Tag Archives: global experiences

Answering Questions for Myself, By Myself

Guest post by:
Asia Grant
Schreyer Honors College Scholar ’17
Marketing major
West Chester, Pa.

When deciding among the available Penn State study abroad programs, I knew that I needed something with a lot of creative freedom. Currently, I am a marketing major and my interests lie at the intersection of luxury goods and consumer behavior. I wanted the opportunity to eat, sleep, live and breathe the chaotic and charismatic environment that is the fashion world, so ultimately I chose the city where fashion made its roots. I had, and still have, an insatiable sense of wanderlust that can only be tempered by immersion and integration.

Studying in Milan, Italy, to me, meant having the chance root myself in culture and develop in the creative realm of my choosing. It gave the same feeling of limitless opportunity from being in a city like San Francisco or New York, just with the additional challenge of not knowing the language. I decided to take an internship while I was there, because I would have no excuse to not be at the top of my game at all points. Which is when I learned the hard way about how to make your mark—from the bottom.

I was placed as a Booking Assistant in a small modeling agency within the men’s division. For the first two weeks, I was constantly surrounded by stunning models, caught in between arguments in Italian, and given absolutely no work to do. No one looked at me and no one acknowledged me. It was a bit of a rude awakening for me because at Penn State everyone is made to feel like that are capable of achieve anything they set their mind to and sought out for innovative ideas and perspective, but here they wouldn’t even give me the time of day.

I knew one thing even when shrouded in doubt—Penn State is everywhere, so I made it my mission to show them what I was capable of, what made a Penn State student. I started to research more competitive agencies and mapping out what gave them their edge. I realized it was their purposeful use of social media, a realm in which my firm was weak. I developed a comprehensive social media plan that streamlined the efficiency of portfolio management and recruitment. I sent a blast email of it to everyone in the office and no more than 10 minutes later the two lead bookers came over and told me they were seriously impressed. Not just from the work, but by my initiative. They told me they have had many interns that would just sit and occupy themselves with their phone and never ask for work. From there, they gave me the creative freedom to work on what I wanted and pitch them ideas. At the end of my internship, they offered me the opportunity to come back full time.

I didn’t go abroad to just experience a culture different from my own, I studied abroad because I wanted to craft my own vision for my future. I wanted to create things that I found meaningful and influential in an environment that challenged and motivated me to never settle for what I already achieved, and to use it as a launch pad for my next goal.

While I was in Milan, I kept a blog because I thought it would be able to give me direction as well as allow me to stay focused and organized. However, I thought it was counterproductive, and quite frankly boring, if I just recounted what I did that week complimented by pictures of what I saw and the things I ate. I wanted my readers to feel like they also had the chance to learn about themselves through reading my blog, so I focused on the lessons I was learning. Everything from what to do in the face of opportunity to cherishing the relationships you have made, both old and new.But most of all, I made my blog to remind people to that it is okay to take a break, to celebrate yourself, as well as to reflect and be proud of everything that you have accomplished this far and know its just the beginning. That’s where the name of my blog came from, Hiatus Granted.

Make sure that when you are making decisions for your future, you are doing those things for yourself—not anyone else. That goes for everyone at every age. I feel like when we are put under the strain of general expectations and stuck in the rut of getting things done just to have them done, we lose sight in what we truly want to achieve. Being able to focus on yourself means you have to embrace some uncertainty with what is happening around you.  But it is hard asking ourselves, “What is it that I exactly want?” That’s why I chose to study abroad, to answer that question for myself, by myself.

What the Future May Hold

Guest post by:
Andrew Boynton
Penn State University ’17
Schreyer Honors College
College of Liberal Arts

The scariest part of study abroad is the uncertainty. Will the courses I take be challenging and improve my knowledge? What dangers could lie in wait in some foreign country? What kind of living conditions will I be subjected to? When I was narrowing down my choices for study abroad, I had a wide variety of programs to choose from. I speak six languages, and my credit load gave me flexibility in the kind of program I could attend.

Did I want to spend the fall in France or Germany? Maybe the Middle East or North Africa were more my style, or possibly India? In the end, I decided to go to St. Petersburg, Russia, from early September to late December. Most of my friends thought I was insane, after all, Russia? In the winter? How crazy could I be? In the end, spoiler alert, I loved my time, and I think it was a valuable experience, but in the beginning, there was no hint of what the future would hold.

Before I left, I made the brilliant decision of buying my mother a laminated page from an old newspaper depicting a bloodthirsty, bearded Bolshevik bearing down on a helpless Western woman — probably not the best decision given the current chilly relations between Russia and America. However, my mother knew I could handle myself in situations, and she had faith that, no matter what Russia could throw at me, I would be perfectly fine.

When I arrived in Russia, I met my host mother and sister (who would turn one year old my second weekend in the apartment). The ride from my hotel to the apartment was one of the strangest experiences of my time. One of the other student’s host father was driving my host mother, sister, myself, and the other student, and not knowing where I was, where I was going, or who these people were, I started my journey.

At one point, in the middle of nowhere, my host mother and sister got out of the car and, waving goodbye, went into a building. Alone with a man who was not my host father and a student I had only known for two days, I headed out, into the great unknown. That evening, I arrived in the city, where I was greeted by a man, my host father, and brought down an alley to a heavy metal door. Up three flights of stairs we climbed, finally arriving at another heavy door, this time wooden. We were greeted by a woman who can only be described as a “babushka.” It turned out, this was my host mother’s grandmother, and she was going to be staying with us for a while until my mother and sister were back from the hospital. My sister had surgery, and she would return later that week. In the end, everything worked out, and I just had to accept the insanity at the moment.

I had two programs in St. Petersburg to choose from, one that would be an intensive language program where English was forbidden, and an area studies program focused more on the history and culture of Russia with two intensive language classes. At the time, I was on academic probation for Schreyer as my grade point average was just below the required level. I was worried that I would throw myself in over my head if I took the intensive language path, and I decided I couldn’t risk my Schreyer status. I chose the area studies path, and I do not regret that decision. I feel that my classes provided insight into cultural factors that I might not have picked up on in an intensive Russian course.

The most dangerous part of my study abroad experience wasn’t in Russia. It wasn’t even in a country where you would expect to be in danger.

During November, we had two weeks to travel. The first week was a group trip to Kazan and then Moscow, and the week after, we could go anywhere we wanted. I chose to go to Italy, visiting two friends from home in Barcelona and Rome. Then, I flew to France, intending on visiting a student, Janie, with whom I interned with last summer. She was studying in Sciences Po, Le Havre and I flew from Rome to Paris, and that evening I took a train from Paris to Le Havre, to stay with Janie for the weekend. That night, lying on the floor of Janie’s dorm, we got word of a shooting in Paris. As the night progressed, we slowly understood how much danger I had been in just a few ours earlier, as I left Paris about an hour before the first attack.

It doesn’t matter where you are, danger can find you. Some countries are more dangerous than others, and that’s why I didn’t go certain countries for the fall, but it didn’t mean I was never in danger. No country is without its dangers, and sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and take a chance.

I bit that bullet, and I went to a country everyone advised me against, but I came home with a love for Russia and for the Russians. The hardships of travel and of life without cheese (thank you, sanctions), gave me an appreciation for life as a Russian, and Russia will always be home.