Hannah Sandrini is currently studying a double degree in Law and International Studies with a Diploma in French. She has completed three exchange programs with us – first at the University of Strasbourg, France, in 2014, then at the University of Montreal, Canada, in 2016, and her latest was at Mahidol University, Thailand, in 2017. Hannah answered a few questions for us on her thoughts on completing multiple programs, and told us about the opportunities she has had because of her experiences.
What drove you to apply for the first program?
I have always had a passion for travel. After I finished high school, I took the year off to travel before attending university, which helped spark my desire to complete an exchange program. I knew from my first day at university that all things permitting, I was going to complete an exchange at some point during my degree. I have studied French throughout my entire schooling and approached my decision of what I wanted to study at university with my desire to travel and to spend some time studying in France in mind.
What did you find most beneficial about Studying Overseas?
All three of my programs were undertaken at different points in my life, with a different level of experience behind me, and different aims and goals. Each program shaped me in a unique way. I studied French in France, law in Canada, and International Studies in Thailand, so in that sense they are not comparable. In saying this, all of my exchanges presented me with new challenges and forced me to adapt in a completely unique manner. France was my first time living in another country and so I encountered all the challenges and success of that experience, which provided solid foundations on which I could build my following two exchanges.
My exchanges in France and Canada were beneficial for my language skills, which were not tested in Thailand. However, Thailand challenged me the most and forced me out of my comfort zone in a way that is unparalleled in my previous two experiences. The experience of living in a developing country and gaining an insight into such a multidimensional and rapidly growing country truly pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped shape my character and understanding of a non-western way of thinking. From this, I was able to challenge my own values and priorities and burst a lot of bubbles I had built in my head.
What were the highlights of your overseas study/what experiences stand out in your memory?
Each day was a highlight in itself even when I was presented with a challenge. The highlight of all of my exchanges has been the people. But some of the crazier individual experiences include hitch hiking from Serbia to Turkey, my mid-semester trip from France up through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, and Finland, seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, going on a weekend trip to the Maldives from Bangkok, mid-semester break in Cuba, mid-semester break in Indonesia, surfing in Sri Lanka, Oktoberfest with my brother, skiing in Canada, and hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
What did you learn about yourself from your experiences?
I am currently on my fourth overseas experience and have found myself in constant awe of all the amazing and incredible people that have been coming into my life recently. I am beginning to understand that the reason so many amazing people have come into my life is because I am drawing them into it. Exchange has introduced me to who I am outside of my home and my friends in Adelaide and all the preconceptions that go along with that. This has forced me to learn and to grow, to understand my desires, strengths and passions, but also my weaknesses and boundaries. My exchanges have inspired in me the confidence to have a better understanding of who I am and to be unashamedly proud of that person and all she has achieved.
This has led to a great sense of trust in myself and my instincts, to believe in what I want in life and to pursue this with the courage that my exchanges have inspired in me.
I have also learnt that I am so much stronger then I could ever have hoped or imagined. While every single one of my exchange experiences has been incredible, they haven’t come without their challenges. What this has forced me to do is to overcome these challenges and adapt quickly. I have learnt to interact and communicate with different people from all over the world and from all walks of life, crossing language and culture barriers. There is a real sense of strength in knowing that I can pick up and move somewhere across the world in a society that I am completely unfamiliar with and I’ll be fine. Above all, the greatest thing I learnt from my travels and experiences is best summed up by my most commonly used phrase in Thailand: mai pen rai – no worries. If I don’t stress the little things and have confidence in myself when it comes to the big things, then there are no worries.
What opportunities did the experiences give you?
The opportunities that have been brought about by my exchange programs can for the most part be directly attributed to the people I have met, the network I have built, and the opportunities this has presented me with. Whether it was friends I met on the first day of exchange and who will remain in my life for a long time to come, or strangers I met along the way who imparted their wisdom and time on me, every single one of them presented me with a unique opportunity and experience from which to learn moving forward. Meeting people from all over the world has presented me with the occasion to travel and work in new places on the recommendation and guidance of some incredible people.
Did you talk about your overseas study in any interviews for opportunities (internships, job interviews, university applications, etc.)?
Yes, pretty much all the time. I am currently interning in a law office in New Orleans and in the interview I spoke extensively about my travel experiences. My current position requires an individual who can deal with challenging situations and has been exposed to confronting content. My experiences of exchange provided great examples of how I am equipped to deal with both of these things. I have a whole host of real life experience from which I can consistently draw on.
How would you sell yourself using your international experience?
Adaptability, communication, independence, experience.
My international experience has pushed me to think more critically and approach things from a different view point. It has provided me with a cross-cultural view of the world, while simultaneously presenting countless opportunities to better myself. From these challenges, undertaken solo, I have learnt to communicate and work effectively to solve problems in a critical and timely manner. I stress flexibility and cooperation with others when I travel as I know this to be the best way to illicit positive outcomes from my travelling experiences.
I am of the firm belief that communication is one of the most important skills to possess in the workplace. I believe that university can sometimes fail to push students outside their comforts zone. Students are taught the content well, however are not given direction as to how to talk to clients and how to apply, communicate, and utilise information effectively. This creates a gap in student’s ability for communication and critical thinking. Where a degree studied entirely in one place falls short, exchange provides that international experience to bolster my ability to communicate effectively with people all across the world and from different fields and with different interests.
Do you think that completing the experiences helped you to stand out from other candidates?
I hope so. Especially because a lot of the opportunities that I have and am currently pursuing are internationally based or require some sort of experience in this. In my current role at a non-for-profit office which tackles pre-trial capital punishment cases for indignant clients, international experience reflects an ability to adapt and deal with serious content. The other interns that I have encountered as part of my current experience have come from all across the world – England, The Netherlands, France, other states in the US… and all of them have international experience.
Tell us your thoughts on the benefits of completing multiple overseas study opportunities.
I think I was more and more prepared as each exchange passed.By the second exchange I could skip over the awkward adjustment period that I went through in the first and I could just jump straight into it. As I mentioned earlier, my first exchange provided an amazing foundation on which to build my following experiences.
Interacting with people from different countries provides a broad spectrum of communication skills which crosses national borders. This skill is continually reinforced and added to with experiences in different countries and different regions of the world.
Do you still keep in contact with anyone from your overseas study?
Yes, the people I have met on exchange now comprise some of my best friends and the most important people in my life. I have been to visit many of my friends I have met on the exchange, and they have come to visit me too. I can’t reinforce enough how the people I have met throughout my exchange experiences has continued to shape me as a person and my life in the best way I could possibly hope for.
What are your plans once you finish your current overseas experience?
I arrive back in Adelaide start of August and then I have one semester left to complete until I can graduate. I hope to find similar internships to the one that I am currently doing around the world and to gain experience through these, as well as more travelling. I would love to pursue different opportunities abroad and see my friends that I have made on previous trips. I want to make new friends, live somewhere new, learn a new language, and pursue new skills. If I ended up in the mountains doing a ski season somewhere, or by the beach teaching English, I definitely wouldn’t be complaining either.
What have you discovered about yourself since taking part in your first two global experiences?
I am strong, independent, and confident. I have learnt how to be part of a global community, but also to know my own worth. I feel people (especially women) are told to constantly reinforce things about themselves they don’t like or that they are told they should be ashamed of. Travelling has taught me how to have confidence in myself and be proud of myself for all my weird and wonderful traits. My global experiences have given me the greatest gift of all – I am no longer afraid to take up space.
Where would you like to visit next?
East Coast of Africa, Central America and Patagonia, and China, but really the list is endless. My list never crosses any country out. I simply have two lists now, one of countries I want to go to and one of countries I want to go back to.
How has the overseas study you took part in through the University of Adelaide helped you get to where you are now?
Going on three exchanges and doing one overseas internship in a six year degree has contributed to a large portion of my studies. It has shaped my university experience, which is in itself a large transitional period in one’s life. My exchanges have taken me out of this box, challenged me, and forced me to grow. My exchanges have equipped me with the skills and experiences going forward as a person.
In terms of getting to where I am physically, my current position as a legal intern at the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center I owe in large part to my overseas study experience.
It was in Strasbourg that I met one of the greatest people in the world called Heaven. She is from Lafayette, which is two hours outside of New Orleans. Knowing Heaven put Louisiana, and as an extension of that, New Orleans, on the map for me. It is through Heaven that I became aware of the incredible city that is New Orleans, but also some of the serious issues that it faces as a result of a legal system which seeks to systematically exclude and oppresses minorities. I applied for this internship while I was in Thailand studying, and being over there and knowing I had international experience really inspired me and challenged me to apply for this position.
How many countries have you visited throughout your overseas experiences?
I’m guessing 35 – Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Maldives, USA, Canada, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Iceland, France, Italy, Germany, Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Morocco, Austria, Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia, Portugal, Spain, England, Scotland, Switzerland, Greece, Poland, Czech Republic.
If I could leave one small piece of advice for everyone when it comes to exchange, it would be to ask yourself “why not?”. In my mind, it’s an absolute no-brainer. This is not to say that I wasn’t challenged by my exchanges and that there weren’t difficult parts to my experience, but honestly, how can you go wrong with the opportunity to have fun, meet new people, and see the world?