#StudyAbroadBecause another culture is only a plane ride away!

Stasia Lopez's picture

Jonelle Krise is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh working towards her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Urban Studies with a certificate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. She studied abroad in May-June 2014 in Greece! She participated in a travel-based program through Pitt, which focused on sociology, economics, tourism, and history. Jonelle visited and lived in several cities while in Greece, including Thessaloniki, Nafplio, Delphi, Meteora, Olympia, Athens, and Pigadia (Karpathos). Jonelle commented, “Studying abroad was my first time out of the United States and riding on a plane. I earned a scholarship to study abroad through the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership, which is a program for women who have never left the United States. I have lived in Loretto, Pennsylvania all my life until I moved to Pittsburgh for college. I am really passionate about civil rights, urban affairs and planning, international affairs, travel, and education.” Jonelle is currently interning at the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh. She has also worked as a Peer Educator and Yoga Instructor through Pitt’s Counseling Center, a Peer Advisor for Pitt freshmen, a Mentor for the Vira I. Heinz Program, and a Peer Mentor for TRIO Student Support Services—a federally funded program for low-income and first generation college students, of which Jonelle is a student member of, as well. Jonelle’s career goals after college are to work in the nonprofit and/or education sector to provide mentoring, advising, or counseling to first-generation and low-income students like herself. Additionally, she’d like to earn her Master of Social Work degree to eventually work as a Mental Health Therapist focusing on providing treatment to vulnerable populations and women. Jonelle hopes to continue traveling as much as possible! Follow her on Twitter @jonelle_ilene 

Jonelle Krise in Greece: #StudyAbroadBecause another culture is only a plane ride away!


What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?

It was really important for me personally to go abroad at least once during my college career because I have always wanted to travel and have never had the opportunity to do so. I entered college eager but very hesitant to go abroad. I wasn’t sure if it was for me, and I had no idea where I would even choose to go. At the beginning of my freshman year, I was enrolled in a sociology course…one that I was using simply to fill space on my schedule. Within a week, this sociology course and professor became my favorite class at Pitt. As cliché as it sounds, it completely opened my eyes to a worldview that had always felt natural to be but never knew existed – sociology. I learned that my professor was from Greece and that he annually led a sociology-based summer trip abroad. I felt eager to go, but I put it to the back of my mind. Throughout my first year, I attended various information sessions and spoke to peers about their experiences going abroad and how to make this possible. At Pitt, I am a member and mentor for TRIO Student Support Services – a federally funded program for low-income and first generation college students. Within SSS, a few of my mentors had studied abroad and encouraged me to do so, as well. I figured that if they had managed to do it, then I could, too. I was also told about the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership from an SSS student who was a recent alumnus of the program. She encouraged me to apply since it is a program designed for women who have never left the country, like me.

I thought about this throughout the summer following my freshman year. I felt nervous, afraid, and excited thinking that I could be on the islands of Greece at that time the following year. I decided that I would speak to the Vira I. Heinz directors as soon as I could in the upcoming fall semester. After a long and thorough application process, I was fortunate enough to be awarded into the program! This provided me with a generous scholarship and an educating support system to prepare for my first trip abroad. I chose the Pitt in Greece program (an abroad program through the University of Pittsburgh) that I had originally wanted to be a part of since I first came to Pitt. The program is led by the professor I had for my sociology class freshman year. I really wanted an opportunity to travel somewhere I knew little about, to build a closer connection with a professor in my field of interest, to gain an understanding for the economic-political-social environment occurring in Europe, and to visit a truly beautiful country rich in history. Greece felt perfect for me; it felt safe enough for me to venture to on my own since it is European and English can be spoken here, but it was foreign enough to me to keep me engaged and motivated to learn all that I could since I am not too familiar with Eastern European culture. I knew this would be an excellent opportunity to count towards my newly-declared Sociology major, especially in an exciting but safe environment.

Jonelle Krise in Greece: #StudyAbroadBecause another culture is only a plane ride away!


What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?

My experience abroad was my first time living out of Pennsylvania, entering an airport, flying, and leaving the United States. I was never in my life so afraid, but despite the fear I felt, I relied on my thorough planning and support from my VIH mentor. I also had to learn to trust in myself that I had done the right thing. I found myself in times of doubt and fear wondering why I ever decided this would be a good idea. I first realized how major of a decision this was when I was alone, riding in the back of a cab to the airport. I knew there was no turning back. Nevertheless, I impressed myself by successfully navigating through the Pittsburgh International Airport. This was the first leg of my long journey. As my first plane ride was about to take off, my stomach felt like it was going to jump out of my throat. I took some deep, calming breaths and prayed, but I never closed my eyes. I felt the engine rumble and the wheels lift off the ground. I saw the earth below me become smaller and smaller – I never felt so alive! My plane flew low enough for me to see Downtown, Oakland, and the general direction of my home. I felt empowered and confident knowing that I was about to have the biggest adventure of my life thus far and that all my preparation and extensive planning was about to pay off. Fifteen hours or so later, my journey across the Atlantic was ending; my plane began to approach Athens, Greece. As we descended, I saw the bluest water I have ever seen in my life! The Aegean Sea was below me, kissing the shores of Athens. I immediately wanted to know everything I could about this new country! It was a feeling I will never forget.

My favorite memory about Greece is surprisingly simple: I remember floating on my back in the warm Mediterranean water on the coast of Karpathos, an island. I could feel the white, silky sand on the ocean floor while the warm, blue water held me. The sky matched the hue of the water, and the sea breeze felt phenomenal against the hot sun. There was so much beauty everywhere I could see; it was like heaven. The blue water extending into the skyline, the palm trees blowing in the breeze, tropical flowers hanging, little boats bobbing at their docks, the white-washed, traditional Greek homes all stacked together perfectly, and the majestic, green mountains far behind me. I never felt so at ease, so grateful, and so in awe of the world. It was an absolutely perfect moment I can remember vividly.    

As breathtakingly beautiful as Greece was, I was not there on a vacation. In addition to attending classes and writing papers, I had to work hard every day to do things that seemed normal back home: understanding how to read road signs, navigating a town, interacting with locals in basic Greek, reading a menu, ordering food (once I figured out what it was), budgeting in Euros, etc. Luckily for me, most people understood at least some English, but I still tried my best to learn and use any Greek I could. Locals can see when you care enough to learn their culture, and it makes a huge difference in how you are treated and how your interaction feels. I did become very homesick at times. I missed my family, of course, but I also missed the ease of having a conversation in my native language and having my favorite groceries available to me at the nearest store. I missed peanut butter! But, I remembered how much I would miss once I was back home, like the island life, the hospitable nature of people, the slow-paced, relaxed lifestyle, and the food. It was truly the best food I have ever eaten! I still crave the food a full year later.

Jonelle Krise in Greece: #StudyAbroadBecause another culture is only a plane ride away!


What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? 

I developed more skills that I would have ever imagined prior to travelling abroad. I learned how to navigate an airport (in a foreign country, too), how to budget in another currency, how to communicate with locals, how to adapt to cultural norms and ways of behaving, how to properly eat at a restaurant and interact with waiters and store owners, how to greet others in Greek, how to negotiate prices at flea markets and shops, how to navigate the streets of Athens in another language, how to pack and eat for day-long traveling, how to ride public transportation in a system and language I did not know, and in general, how to take care of myself without anyone else to rely on. I feel like it helped me to grow up a little bit more. Learning to live with discomfort is very important; it is very difficult to live somewhere where literally everything is unfamiliar to you. 


Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 

My experience abroad has allowed me to become a braver, more confident person. I went through many difficult and sometimes scary “firsts” when I studied abroad, so reminding myself of how I successfully took on the challenge of living somewhere completely unknown to myself has shown me that I am capable of adapting to my environment and surviving. I am now more willing to travel, in general, and am more likely to take on challenges such as job opportunities or planning a trip. Living in another country teaches you a lot about yourself; you learn your true strengths and respectable limits. Having an experience like that has made me surer of the path ahead of me both personally and professionally.

Studying abroad has also helped me with networking and job interviews. As soon as people see that I have studied in Greece, they are eager to ask me what I did, saw, ate, etc. Not only does that allow me to have an opportunity to share the skills I have developed abroad, but it also gives me a window to share more personal information with the interviewer or employer. It is a safe, interesting way for them to get to know my personality and interests. 

Through the Vira I. Heinz Scholarship Program, of which I am now an alumna, I continue to assist working in their programs to help other women who have never been abroad to develop the strategies and confidence needed to be successful in their desired abroad experiences. I have worked as a mentor to a few cohort members and even directed some students towards the program because I knew they would greatly benefit. I would have never been introduced to this program and all of its opportunities if I had not challenged myself to go abroad.

Jonelle Krise in Greece: #StudyAbroadBecause another culture is only a plane ride away!


What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

You must plan in advance and not wait to pack or prepare until the week before! Do your research about the country, culture, laws, and even the climate before you settle on a specific country. You want to make sure that you are well-equipped to have the best experience possible. You also want to make sure that any items you travel with are legal and available in the country, such as prescriptions and makeup. Find out what the currency conversion is, and make sure you budget funds in your home currency. 

Also, have a sense of humor about your experience. You will have times that feel uncomfortable or stressful, but learn to embrace that as a learning experience. I know a lot of people romanticize study abroad, but it is likely not going to be perfect, and that is okay. Set some (realistic) goals for yourself, too! Creating goals of things you would like to achieve ahead of time will ensure you get the most of your experience while abroad, and you will have measurable skills to add to your resume later. 


How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

Having an international education has definitely influenced the way I see and understand my personal cultural identity. I can now see the different parts that make up my own culture when, before, it felt like it was a seamless part of me while other cultures appeared to blatantly different. I now realize that is not the case. I can see how my cultural norms translate and are very much similar to norms of other cultures. I feel a greater sense of united humanity; we are all the same, but the ways in which our actions appear are the only difference. For the first time, I understand what it truly feels like to be an American and how I am interpreted by people who are not. It has caused me to appreciate things I had taken for granted as well as having a greater, empathetic understanding to people of a culture different from my own. I do not feel intimidated to speak with someone obviously different from me, but instead, I remember how I felt when I was the minority, the outsider. I am more eager to learn and to understand their experience. It changed me personally; I feel like a more compassionate person eager to help others different from me; I feel more empathetic to understanding another person or culture’s perspective, and I feel like a more confident leader. My worldview has been expanded – something that could not have happened within the borders of my home country.

Jonelle Krise in Greece: #StudyAbroadBecause another culture is only a plane ride away!


Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

I really want people to embrace their fears and insecurities in regards to trying new things like studying abroad. You do not need to dismiss feelings because they feel negative or difficult to deal with; discomfort is a sign of personal growth! Respect your personal limits, of course, but do not underestimate yourself. If you want to travel abroad and see the world, go for it! There is always support out there for you if you put in the effort to seek it. I come from a low-income family and am the first to attend college. I receive no financial support from my family, and yet, I set my heart to try something I may not have the ability to do once I graduate. I am also an extremely shy, nervous person. I never rode a plane or even saw an airport in person prior to this trip! I did this to prove to myself that my abilities are stronger than I can imagine, and I have grown as a person because of it. I was afraid, but I am so happy I embraced my fears and kept moving without ever looking back. This opportunity taught me a lot about myself, including my personal limits I have learned to respect as well as my imagined boundaries that I have knocked down. I am more confident and more enthusiastic about life. I can now comprehend how small this planet truly is. Another culture is just a plane ride away.


#StudyAbroadBecause another culture is only a plane ride away! The world is beautiful and there is so much to be seen! Why wait?

Jonelle Krise in Greece: #StudyAbroadBecause another culture is only a plane ride away!



Stasia Lopez is the Global Education Editor for Wandering Educators and is also a Career Consultant at the University of Pittsburgh. She graduated with her Master’s degree in Educational Leadership in Higher Education and Student Affairs from Western Michigan University and earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management from Robert Morris University. Stasia is passionate about international education, travel,  and loves working on a college campus. She’s lived in four different U.S. states (Florida, Michigan, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania) and also studied and lived abroad in Rome, Italy. Stasia lives in the Pittsburgh area with her husband, Fernando.


All photos courtesy and copyright Jonelle Krise