writing about my experiences. After a long journey of applying for the UGRAD program, being interviewed by the U.S. embassy, traveling for 16 hours to pass the TOEFL test, and studying online for the whole summer, I could finally become a participant in the UGRAD program.

Coming to Castleton it was my first time traveling alone, and the trip was very long. After few hours, I joined the orientation for international students. The faculty were highly motivated and they helped us with everything.

Still, my first weeks in the U.S. were most challenging for me. The new lifestyle was very different. I was so busy.

I wrote my schedule for the first day. It may have seemed normal for most Americans, but for me it was a thing that I've never expected before. Choosing classes was an unfamiliar process and the academic system was totally different. And the food was not what I was used to eating. I felt overwhelmed. I used to call my family every single day.

However, when I started attending the classes, I got the support from all my professors, friends and classmates. I began adapting to the system and understanding the courses. I gained a large amount of knowledge and developed my English skills.

Being in the U.S. I could experience many things for the first time. From ridiculous experiences such as stuffing a Pikachu to great ones like, traveling to New York or DC.

New York was like a dream to visit. I explored many terrific places there. Central park, museums, Times Square and more. For the first time I could bike about 20 minutes alone, try international food, and get a painting of myself. Travelling to DC was even more fun! We had the end of the program workshop where I could meet our amazing staff and the other UGRADERS representing 50 countries. The workshop was so diverse and inspiring as well.

One of my other best experiences was when I joined the film club. For the first time in my life I went to the movie theatre and understood an English movie without subtitles. I also attended the film festival in Burlington where I lived my best memories and made a  lot of friends.

I experienced so many firsts like, seeing the snow and an American house, tasting new food, celebrating Thanksgiving, hiking, playing piano, going to a corn maze, writing for The Spartan and going to a haunted house on Halloween.

I had my first time being lost alone, walking when I don't know where I'm going or what am I doing, visiting an American supermarket at 2am and spending more than a week without talking to my family.

All these experiences that I had made me feel stronger and more ambitious. I got to know myself more and it inspired me to believe that I can fulfill all my dreams and take on challenges.

Those experiences may seem normal for a person who is used to them, but doing something for the first time is a different thing for someone who never did.

Travelling as a tourist you may visit places, take pictures and enjoy; but it is never the same as you travel as an exchange student. You get to know the place more. It deepens your understanding of the culture, you build real friendships, and it teaches you a lot. 

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