Kathryn is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Italy and Greece
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I first did the Scandinavia short-term abroad to explore Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland because of my ancestry. My grandpa has traced our family’s lineage back to the 11th century in Norway! I was mostly excited about the gender designation of the trip, because it is so unique in these progressive countries. It was an irreplaceable experience to witness and converse with the leading institutions for gender development in these four countries.
I then chose the Roman-Greco trip because I enjoyed the fast pace of my previous study abroad experience and loved the idea of learning about two new cultures in one semester. These countries contrasted from not only the Scandinavian countries, but also each other in terms of gender, sport, religion and art, which we learned about throughout the semester. I had first learned about the program from a cousin who went a few years ago, and I knew that it would be an incredible semester filled with limitless possibilities.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
Our classes were held in a building that neighbored the Panathenaic Stadium. One day, we were surprised to find out that the Olympic Torch was going to be handed off to South Korea for the Winter Olympics in a ceremony at the stadium. We got in for free, and got to see dance and singing performances from the Greek and South Korean cultures. Representatives of each Olympic committee participated in the hand-off. The torch would later be brought to South Korea to initiate the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. We later learned that many runners carried the Olympic Torch from Olympia to the stadium in Athens, and we were going to see Olympia as well! As I have watched the Olympic trials unfold, I am excited to watch the Olympic Games in light of such an incredible, unique experience.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
By the end of our semester, I had made 27 new friends. We grew into a family, through the good and bad. It was by no means an easy semester. With lives continuing on at home, we had to lean on each other when we didn’t have our real families to rely on. Having all of these new friendly faces around us allowed us to engage in making new friendships as we explored the two cities of Rome and Athens. We made new connections with teachers, seminarians, shopkeepers, and more. Some of the hardest things for myself were accepting the ticking clock, as the semester quickly drew to a close. Even after our first week in Rome, we felt the time flying by. From pasta making class, soccer games, museum tours, gelato and gyro runs, and parkour class, to Greek dancing class, to weekend excursions, to the Olympic Torch lighting ceremony and the Athens Marathon, we never stopped soaking up the opportunities of these two amazing cultures.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
One academic benefit of studying abroad is the cultivation of problem-solving skills. Understanding political, religious, and economical factors of a country has taught me how complex culture is. Intellectually, studying abroad forces students to problem solve in ways they never have, which will translate into a more well-rounded education overall. Liberal Arts depends on out-of-the-box thinking, and studying abroad challenges students to do this daily in and out of the classroom.
By exploring foreign customs, I have been able to step into the shoes of another person much more easily. With all of these underlying aspects of culture, I am more able to understand and accept other ways of life. Personally, I feel that without this semester abroad living alongside Greeks and Italians, I never would have been able to understand the value in openness to new cultures and practices. Accepting their ways of life has afforded me a new sense of empathy and consideration. These two cultures welcomed us fully, which showed me how important acceptance and tolerance is today.
In America, we have a vast number of ethnicities and cultures. Professionally, one day I hope to be able to encourage others to practice their own culture in a positive environment. I hope that I can foster the development of a professional world that is inclusive of all people, no matter their gender, age, race, culture, etc. With all of these differences, I have learned that there comes infinite opportunity for making positive change in the world. Supporting the efforts of my Physical Therapy patients one day will only be encouraged by my experiences abroad through all of the people I met.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Don’t limit yourself to your comfort zone. Challenge yourself as much as you can, because the risk may seem high, but the reward is guaranteed to be extremely high. The CSB/SJU Center for Global Education has perfected the study abroad process, and ensures the comfort and safety of all students. Yet with that support comes great responsibility to take full advantage of that opportunity. Research your country as much as you can, but leave your mind open to all of the possibilities that lie ahead. Prepare yourself, but don’t let your expectations limit you. You can’t possibly imagine all that the semester will have in store for you if you face it head-on. It will be the best four months of your life if you commit to making the most of every moment you are afforded.