Brian Andrew Gottwalt
In the Spring semester of 2014, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I left the country—and all its comforts—behind as I traveled to the British country of Wales for an unforgettable five months of studying abroad. Therein, I studied at Swansea University in South Wales and had the privilege of immersing myself in the rich Welsh culture of the region. Yet while still at Swansea University, I was privileged further with the chance to engage in an international internship with an organization called Physiotherapy Wales. This association specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of sports related injuries and during my time interning I was able to shadow these healthcare professionals, observe patient care, and track the progression of treatment in injured individuals.
My involvement in study abroad and my internship began when I heard personal anecdotes from acquaintances about their time spent abroad. My interest was piqued and upon further investigation, UNCW’s extensive program list and personable ambassadors seemed to eliminate every excuse I formulated against going abroad. As a result, I sought the advice of a personal mentor of mine, Dr. Atwill, in the Honors College and as soon as our conversation was over I knew I would go abroad the next semester. Then following my experience, it seemed more of a necessity than anything else to become a UNCW Study Abroad Ambassador to try and give others the same life-changing experience of studying abroad as well as to give back to a department that worked so arduously to provide such extensive opportunities for me.
From my time spent abroad, I gained an entirely new perspective on the world. Leaving the country allowed me to drop my presuppositions about foreign peoples and to see firsthand how magnificent and diverse the world truly is. During my time interning, though, I learned a tremendous amount about the inner workings of the sports medicine field, yet did so through the scope of a different country’s healthcare system. It was certainly a challenge coping with some of the inherent differences in culture between two countries as dissimilar as The United States and Wales. Additionally, striking the balance between time at my internship and time spent on schoolwork was another definite challenge. Altogether though, it taught me the power in choosing to leave your comfort zone and just how incredible that decision is in the encouragement personal growth.
As aforementioned, having this applied learning experience gave me an entirely new perspective on not just my prospective career, but on the world in general. People are accustomed to having certain cultural similarities or beliefs in common with all surrounding individuals. However, learning to live in one of these different cultures requires one to be adaptive, conscientious, and open-minded by presenting a variety of obstacles to the foreign mind. Then, applying these environmental stresses to an internship environment provided me with even more of an intricate set of complexities. Having taught me to be adaptable, contentious, open-minded and to navigate the challenges inherent to living in a novel culture, I believe that studying abroad enhanced my viability as a candidate for a job or when applying for graduate study.