#StudyAbroadBecause it’s 110% worth it

Stasia Lopez's picture

Originally from Ashburn Virginia, Kiara Lee is a junior bioengineering student minoring in Spanish and Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh. Her study abroad experience began the summer after her freshman year, when she studied abroad in Chile with a program called Plus3. This program was a partnership between the engineering and business schools at Pitt where students learned about the economy and various businesses in Chile. Kiara’s second study abroad experience was the summer after her sophomore year where she studied in Peru with a program called Engineering the Americas. In this program, students studied the civil engineering aspects of various structures throughout Peru built by the Incas. Kiara is planning a third study abroad experience in Madrid, Spain for a semester in the spring of 2016. She will be taking engineering classes, in Spanish, at the Polytechnic University of Madrid. 

Outside of studying abroad Kiara is involved in various organizations around campus. She’s a part of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), Pitt Dance Ensemble, and the Engineering Ambassadors. Currently she is on co-op in the Chicago area and cannot wait to spend her next semester in Madrid! 

Kiara Lee: #StudyAbroadBecause it’s 110% worth it

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
I had never gotten the chance to go abroad before college, and I wanted to experience a different culture and try new foods and see first-hand some of the traditions we always talked about in Spanish class. The first study abroad I did was in Chile with Plus3 and then the second was in Peru with Engineering the Americas. Since I have a Spanish background (I’ve been taking classes since I was in 7th grade), I wanted to further that and go to the different cultures and be able to use my Spanish-speaking skills. 

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
Chile was the first experience I had and I thought it was great to see how different yet similar we were. My favorite memory was going to the top of this hill in Valparaíso that had multiple paths to get to the bottom and seeing all of the street art that people from around the world had come to paint/draw. Another great experience I had was taking about a three hour horseback ride through the beach, sand dunes and the forest and then regrouping for a barbecue. A challenge that I noticed for the Chileans was having multiple children, their healthcare/work system did not allow for a lot of time for maternal leave and medical costs were high. Therefore there were not many children around, but most people I saw were adults. 

Kiara Lee: #StudyAbroadBecause it’s 110% worth it

In Peru my favorite memory was going to Machu Picchu. Our tour guide was very proud of his ancestors and in general it is a beautiful place and an engineering masterpiece. Another one of my favorite memories was going to a local school to help build a second bathroom, and while we were doing this all of the children came out and were very excited to help us unload trucks and enjoyed talking to us and showing us their English skills. The main challenge for Cusco was their high poverty rate; many people were trying to sell trinkets in order to make some money. 

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? If so, how & why?
I definitely believe that I am able to appreciate other cultures and even my own culture. Since Cusco had a high poverty rate, their public bathrooms were not in the best quality, so I appreciated the ones we have in the U.S. I also feel like my social awareness has become better because I see things in a different way, and try to view social issues or problems from all sides.

I feel changed in that I learned a lot about myself and my future goals, and in Peru I really challenged my fear of heights by hiking up very high mountains. I realized that not everyone has access to the resources the U.S. has and to begin bridging that gap begins with people going abroad, identifying disparities, and trying to think of ways to mitigate them. 

Kiara Lee: #StudyAbroadBecause it’s 110% worth it

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 
I think my experience has more honed in on my aspirations and gives me a great talking point during interviews. Seeing more of the world has made me want to focus my career on bettering the healthcare systems of Latin America by creating more affordable medical devices or pharmaceuticals. 

Also studying abroad in these countries has influenced me to want to go abroad for an entire semester to Madrid, Spain. 

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?
I truly believe you won’t get another chance to just go to another country without having to worry about taking time off of work or whether you can afford for your whole family to go. Doing study abroad programs gives you the chance to learn about a country and learn about a specific topic that country exemplifies well. To me it is a great way to learn because you actually experience what you are learning, which to me makes the learning a more valuable experience. 

In terms of finances, yes it can be a burden, but there are many scholarships out there and even relatives might be willing to help offset some of the costs. I definitely believe it is worth it and you will come back a changed person for the better. 

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
While we were at the school in Peru, many children came up to me and asked me if I was from Africa (I am African-American) and did not believe me when I said I was from the United States. It was so funny to me that they believed all people with darker complexions were from Africa and did not understand or believe that the U.S. is made up of many different races. So I definitely have come to appreciate the melting pot that is America even more and being able to have access to so many cultures.

Kiara Lee: #StudyAbroadBecause it’s 110% worth it

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
Also studying abroad is great for the food. So many new foods to try!


#StudyAbroadBecause... it’s 110% worth it




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.


Photo courtesy and copyright Kiara Lee