Rachel Darken

Rachel Darken

University of Rochester, BA in Religion, 2010

Current Occupation: Youth Employment Specialist at Common Wealth Development

Current Residence: Madison, WI, USA

Study Abroad Experience:
 Location: Amman, Jordan
 Duration: 1 semester

Activities: Volunteer at neighborhood community-building events and fairs

Who at UR encouraged you to pursue this option?

My friends were very supportive – but that didn’t stop them from giving me unhelpful (and unwanted) warnings about the dangers in the Middle East! My professors, however, offered helpful critiques of the different programs and universities, as well as realistic advice about what to do and expect abroad. Talk with people who have lived in the country you are considering traveling to; they will give you the best encouragement and advice possible.

In retrospect, what do you wish you had known before starting your study abroad experience?

I wish someone had told me to not be afraid to go off on my own more. Some of my most amazing experiences happened when I was traveling through Amman on my own, even when I was just riding the bus home by myself from the university. Don’t go crazy and put yourself in an unsafe situation, but recognize that sometimes you grow the most when you’re experiencing something new on your own.

Beyond the academic work, how did you engage with your new “community” and culture while you were away from Rochester?

I chose my study abroad program specifically for the opportunities it gave me to immerse myself in the culture. I lived with a host family who treated me as their own daughter, and worked as an intern in a firm based in Jordan. Through them, I learned so much about the various cultures in Amman, went to the less-traveled neighborhoods, and even saw what life was like for refugees in Jordan – all parts of the country a tourist would not usually see.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I help high school students learn the skills they need to not only get and keep a job, but also to advocate for themselves and make their life what they want it to be. Ultimately, I’m a resource for my community, which is what drew me to my job. Experiencing the work community organizations do in Jordan to address poverty and inequality helped me realize how much needs to be done in my own community – and that I want to be a part of that progress.

What skills, tools, or knowledge gained from studying abroad do you draw on since graduation?

My experience abroad showed me just how confident and independent I can be. I made a life for myself away from everything I had known, and I loved it! I draw on that confidence every day, and because of that, I’m making my life exactly what I want it to be.

What advice do you have for current students contemplating studying abroad?

Take advantage of this chance to challenge – and maybe truly discover – yourself! Choose to study in a country you never thought of visiting before, or push yourself to leave the “American bubble” you might find abroad and truly immerse yourself in the culture. As a UR student, you have the support around you to make your time abroad a positive experience.