SoquiThis summer, I learned that an English flapjack is not a pancake and that “not all Colombians are part of the cartel.”

Over the past month, I experienced the best weeks of my life studying at Oxford University, learning more about myself, various cultures and academia than I could have ever dreamt.

Thanks to the gamble I took by applying for a program that would detach me from all sense of familiarity, I was able to develop both personally and academically. What people don’t know about study abroad programs, or summer programs in general, is that the benefits of the program are long-lasting and life-changing. I can not only say that I have friends from Townsville, Australia, and Montevideo, Uruguay, but also that my world has just gotten a great deal larger thanks to all that I have learned from my peers and professors abroad.

The study abroad program I embarked on left me with more than just an ephemeral glow. During my time at Oxford, I made progress in defeating one of my greatest fears. Prior to leaving, my fears included three things: Voldemort, moths and public speaking. Although, I did make a great deal of progress with Voldemort — it is truly ironic that part of the Harry Potter movies were filmed at Oxford — I improved the most in battling my fear of the stage.

For unknown reasons that I soon resented in the earlier stages of my trip, I signed up for the speech and debate course. It was the first day, sitting in the auditorium seats, surrounded by national debating champions, that I began to question my sanity at the time I made the decision to join the class.

It was also that day that the first assignment was received: We all had five minutes to prepare a three-minute speech we were to present to the class. We were to begin presenting in five minutes. When time was called, my quaking hand released the pen that had done no more than scribble a few incoherent words on a nearly empty notecard.

The speech I delivered moments later starkly contrasts against the one I was to deliver in the final week. Today, as I look back on the day I was forecasting for my classes at Oxford, I must’ve had a stroke of genius. Endeavoring to destroy this obstacle — one that had hindered me since speech-giving became a requirement — during my time at the university was a remarkable choice. It was the one-on-one time given to me by my professors and the opportunity to perform in front of a group of friendly acquaintances that enabled me to pursue something that had long plagued my confidence.

Study abroad programs and summer programs offered at universities are worth looking into. My month studying at Oxford University was a tremendous learning experience, as my teachers were numerous. I learned a great deal from my professors in the classroom, but I was educated even further by international peers. The people whom I connected with from all over the world were able to expand my knowledge of international economies, cultures and lifestyles.

I strongly recommend that all high-schoolers pursue an academic summer program. From the experience, you will learn and develop in ways unimaginable.

Oh and about the English flapjacks — they are most similar to granola bars. Regarding the cartels, that lesson came to me from my Colombian friend, Anna Maria, when she delivered an entertaining speech on stereotypes.

Ravenna Soqui will be a senior at Wilsonville High School this school year. She will be contributing a regular column to the Spokesman.

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