Alumni Spotlight: CJ Casey

CJ is a 5th year student at UIC currently completing an Electrical Engineering and Physics dual degree. He enjoys living life to the fullest and trying to make a difference in the world.

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Why did you choose this program?

I saw an opportunity to travel to Iceland and thought it would be a great idea. I had never been out of the country and had to deal with numerous friends ranting and raving about their own Study Abroad trips. I decided that if everyone’s doing it, why don’t I jump off the bridge with them and take my shot at Iceland? I had heard it was a gorgeous destination, and this was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

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

My program provider (The GREEN Program) provided me with countless amounts of information – emails upon emails of testimonials, links to learn, packing advice, and many other things. The reps I was in contact with were amazing. They replied within five hours to an email I sent answering whatever questions I needed answered (which were a lot because this was my first Study Abroad experience). The only thing that was not provided in the program was the flight. Fortunately, they gave me the information I needed to contact Student Universe and book a flight at ease.

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

This might not answer the question necessarily, but be yourself. Thinking back on my experience, I threw caution to the wind and did whatever my heart was telling me to do. You fall into the monotony of everyday studies and conform to a friend group without even realizing it (and this isn’t a bad thing! It is natural!)

Upon starting my first of 10 days in Iceland, I decided to buy and start a blog to document my trip. I had never written before but had always wanted to. To this day, I am still blogging because I enjoy writing, and it was all because I made this decision. Along with this, never try and impress someone or act differently on a trip of this duration. I was able to create over 20 really good friends who actually enjoy me for me because I stayed true to myself throughout the trip.

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

The average day starts with a pretty good breakfast. After which, you jump on a bus and head 45 minutes to either the University or a power plant. After a little instruction and some knowledge bombs, you either eat a packed lunch you made at breakfast or head to a local food establishment and enjoy some Icelandic cuisine. After that, it’s some adventuring in the mountains, lakes, rivers, etc., and you truly get to experience the beauty that is the land of Fire and Ice. Wrap it up with some dinner and working on your capstone project, and hit the hay to get ready to do it all over again!

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

My biggest fear about traveling abroad was the fear of the unknown. Was I going to enjoy it? Was there going to be people there I would get along with? Was I going to get lost at the airport? (Also my Mom’s biggest fear). I think I finally got over all of these when the plane took off from Chicago. It was that feeling you get when you’re in mid-jump into a pool. The ‘welp, nothing I can do now except hold my breath’ feeling.

To be honest, it was the biggest relief. I immediately met some of the people from the program when I landed, and we hit it off instantly. The airport was very easy to navigate; by Day Two, I was angry at myself for ever questioning if I would enjoy my trip to freeking ICELAND!

How have you changed since your trip?

For starters, I was four years into an Electrical Engineering degree, and I was debating changing my major to Renewable Energy. I was so foreign to the concept coming into the program that I never saw a future with myself involved in it. So, I didn’t end up changing my major, but since returning, I have dived into books, speeches, Ted talks, and lectures on renewable energy and have also been accepted into a sustainability project in the city of Chicago. This experience has changed me forever and has changed the way I interact with people as well as with the world.