HITCH YOUR WAGON TO A STAR


My name is Katarina Brenkusova and I too am a product of our wonderful Gymnazium. In 1991 I enrolled in a newly opened bilingual class, I.G. At the time, I did not even dream that the English skills I would acquire in this program would allow me to study outside Slovakia, in an English speaking country. Considering that you are most likely in a similar situation as I was some time ago, I hope you will benefit from my personal experience, and gain some insights for your decision making about studying abroad.

After my sophomore year, there was a contest announced. Charter 77 was offering 15 full scholarships to spend a year at a high school abroad. Because Srobarka wanted to make sure that it would represent itself as best as it could in the national rounds, an in-school competition was organized. About half of our class went to try their luck. The next day we were informed that Zuzka J. and I should fill out the application forms so we could try to get a step further, Bratislava interviews. The following weeks were hectic. The forms required essay writing, a vast collection of photocopies of various documents, references... A complete personal file that one does not want to put together more than twice in a lifetime. It was worth the effort though, because both of us were invited for the interviews.

The people we met in Bratislava were very nice and thus we were leaving full of expectations. In about a week or so, we found out that only Zuzka was chosen to go study abroad. Although I tried to be as happy as I could for my classmate, I could still not get over the disappointment of failure. I was so close, why not me?

A week later I was studying at home and the phone rang. On the other end there was a lady who interviewed me in Bratislava and she was asking me, whether I would be interested in coming to Governor s School for South Carolina . You can imagine my surprise. We talked for a while and I learned that Governor' s School is a summer program for high school students who want to try out the university atmosphere and study at a certain college for a month. Of course I wanted to participate in such a program! There seemed to be one major problem in the way: Srobarka's academic calendar. The school wasn t over yet, it was still a week or so before Konferencia . Would they let me go? Surprisingly, they did.

At the College of Charleston, all the participants had to take two classes. One of them was Global issues . In this course current political problems, values, and cultures were not only studied, but most importantly discussed. Since there were numerous opportunities to speak up, I also t ried to contribute to the discussions with my perspectives. Most of the time they were different from those held by my American classmates. The professor who was teaching the course was extremely knowledgeable about the subject as well as Eastern European culture and history, and so it often happened that we ended up talking to each other outside of class time.

When the summer school was almost over, Dr.Lavery, my Global issues professor, asked me, whether I would be interested in studying at a university in the United States. I told him I was, but did not forget to remind him that for an Eastern European, money would present a major problem. He promised he would see what he could do.

Not a long time after my return from the States I started getting mail from the University where Dr.Lavery taught; Furman. The school seemed to have a lot of good programs, a lot of money put into research, it wasn't too big, it was in the South where it is warm (most of the time)- almost ideal. Except for one thing: it cost almost $22, 000 a year. After I saw the figure, I told myself: Forget it. And for a time that was all I did about my university studies in the United States. I tried to forget about it.

Time flew. Stuzkova went by, Christmas break rolled around, as well as the application deadlines for applying to Slovak universities. I was interested in medicine, so I applied to Bratislava, Martin and Kosice. In the States, the application deadline was March. About a week before this date, I received another letter from Furman. They encouraged me to apply, and promised to see what they could do about the financial aid. So I had to complete yet another personal file. (By now you probably know how I feel about those.) It had to be sent with one of the courier mail services so it would come on time.

For a while, I did not hear anything from Furman. To make the long story short, before we graduated, I knew I was accepted there with a full ride. I was both happy and anxious. The following years in a completely new environment sounded very promising, yet they raised a lot of questions. I knew that I had scholarship for the next four years, but what about the rest of my studies? By no means did I want to give up my dream of studying medicine, but how would I pay for medical school? Usually there aren't many scholarships offered for professional schools: What would be the chance that I could get one? Would it be worth getting into a cca $80,000 debt to cover the cost of medical education? In case I would return after the four years, what value would my Bachelor of Science degree have in Slovakia? And most important by my parents were concerned whether the University was even accredited by Slovak Ministry of Education... After a lot of thinking, I decided I would go for it. Looking back, frankly, I do not know where I found the courage to do so.

So far my studies in the States have been great. Academically, Furman is a very well balanced school. The classes are interesting, and the professors are knowledgeable and demanding. Social life is another topic, but by the third year I can say with a clear conscience that I found friends that will stay in my life for a long time. What exactly I will do after Furman's I do not know yet. My medical school plans didn t change. This year is my MCAT year, so after it is over I will have a better idea where I will be able to apply.

For those of you who are thinking about studying in the States, I would like to encourage you to look into as many schools as you can. Don t be afraid even to look into the most competitive ones. You can do it! Check out the college guides such as FISKE GUIDE TO COLLEGES that list the best schools in the United States. (You can look at Furman s page there and find out that we had been nicknamed as the Country Club of the South .) Because your studies abroad WILL demand a lot of energy, make it worth while. Don t give up after the first unsuccessful try.

Simply, HITCH YOUR WAGON TO A STAR....

If you want to know more about FURMAN visit our web site: www.furman.edu. For additional information on admission process and scholarships e-mail: andrew.williams@furman.edu. You can use my name as your reference point.