#StudyAbroadBecause it opens your world

by Stasia Lopez /
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Mar 24, 2015 / 0 comments

Loretta Agyemang graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in December 2014 with degrees in Economics and Political Science and certificates in Global, Latin American, and African Studies. Her experience as a Ghanaian-American immigrant shaped her academic interests of uniting language learning with the social sciences. People have always fascinated Loretta and she seeks to follow a career path of working in the development field, where she will live out her dreams of traveling and helping people. Of the many experiences she has had as a young adult, studying abroad in Cuba significantly impacted her world view. This unique opportunity allowed her to interact with a number of individuals of different nationalities in her third language. It also allowed her to seriously challenge many deeply held preconceived notions about race, class, and gender. Loretta hopes to continue traveling, learning, and growing in the future.


Loretta Agyemang - #StudyAbroadBecause it opens your world


Were you always interested in studying abroad? What motivated your decision to go abroad?

I planned to study abroad early in my academic career. After hearing about Pitt in Cuba in a Spanish class during my sophomore year, I decided that this was the program that I would pursue. As an American citizen, I wanted to make the most of this opportunity to travel and learn in Cuba.


What was your study abroad experience like? Describe the courses studied and basic outline of your experience.

For me, Cuba was like “un engaño al ojo”—an optical illusion. Although it is the largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba is small. Therefore the level of diversity I witnessed among the country’s population and natural wild life was very noticeable. During the four months I was there, I studied Cuban Film, Advanced Spanish, Cuban Literature, and Cuban Society and Civilization. In addition to completing coursework, I explored Havana and befriended Cubans and other nationals.


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

My experience abroad helped me to gain a sense of independence and confidence. By navigating a foreign country and making use of a language I was learning, I gained more confidence in my ability to be self-sufficient. 


Loretta Agyemang - #StudyAbroadBecause it opens your world


What were some challenges that you observed that happened on your study abroad experience?

Initially, my greatest challenge was overcoming the language barrier. Cuban Spanish is unlike any dialect I learned in school, so I really struggled with communication, but after a month or so of forcing myself to understand and to be heard, I became more familiar with it. My transition was much smoother after I gained a grasp of the language. 


How did you prepare to go abroad? What steps did you take that really helped you? What advice would you share with other students? Did you have to attend a pre-departure orientation?

Prior to going abroad, I researched Cuba’s politics, economics, and culture as a research intern at the Conflict Kitchen (http://conflictkitchen.org/). This provided me with important background information about the country’s current transitions. Additionally, I reached out to numerous people who had successfully completed the program and I attended a pre-departure orientation. For other students preparing to study abroad, I suggest that they take the time to do some background research and to communicate with people who have had experience traveling to the country to which they will embark.


Loretta Agyemang - #StudyAbroadBecause it opens your world


Many students worry about the cost of going abroad. How did you pay for you study abroad experience? Were there any scholarships and grants available? Any tips you would recommend to students who’re interested in going abroad?

I received a scholarship to study abroad. This greatly helped me to offset the cost of tuition. To students interested in studying abroad, I highly suggest applying to scholarships. There are a number of sources out there to help manage the cost of studying abroad.


Did anything about your study abroad shock or surprise you? If so, explain. Do you have a favorite memory to share from your experience abroad?

Studying abroad taught me that the world is much smaller than I once thought. I was surprised by how quickly I was able to adjust and make friends with individuals outside of my study abroad program. One of my favorite memories is sitting on El Malecon—Havana’s long, winding sea wall—and sharing drinks and stories with some friends from Europe I met within that week.


Once you returned from your experience, how did you reflect upon your study abroad experience? 

While in Cuba, I kept a journal as part of the requirement for the scholarship I earned. Additionally, I kept a personal blog where I discussed social, political, and economic trends intertwined with my own experiences. It featured photographs I took with my DSLR camera on my blog.


Did your study abroad experience ever come up in a job interview? If so, explain. Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?

My study abroad experience has yet to come up during a job interview, but I’m sure it will become a discussion point one day as I continue with the job search process. I can draw on it as a source of inspiration later on as I continue within the development field.


How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

As a first-generation Ghanaian immigrant, I have experiences living and learning in different countries. My study abroad experience helped me to revisit the process I went through acculturating in the United States as a child and an adolescent. It also inspired to live outside the United States for a longer period of time. I realized that if I can make it in Cuba, I can make it anywhere!


Loretta Agyemang - #StudyAbroadBecause it opens your world


Anything else you’d like to share?

For anyone studying abroad, it’s important to have as much information as possible prior to going abroad. Good information allows for better planning and a smoother experience. Also, always use your common sense and reach out for help.


#StudyAbroadBecause... It opens your world



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 Loretta Agyemang