Steven Maieli visits an orphanage in Rwanda while studying abroad — an experience the Post-9/11 GI Bill helped him cover. (Courtesy Steven Maieli)
If you’re going to college, you have probably seen postings around campus or advertisements in the course catalog offering you the incredible experience of studying abroad. Your first thought may be, “I’ve already traveled enough with the military,” but don’t dismiss the opportunity out of hand. This kind of travel is completely different.
While attending graduate school, I had the chance to study abroad, and this opportunity brought me to a place I never thought I’d find myself: Africa.
You might not think that the Post-9/11 GI Bill would pay for you to study abroad. But it did help cover my trip, and allowed me to have an experience like nothing I ever experienced in the Air Force.
Study abroad programs can work in different ways. You may attend daily classes in your host country while also conducting an internship to gain experience in the field you’re studying. Or you may travel to different locations to learn about your field from different perspectives while conducting humanitarian aid. My journey to Africa led me to different parts of Rwanda to learn about the atrocities of genocide and its effects on mental health. I also visited an orphanage where we were able to give the children a reason to smile by delivering donated toys and school supplies.
By studying abroad, I was choosing to expand on what I had learned about mental health services here in America, and I got a first-hand look at mental health services in another country. Speaking to those affected by genocide, and visiting sites of where these atrocities took place, brought to life everything I had learned in the classroom.
Study abroad programs can vary widely in length, cost and number of credits you can earn. But generally, studying abroad:
Looks great on a resume. Not everyone takes advantage of these opportunities; your experience could make you stand out from others when looking for employment.
Broadens your experience with other cultures. There’s no better way to learn about the world you live in than to travel, meet new people, eat different foods and learn different cultures.
Lets you gain experience unlike that which you gained on deployment. You may help with humanitarian aid efforts while you study abroad, but your main purpose is to learn. Politics likely won’t come into play.
Gives you a chance to practice your language skills. The best way to learn a language is to learn it in its country of origin
Being in Rwanda in person gave me the chance to make the connection that just like U.S. troops suffering from post-traumatic stress after combat, many people of Rwanda still suffer from PTSD after the 1994 genocide. No teacher or book could have given me the education that this experience gave me, and if you decide to study abroad, you could be saying the same thing.
Your next step
If you’re interested in studying abroad, be sure to speak to your adviser on campus and contact the Veterans Affairs Department to make sure the program you choose will be covered by GI Bill benefits.
For more information on using GI Bill benefits to study abroad, check out www.gibill.va.gov/resources/education_resources/foreign_schools.html and download the Post 9/11 Study Abroad Fact Sheet at www.gibill.va.gov/documents/factsheets/post_911_study_abroad_fact_sheet.pdf.
Steven Maieli is the founder of TransitioningVeteran.com, which highlights links to federal, state, for-profit and nonprofit veterans benefits and other resources. He also writes a blog on transitioning veterans’ issues at www.transitioningveteran.com/wordpress. Send questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.