Sydney Barngrover

Photo of Sydney Barngrover in Thailand
"As soon as I arrived, I immediately fell in love"

About Sydney

Sydney graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in Spring 2019. She majored in Psychology and minoring in Criminal Justice while on the pre-med track. She is passionate about health/wellness and spirituality, which inspired her to study abroad in a country like Thailand; a country she only ever dreamed of being able to go to. Studying abroad in Thailand over the summer changed her life completely, which inspired her to become a peer advisor and help other students with their amazing journey of studying abroad! Upon Sydney's return, she volunteer her time as a Study Abroad Peer Advisor. She joined the team with the goal of promoting study abroad on campus at UNC Charlotte in order to encourage other 49ers to go abroad

About

Major: Psychology
Minor: Criminal Justice
Graduated: Spring 2019

Program

Program Name: USAC Thailand: Southeast Asian Economics, Politics, and Culture Studies
Location: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Program Type: Affiliate Provider
Semester Abroad: Summer 2018

Location

"I studied in Chiang Mai, Thailand in Asia. This city tucked away in Northern Thailand is also called the "Land of Smiles" or the "Star of the North." This describes the city and country perfectly. Chiang Mai is a very lush and green city within the mountains, almost being a hybrid between a bustling city and dense mountain jungle at the same time. As soon as I came here, I immediately fell in love. Within the city there is a temple and coffee shop on every corner, situated in between the most modern architecture I have ever seen. I loved the mix between modern and ancient. I chose Thailand as my location to study abroad because I have always dreamed of visiting there. Chiang Mai happened by chance, simply because the USAC program was the only one available for the duration I wanted to attend as far as time spent overseas. All I knew was that I wanted to go to Thailand. I am passionate about Buddhism, and studying the very philosophy itself in the country that practices it is really what drew me in, as I saw that I would be able to take Buddhism as a course there. This location enhanced my academic experience in a variety of ways. All of my courses were very applied, where we left the traditional classroom setting and actively saw what we were learning. We got the chance to go into remote hill tribe villages and learn about their culture and stay with the villages for multiple nights, we visited multiple temples while learning about Buddhism, and we also engaged in Thai cooking where we ate what we cooked for dinner and learned about traditional Thai cuisine and their customs surrounding food.  I cannot speak more highly about Thailand!!"

Academic Credit

"My study abroad program did not necessarily fit in with my degree or curriculum requirements. By the time I was studying abroad, I had nearly finished all of my degree requirements. I studied abroad with my particular program to just gain more credits and to fulfill my own personal interests. I took Thai cooking, Buddhism in Thailand, and a Hill Tribe Field Study. There was also an option to take Introduction to Thai Language, or an International Business course for those studying business, marketing or something similar. The most difficult part about obtaining academic credit was being able to get past the language barrier of a few of my professors who had a very strong and thick Thai accent, which made it tough to understand. I have never taken a philosophy or religion course before, so it was also hard to adapt to that style of learning or teaching along with the language barrier. However, I still received an A in every course I took there. If I were to give advice to a prospective student searching for programs that fit in with their major or minor, I would say that they should search for a good hybrid that satisfies a requirement and something that the student is still interested in or passionate about. If they are nearly complete with their degree and they just want to take classes in an area of interest, I would suggest looking more specifically into a country they want to go to and then look into programs. There are also many faculty-led programs that fulfill many major or minor requirements, and I would also suggest that!"

Obstacles

"A couple of obstacles I had to overcome while going through the study abroad process would be homesickness and issues with food/dieting. As soon as I arrived in Thailand, I was very excited but over-exhausted, which made the homesickness settle in a little bit sooner. It was very scary for me being SO far away from home and being thrown right into the culture. I overcame this by calling my family once a day if I could, and then diving right into the program and the culture. I had to force myself to get out of my shell and make new friends from all over the US, experience new things, and just dive right into the culture and fully embrace it. I am naturally introverted at heart so this entirely uprooted my comforts and helped me make the change from homesick to full on excited and euphoric. This made the homesickness fade away very quickly and I left Thailand not wanting to go back home. Also, the food was a little bit of an obstacle. I love Thai food, but authentic Asian food can be tough on your stomach coming from the processed foods in America. It was tough for me seeing foreign names and crazy food combinations that were unfamiliar to me, but I overcame these by trying everything I could with an open mind. I really wanted to try to soak in the experience of the culture, but still get my "American" fixes when I needed them- this helped when it came to easing into the spices and flavors of Thai food. I believe that this made me more aware of the culture around me and helped facilitate eating like a real Thai local in this way. I actually tried out being vegan while I was there because it is so accessible, and I am still vegan to this day! Thailand has impacted me in so many different ways, all for the better."

Impact

"My favorite part of my experience was the trekking tour I went on. This was a weekend-long trip where we hiked over 20 miles roundtrip in the jungle, where we made our way to remote hill tribes located deep within the mountains. We stayed overnight at 2 different hill tribe villages and this experience impacted me the most. We slept only on mats on wooden floor boards surrounded by mosquito nets under a hut (without walls) located on the highest peak of the mountain in the area. There were also rice paddy fields below us. These villages only had one pipe that ran up the mountain and that was their source of running water- they also used this to shower and flush their "toilets." We got woken up bright and early by the sun glistening over the paddy fields and through the mountains and clouds, with a 360 view of the sunrise. It was around 6am and there was nothing but silence and the sound of the wind as it went through the mountains, it was also slightly chilly because it was so high up in the mountains. It was in this moment that I experienced total peace, and I realized that all of our problems that we carry around day to day don't matter in the scope of the world. We are so small compared to the entire world and what Mother Nature has to offer. It was impossible to not be speachless by how big and breathtaking the mountains and sunrise were. It was a very humbling experience, and it showed me to focus on what is important. Our problems and daily stressors are microscopic in comparison to what is really important during our lives. Ever since this moment, I have learned that the only things I truly NEED are food, water, shelter, nature, and the people that care about me. The individuals within these hill tribes are the most kind and selfless people I have ever met; welcoming us into their home and cooking for us with the food that they grow for themselves, which was not a lot of food left for themselves at all. They also did not speak any English at all, yet their kindness and selflessness radiated from them. We also got blessed by a Shaman spirit God while visiting these villages, which was an amazing experience I will carry with me forever. It takes so little to be nice and more people need to understand that the things we desire or want don't matter when compared to what is really important within our souls- being kind to everyone."

why should students study abroad?

"In my opinion, students should study abroad for so many reasons. It completely removes you out of your comfort zone, which is an essential catalyst when it comes to self-discovery and self-exploration. Studying abroad will completely change your life for the better. I am a completely different person now because of my experiences with traveling and immersing myself within another culture. This also helps college students with understanding their learning styles and provides the opportunity to experience a culture while learning about it at the same time. Taking courses at a foreign university challenges traditional ways of thinking and opens up your mind to such a vast and different set of knowledge. I think an important part of self-awareness is being able to fully immerse yourself in a different culture and adapt to that lifestyle. Studying abroad truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity where you will meet lifelong friends, and experience once in a lifetime opportunities that you can take home with you and apply to your daily life, job opportunities, and within your academic career. Studying abroad will make students more tolerant and accepting of others different than them, and it will show them that you do not need words or a specific language to feel the kindness and welcoming nature of others in a country that is different from ours. In America, we are so used to being the ones who welcome others but it is a completely humbling experience to be on the other side. Studying abroad will also help students with soul searching and finding their divine purpose in life and within their academic careers. If I could, I would do it all over again!"

Study Abroad Alumni