International Womens Day is March 8. We’re honoring some prominent women in international education and discovering how global experiences shaped and changed their lives.
International education opens the door to the world and leaves students with a new perspective and understanding of cultures, people and themselves. For women specifically, it can introduce them to a diverse array of experiences and opportunities for personal growth, which often impacts them for the rest of their lives. As a result of study abroad, many women return home with more confidence, a set of newfound skills (like proficiency in a second language) and new personal, academic and professional goals. March 8 marks International Womens Day, and to celebrate, we’re honoring the women who help make USAC study abroad happen: our Board members and officers. We spoke with six women serving on USAC’s Board of Directors about their experiences in international education and how exposure to other cultures has shaped them into the women they are today. Continue reading to learn their biggest takeaways from their unique international experiences and to hear their advice for future women pursuing study abroad.
Note: The term “woman/women” is being used in this instance with all women in mind. This includes cis women, transgender women, and all other women-identifying individuals and those whose identities do not fall on a binary.
Reflecting on The Impact of International Education
From first experiences and big lessons to future goals and current perspectives, find out how international education had a lasting impact on the following board members and officers.
What was your first experience with international travel and/or education abroad?
Colleen Marchwick, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Director of Center for International Education: My first experience with education abroad was meeting international exchange students that were placed in my small-town high school through American Field Service (AFS). They really opened up my world and so I began negotiating with my parents in high school about when and how I could study abroad. My mom really wanted me to study abroad in college, so I earned credit for my experience. I ultimately studied in France, which was my first international flight.
Meredith Wilson, Associate Director for Enrollment Management at Clemson University: When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to travel to England and France with my parents. When I got back home, I told my mom that they had made a big mistake…because now I would never be content staying in one place again!
Kim Tulman, USAC Director of University Relations and Communications: In high school, I participated in an exchange to Freiburg, Germany. This was despite taking French since middle school and having only taken an Introduction to German course. We also took several family trips to Mexico. These were my first experiences that led to a much larger interest in other cultures.
What was the biggest lesson you learned during your time abroad?
Colleen Marchwick: That achieving your goals takes action and often those small, everyday actions — submitting the application, getting a passport — are the building blocks to accomplishments. I use that today. To get a job, I have to first submit the application and follow up on those little tasks that may seem meaningless in the moment but lead to bigger things. Also, nothing risked; nothing gained. You have to put yourself out into the world. Even if you fail, you will have gained something valuable – experience.
Orlina Boteva, University of Maine’s Director of International Programs: I learned that I can draw on my inner strength, intelligence, and knowledge to be resilient and successful in my academic pursuits and social relationships. It was the first time I felt what it meant to be an adult – making my own financial decisions, making good personal choices, and defining my goals in life. It also came with many responsibilities. Ultimately, I learned that strong relationships and friendships with people from around the world are crucial for my happiness as an individual.
Kim Tulman: Be flexible and stay calm “in the storm.” Some of the most stressful situations turn into stories that make you laugh out loud (later). Like the time my husband and I returned a rental car at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport and drove in circles for an hour (it’s like an endless labyrinth!). Or the trip to Italy when a friend hopped on a train going in the wrong direction.
How, as a woman, did your international experiences impact your life and/or future plans?
Orlina Boteva: As a young woman growing up in Bulgaria in the 1990s, I felt confined to socially expected career and life choices. Studying abroad exposed me to many new academic options, career paths, ways of defining what it means to be a “woman” in the professional and personal space. I was never aware that higher education administration is a field of study and practice.
Alyssa Nota, USAC President/CEO: I was inspired by smart, strong women all my life. Their support and experiences made me believe in myself and motivated me to pursue my dreams and goals — and to reach as far and as high as possible. Anything truly is possible. You don’t know unless you try.
Colleen Marchwick: Interestingly some of the early U.S. study abroad programs originated with women’s colleges. I often think about what trailblazers they were to study abroad in the early 1900s. From my study abroad experiences, I really gained confidence in my own abilities. I was pretty shy and nervous in new situations before I studied abroad. Had I not studied abroad, I would not have joined the Peace Corps. Had I not joined the Peace Corps, I would have likely never met my husband or continued in the path of international education.
Satisfying the Itch to Experience Another Culture
Discover how these women leveraged their international experiences to achieve their academic goals and learn how their experiences helped pave the way for a future career in international education.
Why did you decide to pursue international experiences?
Kate Wray Chettri, University of Idaho’s Director, Education Abroad: Growing up, my parents were both in higher education and we were exposed to visitors from other countries. We had an exchange student from Japan live with us and spent a year traveling Europe when my dad went on a sabbatical. I was in second grade at the time- it left a big impression!
Alyssa Nota: The world is a big, beautiful, amazing place and everyone needs the chance to explore it and learn from it; every student needs to have that experience at least once in their life as a student.
Orlina Boteva: My mom was an educator, and my father traveled a lot for his work and always encouraged my sister and I to learn languages and pursue international education. In retrospect, I recognize how fortunate I was to grow up in such a nurturing environment but also how privileged I was to have knowledge of, access to, and the means to fund these experiences.
How did your international experiences/study abroad fit with your academic and professional goals?
Meredith Wilson: As an undergrad I majored in travel and tourism and then went on to complete a masters in student affairs. Although I continued to travel as an undergrad, I didn’t formally study abroad until I was in graduate school. At that point in my life, I didn’t even know that international education was a career field, but it is a perfect combination of my education and interests!
Kate Wray Chettri: My international experiences completely shaped my interests in college. I studied anthropology, intercultural communication, and cultural studies and always aimed to work, live and travel abroad again. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I left the U.S. to participate in the JET program in Japan for two years.
Kim Tulman: I’ve included other cultures in my work, especially event planning. As an example, I was coordinating the grand opening of a medical office building and incorporated some international flair into the event, including Italy’s “La passeggiata,” which is a leisurely walk or stroll in the evening. There was also international food, decor, and of course, a few Italian phrases during the CEO’s welcome speech.
Supporting Future Women in Their Pursuit of International Education
Study abroad is life changing, and these women will tell you exactly what makes it such an invaluable opportunity to pursue.
What are USAC’s strengths? Why should a woman consider studying abroad with USAC?
Meredith Wilson: USAC is an amazing organization that encourages all students to study abroad. I love the fact that most of the USAC program locations are in smaller cities that allow students to truly immerse themselves in the local culture!
Alyssa Nota: USAC is a field leader due to its long-term commitment to supporting students and creating very affordable, accessible, deeply immersive and supportive programs. USAC offers unique and different opportunities that help students stand out from the crowd, learn deeply, and make lifelong memories and valuable opportunities for their personal and professional futures. Women are the majority of the study abroad student population as well as professionals in the field. By studying abroad, women prove they are curious, open, forward thinking, and dedicated to forming bridges (within their own lives, academics and careers, as well as across cultures).
Orlina Boteva: Any student should consider studying abroad with USAC as it can enrich any individual regardless of their gender identity and sexual orientation.
In your opinion, why is study abroad important for women to pursue?
Kate Wray Chettri: I believe study abroad diversifies your life experiences and skills, broadens perspectives, and impacts your view on life. In job interviews or future opportunities, it says something unique about you, especially as you cultivate your ability to communicate how it impacted you. It is personally enriching — you learn a great deal about yourself and you have an opportunity to tear down or redefine stereotypes of Americans and women in general.
Colleen Marchwick: Sisterhood is powerful. In travelling, we see that the fight for gender equality is on a continuum and that we have much to learn and share. The culturally bound stereotypes of women are often extreme oversimplifications. In all societies, women have multiple and diverse roles — mother, sister, partner, doctor, engineer, environmentalist, student, teacher — and this list goes on.
Orlina Boteva: It allows women, and all individuals, to understand what it means to be a woman in a different cultural context as well as understand the power dynamics in U.S. society. We learn about our own culture best when we are outside of it.
What advice do you have for women interested in study abroad?
Meredith Wilson: Just do it! Your only regret will be waiting so long!
Alyssa Nota: Absolutely do it! Research, read, ask questions, talk to people who have studied/lived abroad before, consider various options — not just one country or culture — find opportunities in various locations and cultures and of various lengths of time and types of program/learning experience. Be open to places and opportunities that may be different from what you had originally been thinking. Follow your instincts and true desire when choosing a location, language, culture or opportunity. When you get there, take in every moment and experience. Observe, absorb it, and live it. Say yes to opportunities. Do so safely and thoughtfully but don’t let fear or other people’s opinions sway you. A professor once told me to “look up” when exploring a new city. There truly was so much to discover that often goes unnoticed. Realize you are not a tourist; you are a guest in that culture/country, so act respectfully and be generous both with your openness to learn, teach, and represent your own culture.
Kim Tulman: Not to sound trite, but Just Do It. Lewis Carroll said it best: “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”
What value does international education/travel experiences have for women?
Meredith Wilson: International travel allows us to open our eyes and experience life through a different lens. This experience can change you, but you have to be willing to allow the change to occur.
Alyssa Nota: The ability to explore the world, to learn how women’s lives and opportunities may vary from one country or culture to another, to learn valuable life lessons through observation, study and travel.
Kim Tulman: The benefits of study abroad are multifaceted and extend far beyond the classroom. Living in another country and learning about a new culture not only provides the competitive edge that today’s employers are looking for, but also offers a life-changing experience. Plus, it’s just cool to be able to speak and understand another language.