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How Does a First-Generation, Non-Traditional Student Study Abroad?

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My Story

My parents did not attend college, and I was not really expected to attend either. My family also does not travel, and international travel was always a far-off fantasy for me. I never really expected for it to be possible for me to go anywhere; it was just something I daydreamed about from time to time. I am a non-traditional student, as I decided to go back to college as an older adult. I started at my town’s community college to complete the basic core classes and to explore some options for majors. When I decided to major in dietetics, I transferred to Oregon State University which has an accredited Dietetics program for students whose goal is to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).
I am currently in my sophomore year at the university with a pre-dietetic standing. There are certain mandatory classes to complete before acceptance to the Dietetics program, such as Nutrition Through the Lifecycle and Intro to Microbiology. I will have completed these by the end of my semester abroad, because I found a program that incorporates these two classes which I was lacking.

Making it Happen

Ireland study abroad

I had heard about other students studying abroad, but I never dreamed that I might be able to do so. No one in my family has ever had a reason to have a passport, and I’d never even flown in a plane before. But I’ve always been very interested in learning about different cultures and ways of life. I love to read biographies that explore lives in foreign places, with ways of living and thinking that I cannot find in my small part of the world. Because of my interest, an advisor at my school encouraged me to research the possibilities of studying abroad, so I did. I discovered that students can use often use their Pell grants and other funding to transfer for international study, so I started thinking about creating some traveling goals instead of just dreams, and how I could pull things together.
After reading a biography written by author Frank McCourt called Angela’s Ashes and its, sequel Tis, I have always wanted to travel to Ireland. So, I looked for nutrition education programs there. I found the IFSA Summer Nursing and Pre-Health Program in Northern Ireland. It offers the final two classes that I needed for entrance to my major, completed over 6 weeks during the summer term. These classes are taught by a variety of specialists and renowned scientists, and culminate with an in-depth tour of a top-rated biomedical research facility. This sounded so exciting, and was a perfect fit for me!
I consulted my school’s International Program Advisor, who helped me with the application process. There is an application for IFSA, as well as an application for my home university.

Funding My Study Abroad Experience

Once I knew the cost estimate of my chosen program, I spent many hours researching scholarships and grants for students abroad. After many applications, and with the support of my International Program Advisor, I received a few scholarships to help with my trip. One of them is the IFSA First Generation College Student Program. This was a tremendous help to me because they arranged for my airfare and funded applying for my passport and even a portion of the program costs!
Another scholarship I received is the Benjamin Gilman International Scholarship, which is an U.S. Government funded program to help U.S. citizens study abroad and gain international experience. With these and my regular school funding, my entire term abroad would be covered!

What I Will Gain from This Experience


IFSA has programs that are all-inclusive. This means that they arrange for housing during your program and also for some cultural excursions in your program country so students can have an authentic international experience. My program arranged for students to have dinner one night in the home of an Irish family, black-taxi tours in Belfast to learn about the history of “The Troubles” in Ireland, and a trip to Rathlin Island to explore the beauty of the surrounding area.
The program also offers advisors to assist at every step of the way, starting with the application process all the way through to locally placed advisors while abroad, who will help me write up all that I’ve experienced for my resume. I have had lectures from some of the top scientists in Europe and I have learned in of the most advanced biomedical research facilities in the U.K. I have made connections for networking in my field that will grant me future opportunities in my chosen career. And I’ve made priceless memories and had a blast while doing it!
Jacqueline Paul is a Dietetics major at Oregon State University and studied abroad with IFSA in the Summer Nursing and Pre-Health, Ulster University in Coleraine program in Northern Ireland in summer 2017. She was a First-Generation College Student Scholar for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.