#StudyAbroadBecause... Even if you think you know yourself, there’s so much more to discover

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Born and raised in Plymouth, Michigan, Natalie Zazula enjoyed her collegiate years living in Pittsburgh. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (marketing) and a Bachelor of Arts (nonfiction English writing) from the University of Pittsburgh in August 2015. Her final 12 credits were earned while studying abroad in London, England! Read up on her interview below to learn more about her international experiences. 

Natalie Zazula: #StudyAbroadBecause... Even if you think you know yourself, there’s so much more to discover

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

Well, I’d always had the study abroad idea in the far corners of my mind because Pitt Business is very interested in seeing students go abroad. I remember being asked and encouraged by my advisors during freshman and sophomore year to think about study abroad, but I always dismissed it because I knew my anxiety would be a bit out of control in a country where I knew no one. However, while I didn’t think I had the courage to go abroad, and while my advisors encouraged me to look into Spanish-speaking countries to complement my minor, I did have dreams of going to England. My mom and I woke at 4am to watch the Royal Wedding and I’ve always loved the UK pavilion at Disney’s EPCOT. One of my best friends, Mary, had done a 6-week program in London...and she was there when Prince George was born, which was amazing! She even brought back a Prince George magnet and newspaper back for me because she knew how excited I’d be.

How did I get motivated to go abroad, though? During senior year I was the president of a mental health organization called Active Minds. I was incredibly fortunate to meet students from so many different backgrounds and we had one member who was studying at Pitt for a whole year from his home university in England. Mitch was nice enough to answer all my annoying questions about British culture in the beginning (well…even now, too) and we just became friends as the year progressed. It was January 5th, 2015 and I received an email from Pitt saying that study abroad applications were closing in two weeks. I thought to myself, “it’s now or never.” So I texted my roommate, Heidi (she’d also been to London), and I texted Mitch and told them I wanted to study in London over the summer. Without hesitation, they both said to go for it and I would have the time of my life. That night, I went to Panera with Mary, told her my new idea, she loved it and encouraged me to call my parents and ask while she was sitting there supporting me. The rest is history!

Natalie Zazula: #StudyAbroadBecause... Even if you think you know yourself, there’s so much more to discover

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

My experience in London was incredible. I had high expectations and they were all shattered. I studied abroad through CAPA, so I was in classes with other American students, but I had English professors. Since it was summer, most universities were not in session, so it was challenging to meet local students. However, it was just a small challenge and I was able to meet locals at pubs, markets, or restaurants. My favorite memory was when I saw Ed Sheeran play at Wembley Stadium. He played 3 nights and I went to the second night. It was phenomenal to see a short little ginger guy connect with a crowd of over 80,000 people, because Ed gigs are just Ed, his guitars, and a loop station. It was incredible. It was extra special because two of the nights were filmed for a concert film/movie and DVD. Then some of the songs were recorded and are being released as part of a special Wembley Edition of Ed’s latest album, X.

My main challenges were adapting to a new culture. It didn’t matter that I was going to another English-speaking country, because London actually houses dozens of different languages. It is one of the most diverse cities in the world. What challenged me in England was being conscious of annoying American habits. We have a tendency to talk very loudly and to walk in giant clumps that block the whole sidewalk. It was a challenge for me and my friends to remember to be respectful of the English way of life. 

Natalie Zazula: #StudyAbroadBecause... Even if you think you know yourself, there’s so much more to discover

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

While abroad, I learned how to interact with people from all over the world. I developed the skill of asking meaningful background questions in order to learn and expand my own horizons. My roommate, Ayushi, was from India (but she’s doing university for four years at Pitt) and she taught me so much about India and Indian culture. I became friends with some Australians that I still talk with on Facebook each week. One of them even became my pen-pal. I went to a small town in the middle of nowhere and made friends with a lady who ran a delicious bakery stand at the local farmers market. She shared her frosting recipe with me, and we also keep in touch via Facebook. I am definitely changed from my time abroad. I am more understanding and more inquisitive than ever before!

Natalie Zazula: #StudyAbroadBecause... Even if you think you know yourself, there’s so much more to discover

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

My study abroad experience was incredibly recent so professionally, it hasn’t helped me get to where I am today. However, emotionally it has. I can now read news articles out of the UK and understand and appreciate them. The cities and some of politicians are familiar to me and I’m no longer stuck in one bubble called the United States. I’ve accepted a position in the Disney College Program and one of the experiences I really talked about during my phone interview was my time abroad because I met so many people from so many different places. 

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

Financially, I really lucked out because my parents paid for the vast majority of my trip. I used my own money for food, clothing, and other random things but my tuition and many tickets (concerts, trains, etc.) were covered by my parents.

To students who are thinking about going abroad, please please please please please go and talk to your school’s study abroad office! They are experts and they can help answer all your questions. They have so many resources and can help you discover what program is best for you.

Also, talk to people you know or that your family knows who have gone abroad. I met up with one of my dad’s coworker’s daughters who is working on her PhD at Cambridge. She gave me tips on packing, clothing, and other things and then she invited me to a formal dinner at Cambridge! Formal dinners are not open to the general public, so it was incredibly special to attend (it was like having dinner in the Hogwart’s Great Hall) and it was actually all because of networking.

I do encourage all students to take care of their mental health. I’m a huge advocate for looking after one’s mental well-being, and studying abroad can trigger anxiety or other issues. I disclosed to my program that I take an anxiety med each morning and the staff reached out to check on me and see if I wanted help getting set up with a therapist while abroad. There was really only once occasion when my anxiety took over (me + directions + going to new Tube stop solo = disaster) and I knew how to take care of myself. I also knew that for my own mental health, I needed to know someone in the country. I only knew one person in my actual study abroad program and I knew that Mitch would be in England. That was all I needed. I was incredibly lucky that I was able to meet up with Mitch three times while abroad, and that helped me when I had rare pangs of homesickness. So, make sure YOU know what you need to make sure your mental health needs are being met. 

Natalie Zazula: #StudyAbroadBecause... Even if you think you know yourself, there’s so much more to discover

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

I now feel like a global citizen. I know that there are amazing countries in the world and that America isn’t the best or most beautiful one out there. America is amazing for many reasons, but so are other countries. I met some amazing girls from Australia (while on a weekend bus tour through Scotland) and they taught me so many neat things about their country. I still talk to them multiple times a week and I’ll occasionally have to Google some of the Australian slang words they use. It’s just so amazing to talk to people and recognize that we are all so similar. 

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

Study abroad simply changed my life. For years, my career ambition was to work in community relations for a Major League Baseball team but now I would be happy working for any company that would allow me to travel and spend time in England. In the ideal world, I’d find a company that could sponsor a visa so I could work in England for a few years. I just love it so much and I think about it every day.

 

#StudyAbroadBecause... Even if you think you know yourself, there’s so much more to discover.

 

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 Natalie Zazula

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