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SMC alumnae reflect on study abroad experiences

| Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Two Saint Mary’s College alumnae talked about the impact study abroad had on their careers during “The Impact of Study Abroad: Alumnae Panel” on Tuesday evening as part of International Education Week.

SMC Study Abroad, Caitlyn JordanCaitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Saint Mary’s alumna Karolyn Wojtowicz speaks about the benefits of a study abroad experience at a panel discussion Tuesday night as part of International Education Week.

Cara Grabowski, class of 2008, studied abroad in Seville, Spain during her time at Saint Mary’s, and she currently works as communication manager at St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce in South Bend. In Seville, she experienced complete immersion in the Spanish language through her host family and classes, she said.

“When I got to Spain, my family didn’t speak a lick of English.” Grabowski said, “[While abroad,] you’re going to be put in situations where you’re not going to be able to communicate easily.

“I can about guarantee that all of you … are going to come back a changed person. It’s going to open your eyes to new culture, you’re going to learn to communicate effectively.”

Adapting to new situations is one way Grabowski sees her study abroad experience carry over into her career, she said.

“Studying abroad taught me how to be adaptive,” she said. “You’re dropped in a new location where you don’t know anyone. … That’s similar to when you get a job. When you go off on your first day, you’ll show up and it will be a whole new world and a whole new culture.”

Time abroad also instilled a travel bug in Grabowski. The following year, she spent 20 days in Europe with friends and two years ago visited a friend in South Africa.

Being able to talk about study abroad is a great way to start conversations when networking, Grabowski said. Communication is key, and talking about a challenge faced while studying abroad says a lot about a person, she said.

“You’ll change as a person, it’ll make you more confident,” Grabowski said. “[Study abroad] opens your eyes to a lot of things. You have to broaden your horizons. … That is the key.”

Karolyn Wojtowicz, class of 2011, works as a coordinator for off-campus learning at DePauw Univeristy. When choosing a program to study abroad, Wojtowicz sought out the most unique program she could find and chose the South Africa program, she said.

“I wanted my study abroad experience to be as different from Saint Mary’s as possible,” Wojtowicz said. “[The University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa] is the complete opposite of Saint Mary’s. It’s a large, co-ed, public school, very urban campus, and in a lot of my classes I was the only white student.”

While in South Africa, Wojtowicz traveled but also focused on getting to know her host country and the people in it.

“A lot of my classes were focused on African culture and context. I was really trying to immerse myself in my host culture,” she said. “… As you study abroad, you’re going to do a lot of touristy things, and that’s fine. But you also want to immerse yourself in your culture and have those connections.”

Despite language barriers, Wojtowicz found herself connecting to others through pictures, facial expressions and gifts from home such as Pop-Tarts, she said.

After graduating from Saint Mary’s, Wojtowicz took a job as a study abroad program coordinator in Iowa. Her experience in South Africa made her a strong candidate for the job, she said.

“I was told specifically I was hired to be at Iowa to create a program in Rwanda, because I had studied abroad in South Africa,” Wojtowicz said.

As a result of her experience in Iowa, the position at DePauw University opened up to her. In this way, study abroad constantly impacts her every day life, Wojtowicz said.

Sophomore Michele Mostoller plans to study in Ireland this spring and found the panel informative and interesting, she said.

“Having alums talk about how they used their experiences to network after graduation really showed that a lot of doors and opportunities can be opened up to students as a result of going abroad,” Mostoller said. “Listening to fellow Belles talk about their experiences and the challenges they faced abroad makes me more and more excited for next semester.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Saint Mary’s Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership Program and the Cross Currents Collegiate Speaker Series and Indiana Belle Bridges programs, which is funded by the Lilly Endowment’s Initiative to Promote Opportunities through Educational Collaborations.

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About Kathryn Marshall

Kathryn Marshall, Saint Mary's College '17, is a Biology and Humanistic Studies double major. Follow Kathryn on Twitter @kmarshallSMC

Contact Kathryn