Stephanie studied abroad in Aberdeen, Scotland and Rome, Italy. She now works as the Opportunities Abroad Program Manager at BridgeAbroad in Denver, Colorado.
Where did you go to school?
Kalamazoo College (undergraduate)
SIT Graduate Institute (graduate)
Where and when did you study abroad?
University of Aberdeen in Aberdeen, Scotland: September 2003-February 2004
Villa of Maxentius Archaeological Field School in Rome Italy: June-August 2005
What was the BEST part about studying abroad?
For me, it was such a sense of accomplishment. Little things like figuring out the right buses to get me where I was going turned into huge milestones that made me feel like I could do anything! I’m also forever indebted to my study abroad experiences for the cultural awareness and understanding I gained. Until I left the country, I didn’t truly understand what it meant to be a U.S. American, or what cultural biases I had based on where I was coming from. As soon as you’re immersed in another culture that doesn’t see things the same way, you understand just how much “culture” you carry around without realizing it.
What did you learn about the rest of the world from studying abroad? What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
There are so many different ways to do things! Even though I may have thought that there was always a given answer to any question, when I studied abroad, I realized the true spectrum of perspectives around the world. About myself, I learned that I was much tougher and more resilient than I realized.
What was your BIGGEST challenge when studying abroad?
For me, the biggest challenge while studying abroad was trying to integrate as much as possible into the local community. Since I was staying in a residence on campus and had a number of other international and U.S. students surrounding me at all times, it was really easy to fall into the trap of just hanging out with them and not stepping outside my comfort zone. There were certain times when I needed that, but certain times when I needed to be pushed, and I struggled to make myself get out there. I’m not sure how successful I was the first time around, but on subsequent travels and periods abroad, I tried to overcome those challenges that are often inherent due to cultural and language barriers.
How did studying abroad change your life? How did it help you personally and professionally?
The value of study abroad cannot be overstated in my life. I know most people who talk about their study abroad experiences inevitably tend toward hyperbole, and I completely understand why! I went from being mildly interested in going abroad before I left, to eagerly trying to weasel my way into any sort of international activity upon my return! It really altered my career trajectory: from aspiring archaeologist to international educator (when I was in Italy, the intricacies of the science involved didn’t hold my attention nearly as much as getting out and experiencing everything Rome had to offer).
I think the effects have been simultaneously personal and professional: I’ve gotten into this field to help others have the same experience, and I’ve also done my best to continue my exploration of the world in my off hours!
What have you been doing post studying abroad?
Since studying abroad, I’ve held lots of different positions in the field. I started working in the international office of my college upon my return, and then after school I worked for STA Travel for a few years, where I got to advise students on their travel plans, and do my own travel all around the world! After that, I went back to school to get my Masters in International Education at SIT Graduate Institute, after which I worked on-site in Cuernavaca, Mexico at the Center for Global Education at Augsburg College’s study center. I then spent time working in the Customized Programs department of a study abroad provider and now I’m very happy to be at BridgeAbroad in Denver, Colorado, working as the Opportunities Abroad Program Manager for the organization. I get to do marketing, advise students, process applications, and all the things I dreamed of when I switched my career path back in college!
What’s your BEST piece of advice for a student who is thinking about studying abroad?
The fact that you’re thinking about it is great! Don’t let outside factors steer you away from this amazing opportunity– sometimes friends don’t want you to leave them for so long, sometimes financial worries can seem daunting, but there is truly a study abroad opportunity for everyone. Maybe you have to start with a short-term program or maybe you’ll have to save all summer and take on two jobs (like I did!) to afford to be abroad for awhile, but it is so incredibly worth it. Plus, your study abroad office on campus is a wealth of information and an amazing resource if you need some support throughout the process!