Kirsten Makela

Kirsten is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Italy and Greece

Major: Communication

Minor: Psychology and History


Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?

I chose to study abroad because I loved the idea of being able to immerse myself in another culture, and see what its like to be a cultural outsider for a semester. These experiences would better allow me to be exposed to foreign perspectives and improve my intercultural communication skills. I decided on the Roman Greco program because I love that it allowed me to dive into the culture of not one, but two countries during my time abroad. I also loved learning about the history of Greece and Italy growing up, so I jumped at the opportunity to see the historical sights up close!                              

Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.

One of my most memorable cultural experiences abroad was my first taste of culture shock. I had been in Italy for a little over a week, and I thought I had a pretty good grip on my surroundings. I had my crash course in Italian, was starting to find my way around my neighborhood, and I started to find ways to fit into my surroundings. Feeling high and mighty, I strolled into the grocery store to pick up some things for the week ahead, and found myself tearing up in the cheese isle of Panella. I had been doing so well at deciphering my grocery list in Italian, but I could not, for the life of me, find some "normal" cheese. Cheddar, American, Colby Jack, no longer existed, and the only mozzarella I could find was floating in strange liquid like a science experiment. The whole situation was a bit ridiculous (especially looking back on it now) but it was the first time I realized that I was on my own, in a completely foreign country, and I was a complete outsider. Eventually I learned to embrace it, and looking back on that moment, helps me to realize how much I grew during the experience.

Describe your overall study abroad experience.

At the risk of sounding like every study abroad student ever, my semester on the Roman Greco trip was the best four months of my life. I was able to travel the world with 28 Bennies and Johnnies that grew to be more like family, than classmates. I built strong relationships with both my director and assistant director, and began to see them as adoptive parents, rather than advisors. I was able to soak up the history and culture of the two countries I lived in, as well as take advantage of our free weekends to explore other cities and countries. It was truly a remarkable experience.

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?

Studying abroad allows for a lot of personal growth, and for students with similar small-town upbringings like me, it allows you to step out of your comfort zone and experience what its like to be a cultural outsider for once. The interactions and experiences you have during this semester help open your eyes to the different perspectives in this world, and you learn to appreciate these differences in perspective and culture, and celebrate them.

What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?

Soak up every minute that you can! Social media and netflix will always be there, get out of the apartment and explore! Do your best to be open to the experience and put yourself in uncomfortable situations, that's the only way you will grow!