Grace Long Can’t Stop Studying Abroad

This student has a mission of exploring as much of the world as she can.

You can definitely say Grace Long is a study abroad expert. During her time at Drake University, she studied abroad three times. With her law, politics, and society and strategic political communication double major, as well as her education minor, Long gained new experiences she can apply to her future.

Long took two J-terms to Panama and South Africa, which are classes that take place in January. She also studied an entire semester in Dublin and created a blog titled “Grace Goes Abroad,” where she posts photos and stories from her travels. I got a chance to talk to Long after she returned to get the scoop on what students should know before leaving the country and why they should take advantage of this opportunity.  

Q: You have just returned from studying abroad in Dublin and South Africa. How are you adjusting to being back on campus?

A: I was afraid to start driving again. Just funny things like that. Then also some things I wasn’t expecting. A lot of responsibilities came rushing back because I have leadership positions on campus and work. As well as just missing some of the people that you meet … to go from living with them and seeing them every day to only talking to them over the phone, it is strange.

Q: Was it your plan to travel this much in college?

A: I had a great teacher in high school … When we were about to graduate, he took one of our classes … it was like a kumbaya moment. We all went outside and sat in a circle, and he talked about his college experience [and] how he wished he’d studied abroad …  I was able to sign up for a J-Term and go to Panama … One thing that’s nice about studying abroad at Drake is that they offer J-Terms because I come from a family where traveling is not the norm … The J-Term was a nice way to ease into things and I went into it thinking [it] would be my only experience at Drake … But I got bit by the travel bug after that. [I] really enjoyed that experience, and the faculty on that trip were phenomenal … It evolved from there.

Q: What do you think Drake did not prepare you for when studying abroad?

A: Safety was a big one where I didn’t always feel prepared. Every one of my trips I’ve had something go wrong in kind of a big degree, and I didn’t really feel prepared to handle those things, at least by Drake. You’re just kind of on your own to figure it out … Even looking up some common safety tips would be helpful. There is a section of that on the Blackboard [course], but it’s a lot different reading about something than experiencing it. I wish that was talked about more in the pre-departure sessions.

Q: One concern for students is figuring out how they will pay for expenses. How were you able to overcome this obstacle?

A: Most study abroad offices have scholarships you can apply for … For both of my J-Terms, I got a scholarship that covers at least half, if not the full tuition … If you just put in a little bit of effort, there’s a higher chance that you’ll get it because there’s a small pool of people studying abroad and an even smaller pool that take the time to fill out that scholarship form. Just putting yourself out there, you never know what kind of aid you could get.

Q: I want to talk about your blog. I think it’s so cool. What inspired you to start the blog?

A: The blog was born to update everyone all at once. I also have a love for photography, so as it evolved it became more of a way to showcase the photography I was doing. When I went on my solo trip, one thing that I loved about it was it let me share experiences that no one would know about otherwise.

Q: How do you know studying abroad is the right choice for you?

A: If you even have the little desire, that little urge, at least look into it more and consider it because there’s not a lot of other times in your life that you’re going to be able to pack up everything and live somewhere else for five months … As expensive as it is now, it’s a lot more expensive after college … If there was one trait that I would say is important, it’s flexibility and a willingness to go with the flow and [an] openness to learning. Those are all things that can be taught and learned.

Q: Why do you find so much value in studying abroad?

A: The first is that college makes it easy. Never again are you going to have this type of support system that’s able to help you navigate the challenges of going abroad and make it more affordable than other options … My second reason is it’s going to help you grow as a person. I know that sounds cheesy, but every experience you have in your life is going to shape you in some way … Whether it be in your career [or] in interpersonal relationships, you’re building life skills that you wouldn’t get through other experiences, like independence and problem solving. The third is simply that it’s fun. There are hard days and there’s obstacles for sure, but I did so many incredible things that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.

Responses have been edited for clarity and length.