#StudyAbroadBecause There Is No Better Time Than Now

Stasia Lopez's picture

Katie McGovern grew up outside of the city of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and is currently a senior at the University of Pittsburgh studying Communication Science and Disorders, with a minor in French, certificates in African Studies and American Sign Language, and a concentration in Psychology. Katie plans to become a Speech Language Pathologist for a children’s hospital, while also being an advocate for the deaf community. Of course, Katie loves to travel and hopes to encourage everyone to travel, as well! 

Katie McGovern in London: #StudyAbroadBecause There Is No Better Time Than Now

What motivated your decision to go abroad? How/why did you choose where to go?
Since I was a little girl, I longed to travel the world and learn from diverse people! As I began college at the University of Pittsburgh, I knew that I would participate in study abroad (which turned into participating in three study abroad experiences!).

After my freshman year, I wanted to travel to an African country. I have always had an interest in African culture, especially Francophone countries. Thus, I chose to study abroad for eight weeks through CIEE, the first four weeks were in Paris, France and the second four weeks were in Dakar, Senegal. I stayed with host families in both Paris and Dakar – amazing choice! I strengthened my French language skills, and learned from my host families about local sights and traditional experiences. 

Then, the summer after my sophomore year, I studied abroad in London, England where I did a language comparison of British Sign Language (BSL) and American Sign Language (ASL) for two weeks. Again, I strengthened my language skills in ASL, while learning an entirely new language (BSL) and culture (British Deaf Culture). 

Lastly, I recently traveled to Cochabamba, Bolivia for a study abroad, where I took a cultural class and did a service-learning placement for six weeks. I was placed at a rehabilitation home for men with disabilities where I, along with a team, taught the men English, and I also volunteered at a Bolivian Deaf School. 

Overall, I chose these places to go abroad for an array of reasons. However, my most valuable learning experiences abroad come from sharing my time with locals. Every place that I travel, I want to learn from the local culture, language, history, society, etc. By talking to people worldwide, I learn better than any textbook or classroom could’ve given me, while also learning the most about myself!

Katie McGovern in Paris: #StudyAbroadBecause There Is No Better Time Than Now

What was your experience like? What is your favorite memory? What were some challenges you observed?
Of course, my experiences were breathtaking! My favorite memories include exploring Paris at night with friends, having dinners with my host family in Senegal, the end of Ramadan celebration in Senegal, Deaf pubs in London, and exploring the food and markets in Bolivia. Each city gave me a unique memory that is unparalleled to the others. Throughout my time in each city, I also explored neighboring destinations, countries, etc. I visited the tulip festival and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, swam in Île de Madeleine in Senegal, and traveled to Salar de Uyuni (the largest salt flats) and Torotoro in Bolivia. 

With all these great experiences, I also faced challenges. Although traveling can appear seamless, there are adversities that arise. A challenge as simple as a flight cancellation can seem like the end of the world. However, my biggest challenge came from being the “other.” In Europe and the UK, Americans stand out, but in Bolivia and Senegal, I really stood out. For me, this was a great challenge to overcome. It allowed me to become a minority group and “put myself in another person’s shoes.” I am a blonde haired, blue-eyed white girl from the Northeast of the USA – I don’t blend into South American or African society for an array of reasons. Yet, I was able to overcome this by wholeheartedly jumping into the community – using the language, appreciating their attire, trying local delicacies, etc. The best way to face a challenge is to make the most of it. 

Within travel, when you spot a challenge, it is a great time to learn – I promise! Regardless, I’m sure it will become a memory that you never forget. 

Katie McGovern in Bolivia: #StudyAbroadBecause There Is No Better Time Than Now

What skills did you develop from your experience? Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? 
I developed strong language skills – I strengthened my French and ASL skills, while learning new languages such as Spanish, BSL, Wolof, Quechua, and LSB (Bolivian Sign Language). Languages are one of the most useful skills you could ever know! I also learned great organization and planning skills, as well as navigational skills to get around new cities (when you don’t have Google Maps to get you around). 

I definitely feel changed from my experiences abroad. As cliché as it sounds, you become an entirely new, authentic version of yourself. I challenged myself, learned new things, and explored diverse places, therefore changing my perspective on life. My experiences allowed me to expand my knowledge about the world around me while refining my beliefs and desires. 

Katie McGovern in Bolivia: #StudyAbroadBecause There Is No Better Time Than Now

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today?
Well, I still haven’t graduated college yet (one more year to go and then graduate school), but I know I want an international career. I would love to be a Speech Language Pathologist worldwide and to advocate for Deaf communities around the world. However, my experiences certainly helped me to understand those around me and to have a passion for travel!

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?
My first set of advice is to plan ahead. You want to feel confident in the destination you choose, your accommodations, your airfare, your expenses, etc. Thus, planning ahead helps you feel less overwhelmed and more in control. In addition to reducing stress, planning ahead allows you to research all the scholarship opportunities out there – and there are a ton! There are independent scholarships, university specific scholarships, etc. For example, there are scholarships for those who have never traveled outside of the US. If you plan ahead, you’ll be able to apply for these scholarships and lessen your stress on finances. 

Secondly, I would advise you to know your boundaries before you study abroad. Of course, you want to challenge yourself and get outside of your comfort zone – but know your limits. Make sure you have a clear understanding of how much you can spend on the trip, how long you are willing to be away from home (or a job), the type of location you feel most comfortable in (perhaps Europe is just the right amount of adventure that you need, and you aren’t ready for Asia or Africa just yet). You want to get the most out of your experience, so don’t push yourself to travel somewhere that you are more nervous than excited to go to. 

Katie McGovern in Senegal: #StudyAbroadBecause There Is No Better Time Than Now

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?
My international education is an experience that I deeply cherish and that has truly impacted my life. I find myself to be more open-minded and empathetic, as well as being more involved in world events. I am more eager to hear my peers’ point of views and understand their backgrounds. I try to ask genuine questions to get to know diverse people and to share my way of life with them in mutual understanding. Plus, I am more interested and concerned with various events/happenings around the world. Before I traveled, I lived in a North American bubble where I only heard about US news. Now, I am so glad I popped that bubble because I am educated on concerns of communities worldwide. Overall, international education opened my mind to curiosity and the ability to share that curiosity with others. 

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?
Thinking about going abroad? Look no further… do it!

Thinking about going abroad? Look no further… do it! #StudyAbroadBecause There Is No Better Time Than Now

#StudyAbroadBecause There Is No Better Time Than Now





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, precious daughter, Maya, and playful kitty-cat Zorro.

You can read more of her #studyabroadbecause interviews, as well as articles on various forms of international education at home and abroad, here.


All photos courtesy and copyright Katie McGovern