Kristi Ellison

Kristi in Florence, Italy

Kristi studied abroad in Florence, Italy and now works as the Alumni Relations Coordinator at CEA Global Education.

Where did you go to school?

University of Arizona

When and where did you study abroad?

Spring 2010 in Florence, Italy through CEA Global Campus

What was the BEST part about studying abroad?

In determining where I would study abroad Italy was a no-brainer. I wanted to explore my heritage and connect on a deeper level with my Italian roots.

The best part of my experience was fully taking advantage of the opportunity to “live like an Italian.” During the semester I mostly traveled throughout Italy so I could understand and appreciate as much of the Italian culture and language as possible.

I dated an Italian from the south, explored outside of city centers and traveled to non well-known areas to find local Italians, ate way too much for dinner, acquired a taste and appreciation for wine, bought Italian clothes to blend in, listened more than I spoke and most importantly I learned how to enjoy the moment and find the beauty in everything.

Not enough students understand the importance of fully immersing themselves in another culture and this is what I’m most fortunate to have experienced while studying abroad. I lived like an Italian.

What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?

Studying and living abroad definitely allowed me for the first time to view the U.S. from a foreigner’s perspective.  Fortunately most Italians favor Americans but it was interesting to learn of a few American student stereotypes: loud, ignorant and lazy to name a few.  Learning this encouraged me to drop common American habits that contributed to these stereotypes. I began to walk more than I used other means of transportation and I interacted more with Italians instead of sticking with American peers.

The U.S. also became much smaller in my perspective of the world. I understood more of its connection and contributions to other countries instead of it just being a power house, consuming most of the globe. As a result, I understood that I was a global citizen rather than just an American; a small fish in a much bigger ocean than I originally imagined.

What was your BIGGEST challenge when studying abroad?

My biggest challenge was learning how to be patient. Everything about the Italian system is slow: government, shops, transportation, you name it. Forcing myself to relax instead of getting frustrated helped me appreciate the Italian lifestyle. And practicing this enough allowed me to react differently in typically frustrating situations when I returned home.

How did studying abroad change your life? How did it help you personally and professionally?

I had no idea that my time abroad would determine my future career choice. After studying in Italy I couldn’t stop talking about my experience and couldn’t wait to get back. However, it wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized I actually had a passion for international education and it was its own field.

After working in the field for just a few years, I realized that studying abroad helped me develop a broader perspective of people and our world as a whole. It’s taught me to be curious rather than indifferent with the unfamiliar and to appreciate rather than tolerate different cultures. This new attitude tremendously helps me every day in communicating and working with people and companies of all sorts as we become more globally connected with each other.

What have you been doing post studying abroad?

I currently work at CEA Global Education as the Alumni Relations Coordinator. In this position, I have the pleasure of interacting with our alumni and recruiting them to become ambassadors at their home campus.

Developing the ambassador program allows CEA to better guide our alumni in their re-entry phase as they reflect on their experience, learn how they’ve grown and re-evaluate their future aspirations. The program provides the opportunities to our alumni that I previously sought out post studying abroad with CEA: internship experience, professional references, career-advising, global opportunities and resources.

I also currently serve on the Lessons from Abroad re-entry committee that hosts conferences throughout California and Colorado for alumni to interact with each other and professionals in the field while reflecting on studying abroad, evaluating the impact of their experience and how it’s determined their future goals.

In addition, I’m editing my journal entries I recorded while abroad into a book to publish.

What’s your BEST piece of advice for a student who is thinking about studying abroad?

1. Stop considering it and make it happen. Figure out a means of financial support and find the program that you can afford (even if it’s a shorter term and not in Europe!)

2. Do not rely on a social bubble. Dive into another culture head first and make foreign friends. I would never have experienced Italy in the depth I did if it wasn’t for my Italian boyfriend and Italian friends.

3. Roll with the punches…tough situations abroad are part of the experience and they are the best stories for later.

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