Finding Yourself Abroad

By Elizabeth Babadzhanova

Elizabeth participated in the Study Abroad Program last quarter.  If you’ve ever considered studying abroad, or if you’ve ever wondered what the experience is like, this compelling story is for you.

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Elizabeth in front of the Schönbrunn Summer Palace in Vienna

In January of 2012, I applied to a study abroad program in Moscow, Russia. Incredibly excited that I got in, I was thrilled to tell my parents about the news at dinner that night. Coming from a Russian speaking family, I was honored to have the opportunity to travel while honing my Russian skills. After a long discussion of why I couldn’t go to a country so rich in our culture, my father explained to me that he had lived in Russia, and that he had friends living in Russia who knew first hand that the country was unsafe—end of discussion. I left dinner than night disappointed, and my dad could tell. The next morning I woke up and came downstairs to find a list of “Papa Approved Countries” on the table.

I jumped on the computer in search of new programs to apply to. There it was—my match: UW CHID PRAGUE Fall 2012. The program was for undergrad students; there were no language requirements; it was “Papa approved;” and best of all the cost was significantly less than all of the other programs. I applied, got a couple professors and my boss to write me recommendation letters, and a few weeks later it was official; I was going to Prague!

By the end of August, though, I had lost hope and decided that this trip was no longer for me. I had lost my grandpa, and couldn’t think about traveling, let alone leaving my family for three months. My expectations of exotic new experiences and immersing myself into new cultures were gone.

In the beginning of September, my mom and grandma sat down with me and explained how much they wanted me to go and how excited my grandpa was for me to take this trip. I was skeptical but I listened and decided that this wasn’t an opportunity I should pass up.

The CHID Prague program surprised me. Though it revolved around History and Political Science (two subjects I wasn’t particularly fond of), I had the privilege of learning from someone who had lived through what they were teaching. Every class I attended was powerful. History explained to us the most inner workings of Communism and Nazism—both of which my family experienced while living in the former USSR.

Lectures in class reminded me of stories of my parents’ childhoods. Little details from their stories began to connect with larger concepts in the workings of the regimes. These stories came to life as I experienced the places where they originated.

The history course focused heavily on Jewish history in Europe. Through the discussions, lectures, films, and trips to Auschwitz, the Jewish Museum of Berlin, the largest Synagogue in Europe, the Oskar Schindler Factory, and the Jewish Museum of Prague, I felt myself learning about who I am as a Jew.

My grandpa was an incredibly religious man, and as kids my brother and I understood our religion, but we never understood the attachment some people felt to it. During this trip, I started to understand the unity a group of people feels when they are connected by religion.

In every country we visited (Czech Republic, Austria, Germany, Hungary, and Poland) there was a Jewish quarter, a section of town where there were Synagogues, Kosher delis, and residential areas for the Jews—only. In a period of time so anti-Semitic, when the world turned away from Jewish people, all Jews had left was family and their beliefs.

I felt a stronger connection to my grandfather in those three months, like I was getting to know him even after he was gone. I built values that fell in line with what I was taught as a child. I started to see what was important to me, and I started to understand why these things were important to me.

For the first time, I started to see where I was going in my future endeavors. After all, my grandpa would always tell me those who do not know where they come from will have a hard time figuring out where they are going. It all makes sense now.


One comment

  1. How touching! I found this post to be rich, relevant, and warm, and I appreciate both your honest vulnerability and the clarity of your insight. Thank you for sharing, Elizabeth. I will be thinking about this one for a time.

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