Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Beth Spears


Sarah Beth Spears is an 18-year-old world traveler. She’s been to Spain, London, Germany, Mexico, Austria, Scotland, Hungary, Italy and most recently Vietnam, China, Thailand and Cambodia! She will also go to Ecuador and Peru this spring.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose ARCC after going to the USA Gap Fair. I talked to Margo there and I loved how personable and involved the company is. They really care about your gap semester experience. I also looked at the Southeast Asia itinerary and knew it was perfect for what I wanted in a gap semester.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

ARCC was very helpful and involved the whole process. Once you commit to ARCC, you’ll be given an account with information about what you need to do in order to get ready for the trip. This includes getting your visas, shots and supplies. You can also send your passport to ARCC and they can get your visas for you. Overall, if you ever need any advice or assistance, the people at ARCC are more than happy to help.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I would advise anyone going into this program to fully embrace every part of the trip. Live in every moment. Get out and talk to the locals and guides, they are so excited you’re there! Bond with your group, it’s such a special thing to travel so intimately with 12 others who started out as perfect strangers. These people will be some of your best friends.

Be present. I know how hard it is to be away from familiarity and family/friends but this is an experience of a lifetime and it’s a beautiful thing to be fully immersed in a different culture.

Lastly, take everything in, take pictures and journal! This was the best experience of my life and I wish I took more pictures and wrote down all we did/ how I felt. It goes by so fast and it will feel like a crazy dream sometimes, but this is going to change your life in such a positive, beautiful way if you let it!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Every day and week is totally unique from the next. Bouncing from Vietnam to China to Thailand to Cambodia was so diverse that there really was no “average” day. But I will tell you that we always had 3 meals a day, always went out and did something cool and we always had a place to sleep at night.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Going into this experience is nerve wracking! I remember having so much anxiety thinking about the “what ifs.” What if my group doesn’t like me? What if I don’t like the food? What if I get attacked by an elephant? (Ok, that last one was extreme.)

I knew this is something I so badly wanted to do and pushed forward. When I arrived at SFA the first day, saw my group, I knew everything would be just fine. I remember along the trip repeatedly thinking how thankful I am to have such an amazing group, leaders and the trip turned out amazing. I loved the food, made some best friends and did some AMAZING things along the way!

If reading about this trip excites you to the core, then push through the what ifs. You will be safe and have such an amazing, positive time.

What was the most important thing you learned while abroad?

One of the first community service projects we did was in at Friendship Village in Vietnam, a school for kids (both mentally and physically) affected by Agent Orange. Going into that, I was a bit nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. However, what I found was how much joy and happiness those kids gifted us with.

Every day they had smiles on their faces and just wanted affection. I learned that special needs kids are just as smart and creative as normal bodied people, you just have to approach learning in a different way. They have the same wants and needs as everybody else too -- to be loved and not treated differently or less than.

They taught me just as much as what I hope I taught them. Most importantly, it sparked a real love and passion for special education. When I go to school in the fall, I plan on majoring in special education.