Meet Kelly Tauschek-Hill, a WMU alumni who studied abroad in Rome during Fall 2014 and Ireland during Spring Break 2016. Kelly graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 2016, majoring in Social Work and minoring in Interdisciplinary Health Services and Gerontology. In 2017, Kelly graduated with a master’s degree in Social Work, specializing in Trauma Across the Lifespan. Currently, Kelly works as a Mental Health Clinician at Van Buren Intermediate School District. The one word Kelly used to describe her experience studying abroad was “monumental.” These are the questions that Kelly reflected on from her experience abroad:
What did you study while abroad?
"In Rome: I took some gen eds including "Gender and Sex in the Media", "Human Trafficking", "Human Rights" and a "Art History" Class. In Ireland, my main focus of studies was the geriatric population and how they engage with their countries health care system."
What skills did you learn/sharpen during study abroad that you utilize daily? Professionally or personally.
"-Enhanced communication skills: When you are in a country where you don't speak the native language you learn to rely on other forms of communications. On one hand, I worked hard to learn Italian but it wasn't always necessary. My non-verbal cues and ways that I typically communicated became better as I learned to be patience with myself and others as we broke down communication barriers to be able to connect with each other.
-Empathy: My sense of empathy greatly increased on my study abroad trips. When I allowed myself to be open to the idea of other cultures, lifestyles and norms, I found that it helped me relate to others better. I found a sense of communication and connection within not only my school but the neighborhood I resided in.
-Flexibility: Being in a new country means you can't plan for every single moment of every single day. Because of this, I had to be flexible with my routines and schedules. Sometimes I missed the bus that I had planned to catch and then I needed to be creative and adapt to a new plan of actions to get to my destinations. I also found flexibility came into play when accepting a different pace of life. I was so used to living my life with a certain sense of direction and pace which has I had to let go of when I transitioned into a new culture. I find, now, that it's easier for me to adapt to changes both personally and professionally.
-Confidence: I always tell people ""I found the person I always knew I could be on my study abroad trip"". It still stand by this statement. I could talk for hours about how studying abroad not only changed me for the better but made my future filled with more opportunities; include some passions I may not have persuaded unless I had the experiences I did. Its been many years since I took my trip and I'm still taking away learning objectives from my time abroad. I still talk about it in job interviews and it still impacts my life in a positive way. "
How has study abroad prepared you for your future?
"Studying abroad changed the way I think and how I view the world. After I returned home from my first study abroad trip, I got a 4.0 every single semester through graduate school. I truly believe my study abroad trip helped create the person who was capable of that. Studying abroad has always made me feel like I have an edge professionally and personally. As a therapist, it helps me understand and empathize with my clients on a different level. My trip helped me obtain wonderful internships and job opportunities. It's the skills listed above that have helped me be a better member of my community, a better therapist to my clients and a better version of myself. "
What was the biggest impact that study abroad left on you?
"The biggest impact is really how I feel my experiences changed me. I remember having a hard time coming back to the US because I had grown so much in Italy only to come back and try to fit into the space the old me had left behind. I felt like a new person in the "old me's" shoes. But I had learned enough about myself to shed that old version and start to show people who the new me was. And what I found was that I was able to cultivate the same level of community and growth that I loved so much in Italy and bring those same principals back to the US. I was doing better in school, I had healthier relationships with my friends/family and I finally felt like I was living up to my true potential. My heart still soars when I get a chance to share my experience with someone considering studying abroad. It has sparked a lifelong passion in my life and I can never be thankful enough."
What would you say to someone that was hesitant to study abroad?
"Trust yourself! Please, trust in your own ability to successfully study abroad. You can do it and you will not regret it. Also, take advantage of the scholarships! I couldn't have made my trips happen without them. If you have every felt like their could be more for you- study abroad! It can feel scary and overwhelming when you first start to think about it but it's surprisingly manageable. As someone who did both a semester and a spring break trip, I recommend the semester in terms of length. I also suggest talking to someone who has gone already if you are feeling hesitant. They can't tell 100% what it will be like for you but they can give you an idea of the things that made their trip life changing! The best version of yourself is just waiting for you to dive into your potential."
How did being immersed in a new culture change your perspective on the future?
"I think I saw room for more. More opportunities, more possibilities and more room to grow. I had found myself feeling stuck; like another face in a sea of Western Students. But when I came back from my trip, I never saw or felt that way again. I definitely felt more hopeful about the future."
Did studying abroad help you professionally? How so?
"I was able to engage in a lot of community services while on my study abroad trip, which directly helped me with my culturally competency skills. My internships and jobs have all asked about my study abroad experience and have noted that some of my examples from my times abroad have helped them get a better sense of what kind of worker I am. I believe having a study abroad experience to pull life examples has helped me gain more internships and jobs."
Kelly, thank you for studying abroad at WMU and for sharing your experience with us!