Our Alumni Ambassador Michelle recently did an interview with Wandering Educators, a global community of educators sharing their travel experiences. There, she shared her story and her advice to prospective students and travelers:
Ciao! Michelle Wass is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and about to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Natural Sciences (with concentrations in biology, chemistry and psychology); an Italian minor, and a Global Health Certificate. She made the best decision of her life to study abroad in Rome, Italy, in the spring of 2013. As a result of this experience, she now has a network of friends and family all over the globe, and an endless desire to travel! Thanks to her wonderful host family, she has become skilled in the Italian language, and gained invaluable multicultural perspectives.
She says, “I insist on finding a way to incorporate my passion for traveling into my planned profession in the medical field. The first month back in the US was rough; I found myself asking, “well…now what?” quite frequently. Then I was notified of an opportunity to become an Alumni Ambassador for the American Institute For Foreign Study (AIFS), the company that I studied abroad with. I applied immediately, got the position, and for the past two years I’ve been having so much fun promoting the international experience to fellow students!”
Were you always interested in studying abroad? What motivated your decision to go abroad?
No, surprisingly. I wasn’t aware of study abroad opportunities at all until the summer going into my senior year of high school, when one of my best friends told me she was doing an exchange program for the year in Belgium. It wasn’t long after she’d been gone that she asked me to come visit her, and it didn’t take much convincing for me to agree.
At the time, I had never traveled outside of the country. In fact, I hadn’t traveled much further than down the east coast, so it was an absolutely thrilling experience. I remember feeling all stirred up emotionally that week—excited, anxious, and curious. I found myself in so many unfamiliar situations while I was there: navigating around foreign airports and cities, trying to speak the language, and meeting her host family. In those eight days I was there I learned so much, not only about their culture, but about myself too. I couldn’t imagine how much I would learn if I were to venture overseas for longer, so I made a promise to myself right then and there as I waved her goodbye, that I would study abroad in college. After some consideration and research, I decided on Italy, and began to learn the Italian language. When I arrived at Pitt, I reached out to the Study Abroad Office, and the rest is history.
How did you prepare to go abroad? What steps did you take that really helped you? What advice would you share with other students?
Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to be a meticulous planner, and since I had decided early on that I wanted to go abroad, I started preparing for it far in advance. After selecting a program, I started researching Rome and other destinations that I wanted to travel to, so that I could begin to come up with a financial plan and budget my expenses. But my preparation wasn’t all on my own. After reaching out to the study abroad office, I was put in touch with several students who had traveled on my program before who were extremely helpful in sharing their experiences and tips for being prepared. Closer to departure, two things that I found very beneficial were my pre-departure meeting and a pre-departure handbook provided by AIFS that was specific to Rome.
The best piece of advice I can give to students considering going abroad is to express your interest early! This will allow you to gather as much information as possible to be prepared. I learned the most from talking to other students who had gone abroad, and reading travel blogs, so I would suggest doing the same. An additional benefit of starting the process early is that it gives you time to apply for every scholarship under the sun. I have met people that had almost all of their study abroad experience covered by scholarships and grants—it is possible!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Studying abroad was a truly profound and influential experience for me, and it has opened the door for many more academic and professional experiences that I hadn’t considered previously. I encourage all students out there, regardless of their hesitations, to explore the opportunities available to them. I would like to thank everyone who supported me throughout my journey abroad and back, and all of the people that I met on my travels; you have touched and inspired me. Lastly, I would like to thank Wandering Educators and other organizations of your kind for your dedication to international education.
#StudyAbroadBecause… It brings the world together!
This was just an excerpt of the interview, head over to Wandering Educators to read more from Michelle about her travels, challenges, culture shock, advice and much more!