Alejandra is an undergraduate student studying law at University of Murica in Spain. She participated in ISEP Exchange in Fall 2020 at Virginia Tech. In our recent chat with her, Alejandra shared her rewarding journey of leaning into discomfort and fostering new connections.
Alejandra’s love for traveling and joy of meeting new people motivated her to be independent and study abroad. To truly do so, she picked a destination outside of Europe and set out alone. However, being in a foreign country, let alone studying there, comes with challenges. Being independent entailed self-advocacy, which Alejandra found daunting at first. “It was scary. But you have to do it, and you’ll learn.” She followed through with this motto and went on to create one of the best memories in her college experience.
Alejandra was nervous about being the only Spanish student that semester and was very conscious of her accent. She would find that her accent was not a barrier, but instead served as a bridge to connect with others. Her college was in a small town, so everyone she met was eager to learn more about Spain from her. “Every time someone noticed I was not American, they became very interested,” Alejandra recalls, “They would go, ‘Oh where are you from? Wow, that’s amazing!’ My accent got me to meet so many new people.”
At Virginia Tech, Alejandra spent her time differently than she did in Spain. “I kept up with my work, but it was not always the main thing,” Alejandra says. She spent her free time engaging with the community. She would hit the gym with her workout buddy, go on a hike with her friends in the Appalachians, or attend the vibrant sports scene at the university.
Alejandra found her “home away from home” with her South American friends. They spoke the same language, shared cultural commonalities, and had similar personalities. While she felt comfortable with the group, Alejandra did not want to “stay in a comfortable place all the time.” She says, “I knew I would be in the United States for only six months, so I also wanted to hang out with American friends and speak English.” Her courage to branch out boosted her confidence in having conversations in English. “Last year, I wouldn’t even imagine having an interview in English. I would be freaking out. Now I can chat just fine even though it’s been half a year since my exchange program.”
After the Fall semester, Alejandra went on a 2-week road trip with fellow exchange students. They had an exciting journey and connected with locals and other groups of international students who were also traveling. “I wouldn’t have traveled to these places if I hadn’t studied abroad,” Alejandra says.
Alejandra encourages others to study abroad, especially at a destination outside of their region. Her advice is to take advantage of opportunities that you do not have at home and step out of your comfort zone. “If you’re afraid to speak or do activities, just do it. No one really judges you, and you are only there for a period of time,” she says, “If you are struggling, reach out to others. Everyone is kinder than you think.”
*Story written by Mai Kasemsawade, ISEP Princetern
Thursday May 25, 2023
3:00 p.m. to 4:00p.m. Eastern Time (UTC -4)
You’ve created some remarkable experiences for yourselves over the course of your ISEP experience abroad. And in the process, you’ve strengthened many of the career skills employer are seeking most in job candidates today. The next critical steps are:
Join us for a workshop style program where you’ll learn to identify the skills you’ve developed in the language employers speak and share your experiences in a way that sets you apart from your competition.
This workshop will be composed of both lecturettes and breakout room work in pairs. By the end of the workshop, you will be able to:
Please plan to come with a pen and paper to brainstorm your ideas with your breakout room partner. We’ll send out some additional information to help guide your thinking prior to the workshop once you’ve signed up. We look forward to it!
A Zoom link will be sent to those who R.S.V.P. yes a few days before the event.
Mercedes Roman Ruiz is a Junior studying industrial and electrical engineering at Universidad de Malaga in Spain. She is currently participating in a yearlong ISEP exchange program at North Dakota State University. We recently chatted with Mercedes as she shared her exciting first semester experiencing a new culture and being independent for the first time.
As an ambitious college student, Mercedes wanted to study abroad to broaden her horizons, but high tuition costs posed a financial barrier. She began searching for exchange programs and found ISEP through her home university’s website. In her own words, ISEP “stood out to her” because the program offers a year-long opportunity for her to fully immerse in American culture. In August 2022, Mercedes set off for Fargo, North Dakota, where she took a full dive into the American college experience.
At North Dakota State University, Mercedes designed her own class schedule, allowing her to manage her day more flexibly. Besides taking interesting classes, she has time for an on-campus job, working out at the gym, and hanging out with friends. Mercedes also likes to explore around her campus and the town of Fargo. Although she is used to commuting by car back home in Spain, Mercedes has come to enjoy the 20-minute morning walks to lectures and switching buildings for different classes. Her student pass allows her to hop on buses and commute around Fargo for free.
In just a semester, Mercedes quickly found her community at the university. She hangs out with her floormates, catching up in the dining hall, shopping at the mall, or watching movies. Mercedes loves that her friends are pursuing different majors. Back home, most of her friends are from the same class, where “everybody is studying and doing the same thing.” Here, she enjoys hearing diverse perspectives from her dorm mates, who come from varied backgrounds and take different classes. Mercedes is also a part of her university’s Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the skiing club, where she also signed up for the upcoming race in February. Back at the Universidad de Malaga, she rarely ever heard of clubs and did not participate in one. Now she plans to explore those clubs once she returns to Spain.
However, navigating new social scenes comes with its own challenges. Since her family is very supportive, Mercedes did not have trouble convincing them to get on board. Yet, as the only child and the first of her family to study abroad, Mercedes had to figure out many steps on her own. She traveled alone and self-advocated for credit transfers and course approvals between universities. Looking back, Mercedes says that she has “become more independent” after going through her first time alone in the airport, buying groceries, and doing laundry on top of other academic responsibilities. “It was a challenge, but I like changes. I like traveling, and that is why I chose to study abroad in the first place.”
When asked about her most favorite moment so far, Mercedes had a hard time picking out one. She enjoyed “every moment of experiencing a unique culture, meeting new people, and trying out new activities,” which were the most enjoyable college experiences for her so far. Among those moments, her 13-hour road trip to Colorado with her skiing club friends is definitely one of the most memorable. “The longest drive I have ever been on was 4-hours long,” she recalled. “I had never thought I’d be spending that much time in a car, but I really enjoyed it.”
Mercedes finds her ISEP exchange program to be a very valuable experience. She encourages other international students to take advantage of the opportunity and get involved with their new communities. “Avoid cliques of similar friend groups, do activities, join clubs.”
ISEP Alumni from UPAEP met up in Puebla at Chocolatería y Cafetería R&E for some good conversation about their various study abroad experiences. Thanks everyone for making our first reunion in Mexico a blast!
There will be more in-person meetups planned for those who couldn’t make this one, including one in Mexico City on May 13. These events provide an alumni an opportunity to network and share stories of their experiences and time abroad. Current and prospective ISEP students, supporters, as well as university and community partners are also welcome to attend.
If you are interested in helping with an in person event in your city, please reach out so we can chat about it. Cheers!
ISEP Study Abroad se complace en invitarte a una reunión local de alumnos y alumnas en CDMX, el día 13 de mayo 2023, a partir de las 14:00 hasta las 16:00. Enviaremos la ubicación una vez que sepamos cuántas personas están dispuestas a asistir.
ISEP Alumni está comprometido con un amplio rango de carreras y campos de estudio, todos ellos comparten la experiencia ISEP, que los une en un nivel más profundo. Así que, asiste y comparte tus experiencias, haz nuevas conexiones y ten un momento relajante y de diversión.
¡Esperamos verte pronto!
When: 3 May 2023 5:30 PM, CDT
Where: 71090, La Paz, 72090 Puebla, Pue., Mexico
A ISEP Study Abroad le gustaría invitarles a una reunión local de Alumni en Puebla el próximo miércoles 3 de mayo de 5:30 - 7:30 pm en Chocolatería y Cafetería R&E ubicada a unos pasos del Paseo Bravo.
El Alumni de ISEP está involucrado en diversas áreas y campos de la industria, pero todos han vivido la experiencia ISEP que los hace compartir experiencias de vida. Con esto en mente, ven y comparte tu experiencia, crea nuevas conexiones y disfruta de una excelente tarde en compañía de otros Alumni de ISEP.
¡Esperamos verlos pronto!
April 2023 Updates!
Happy Spring ISEP community! We enjoyed having the chance to meet several of you at recent events, and plan to continue in-person engagement activities as weather and local conditions permit. You will find some highlights below, as well as things to come. Remember, we are always interested in hearing about what’s going with you, and are happy to arrange a call to catch up, help plan a local event, or help with career or academic advising. Just reply to this message to get started.
In-person events are in full swing!
Thank you to our alumni who came out to meet us in San Jose, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. in March! We loved listening to your study abroad stories and learning what you are currently up to. Please keep in touch.
More events are currently being planned, so stay tuned for invitations to those if you are in the area where the event will take place. We are also looking for alumni worldwide to help plan more local events. If you are interested in meeting others who are passionate about the world around them and can serve as a local point of contact, reach out to learn more.
Recent Professional Development Webinars
In February, ISEP hosted a panel discussion on careers in international education featuring alumni currently working in the field. The event generated lots of lively discussion both among the panelists and from the alumni who attended the session.
In March, ISEP board member and global engagement specialist, Dr. Gretchen Dobson, hosted a session on best practices for networking locally and globally after your study abroad experiences. She has graciously agreed to share the slides from the event, which may be found here: Networking Slides
ISEP alumna Thea Li, an international student at Rhodes College, talked about her exchange experience at Korea University.
She created a fully immersive experience for herself that left her with valuable memories. Read her story here.
ISEP alumus Petr Vrba, who studied on exchange from Masaryk University to the University of Kansas, shared his study abroad experience with us, and even noted it was one of the experiences that helped him secure an internship at the United Nations.
Read Petr's story here: You Will Always Have Stories to Tell.
We want to hear from you. If you are an ISEP alum interested in submitting a story to us, please reach out.
We are especially interested in hearing from alumni in the LGBTQIA+ community who studied abroad to share your experiences.
All ISEP alumni, and especially ISEP alumni who have studied in Japan or are are interested in Asian Studies, are invited to attend Kansai Gaidai University's 1st Homecoming event on Saturday May 27, 2023 (depending on your time zone, the event may take play the day before). Online participation is welcome. Click here for more info and for registration details.
Are you a U.S. citizen student looking for a flexible and remote internship opportunity that will allow you to help advance U.S. Foreign Policy? If so, tune into an info session on Tuesday April 18th at 12pm PT/3pm ET to learn more about the U.S. Department of State Virtual Student Federal Service internship program. You can find details and registration info here.
Take care for now, and be back in touch soon!
Shared from the U.S. Department of State:
Tuesday, April 18, 2023 at 12pm PT/3pm ET
Calling all students from college freshmen to Ph.D students! Looking for a flexible and remote internship option to gain experience? Want to be a part of projects that advance U.S. foreign policy?
Join us for a virtual information session on the U.S. Department of State’s Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) Internship Program and learn about the wide range of experiences you can gain from working as a virtual intern. We will discuss program details, eligibility, and application tips, AND you will hear from current VSFS interns about their experiences in the program! U.S. citizenship is required. An equal opportunity employer.
Click on the blue Register button to sign up to receive the Zoom link, and see you on April 18!
Register here to get the Zoom details: https://lnkd.in/gZhSzUif.
Petr Vrba studied Political Science at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic. In 2021, he spent his spring semester at the University of Kansas, Lawrence through ISEP. Petr shared his unique experience studying abroad during the pandemic and how the opportunity has vitally inspired his individual and professional pursuits.
Petr is passionate about International Relations and wanted to study abroad like his classmates. He reached out to his faculty, who partnered with ISEP to facilitate Petr’s experience in the United States. ISEP was not Petr’s first exchange opportunity. In 2020, he studied abroad in Northern Ireland through Erasmus. Unfortunately, Petr had to come home early in early March 2020 due to the pandemic. However, he did not give up on his dreams, and applied for ISEP in June that year. Looking back, Petr says this turbulent time had a silver lining: one opportunity cut short opened the door for another uniquely exciting one.
Every exchange student recalls their experience as a “special” one. This adjective applies to Petr’s case quite literally. Arriving on the campus in January 2021, Petr had to navigate “the new normal” as we called it. Covid regulations limited some activities, but did not define his spring semester at University of Kansas. Although most of his classes were online, Petr had a thought-provoking academic experience. He enrolled in interesting classes, including one about International Organizations which inspired his career interest in diplomatic service.
Petr often found himself as the only non-American student in his classes. He says that while “it was a nervous experience,” it helped him overcome his shyness. Moreover, Petr could offer a unique perspective as an exchange student to the discussions in class. “Classes here place more emphasis on forming your own opinions and applying them to recent events,” he says, “I’m glad to experience new ways of learning in the United States.” Petr especially enjoyed going to his only in-person class. Face masks and Covid measures posed challenges to bond with classes, but Petr found it “refreshing” to meet physically again. “Back home it wasn’t possible [to meet in-person], but here I could.”
During his free time, Petr hit the gym, read, or hung out with his international friends. Together they would challenge each other in a card game of UNO, play soccer, or attend musical performances, which were not available in the Czech Republic due to protocols at the time. Petr also liked traveling locally with his friends. Petr is glad he was in Lawrence, where he could “truly see the real America.” He had visited New York City once as a tourist, but the experience was different. In his words, the United States “is a huge country with many cultures, and there he gained “first-hand experience of the Midwest.”
ISEP broadened Petr’s horizons and motivated him to keep searching for more opportunities. He shares, “the only thing you regret is the opportunity not taken.” Last year, Petr landed an internship at Permanent Mission of the Czech Republic to the United Nations in New York City, where he witnessed discussions on pressing issues taking place. It was a memorable experience for Petr, and his ISEP exchange played a crucial role in inspiring him to further pursue his passions.
Studying abroad offers many perks. Petr argues that besides developing proficiency in English or another language, exchange programs give a competitive edge professionally. “Your potential employer will recognize these skills: being independent, unafraid of taking on challenges, and being multicultural. Nowadays it’s hard to be unique. This experience helps you stand out.” More importantly, he adds, “you will always have stories to tell.”
Dear ISEP Community, we are sharing this invitation on behalf of member institution Kansai Gaidai University in Japan.
While this may be of particular interest to students who participated on exchange in Japan, this invitation is open to all ISEP alumni worldwide. It is a hybrid event, so you may tune in virtually.
Kansai Gaidai University is thrilled to send this invitation to our very first Asian Studies Program (ASP) Homecoming Event on Saturday, May 27th, 2023 (depending on your time zone, the event might start on the day before) as follows:
Date & Time: May 27, 2023 (Sat) 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm Japan Standard Time (UTC+9)
Venue: Multimedia Hall at Nakamiya Campus, Kansai Gaidai University. Online participation is also welcome.
To date, the Asian Studies Program has accommodated nearly 20,000 students, but this is the very first time in our history that we hold a homecoming event at our university. Though the main event is held on-site, overseas residents are also welcome to participate online so that you will have a chance to meet your fellow friends, create a new network, etc.
Registration: https://forms.gle/8sRcjxiNKpPzyDzg9 (by April 30th)
If you have any inquiries about this event, please contact us at [email protected].
Thank you for your continued support, and we look forward to seeing you on-site or online at our Homecoming Event!
Dean of the Asian Studies Program
Kansai Gaidai University
ISEP Alumni Association
Address: 1655 N. Fort Myer Drive, Suite 400, Arlington, Virginia, U.S. 22209
+1 (703) 504-9995, Michael Alijewicz, [email protected]
© 2023 Alumni Association. All Rights Reserved.