#StudyAbroadBecause there is no better way to learn than experiencing it firsthand

Stasia Lopez's picture

Alexandria Martinez is earning her Health Service Major-Certificate in Community Health Assessment at the University of Pittsburgh. She's originally from Teaneck, NJ, which is a 15-minute drive from New York City. She considers herself a city girl and loves exploring big cities. She loves music and enjoys discovering and listening to all genres of music. She believes music can be healing and is food for the soul. She's also an avid reader and like music, reads all types of books. Alexandria believes reading allows us to understand different perspectives of things and life, so she tries to read everything. Her future aspirations are to become a Nurse Practitioner - and on a loftier note, heal the world one patient at a time. One of the reasons she wanted to go abroad had to do greatly with her culture. Both of her parents are immigrants from the Caribbean island of Trinidad & Tobago. From a young age, she was exposed to traveling and understanding what a major role culture plays in the lives of so many people because her own culture was extremely important to her. She credits her grandmother to be one of her greatest inspirations in her life. She was a nurse in England for many years and always had great stories to relate about her travels. Alexandria knew at an early age that she wanted to explore and expose herself to different cultures and other parts of the world both in a service capacity and just for the fun of it.

Alexandria Martinez: #StudyAbroadBecause there is no better way to learn than experiencing it firsthand

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

There were several factors that influenced my decision to go abroad. However, the major determinants were my curiosity and drive to learn new things and immerse myself in a different culture. I have always been infatuated with learning about other groups’ customs, history, and how they live their daily lives. Deciding to study abroad was simple; the tough decision was choosing where to go. I knew very early in the process that Europe would be my first choice and I decided on London for several reasons. One, I love cities. I was raised near New York City, which is a melting pot of sorts, and London striked me as similar city, multicultural with incredible history and architecture both in the city and surrounding areas. Another was the ease to explore other countries in Europe. In addition, I truly wanted to obtain firsthand knowledge and experience of the healthcare system in the UK and learn how they function from that of the US. Finally I wanted to visit the place where my grandmother practiced nursing for many years. She had so many fascinating stories regarding her experiences over the years she worked there.

Alexandria Martinez: #StudyAbroadBecause there is no better way to learn than experiencing it firsthand

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

If I were to sum up my experience into a quote about studying abroad in London it would be “the world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page” by St. Augustine. This really epitomizes what my experience was all about. It was adding to this novel we call life and adding pages as I explored a small sector of this earth. The experience opened my eyes and mind to the beautiful culture, art, history of the United Kingdom. I learned so much about so many different things and that was the greatest gift of all. Being able to explore the unknown and make a place so unfamiliar, familiar by the end of 6 weeks. 

My favorite memory was the moments when things were just unplanned. There were days that my roommates and I just hopped on the Tube and got off at a stop and explored the area. It was fun getting lost because we discovered something different every time we had to find our way back. All of the markets were the best because it allowed me to try some amazing food and coffee, which I love oh so much. 

In regards to challenges I had to overcome, it was more of coming to a realization that this is the first time I was entirely on my own on a new continent where everything familiar was no longer there.  I had to become acclimatized to a new transportation system, workforce and the local way of speaking. I had to basically become comfortable with my new environment. 

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

Throughout this trip, I realized how stepping out of your comfort zone opens up so many doors and teaches you so many things about yourself. You realize when thrust into an unfamiliar environment, you have to make it familiar and get to know people and the place you are in. You cannot stay in a bubble, especially when there is so much to experience and learn. I think I became more inquisitive, independent, and gained more self confidence.  I also gained a whole new set of coping skills and I am more willing to take risks. I am definitely open to future international opportunities that may come my way. The biggest change in me is that I am more open to new experiences. 

Alexandria Martinez: #StudyAbroadBecause there is no better way to learn than experiencing it firsthand

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

My experience is helping me get to where I need to be. It is encouraging me to keep focused and work hard towards my goals to become a nurse. I was inspired and encouraged by the experience I had with my internship by seeing all the dedication and good work the nurses in the UK are doing. I saw great examples of patient interaction as well as ways to improve them. I was very intrigued by the NHS healthcare system and it got me thinking of our own healthcare system and improvements that need to be made. So this study abroad experience I feel is preparing me for what is to come.

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

There are many pieces of advice I would give. In terms of finances, I would advise students to set a budget and stick to it. When you have a concrete figure of what you want to spend and what you can afford, it makes things easier. It is also important to save during the months you are preparing to go abroad, and also utilizing as many scholarship and financial aid opportunities that are available.  

Specifically speaking to London, I learned that it is a very diverse city in the true meaning of that word. The people, food, experiences, and history are so vast and rich. I have never really been to a place that truly embraces diversity and makes you feel welcome wherever you go. In the United States, we tend to believe we are a melting pot of sorts, which is true. However, in London, people believe it and live it. Everyone is so open and carefree. London was not the most beautiful city aesthetically, but there was such a good vibe in the city that it far outweighed the appearance. It was hard to wrap my mind around all of the history that existed in one place. Every encounter I had I was learning something new. I appreciated the freedom that European culture allows. There is this sense of ease you received from most people you meet.  With all that being said, I would say to make sure you choose wisely the place you want to study abroad. Make sure it is truly a place you are genuinely interested in and ask yourself why?

Alexandria Martinez: #StudyAbroadBecause there is no better way to learn than experiencing it firsthand

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

The international education was very interesting. Since this was a six-week program, the pace was a little faster. I was anticipating an adjustment in getting used to foreign professors and different teaching styles. However, I learned relatively quickly that there was not much of a difference except there was a lack of formality with my professors. In both of my courses, there was a sense of ease and freedom to speak as you wish, which was refreshing. I found out that it was not uncommon for professors to use profanity in the classroom because there is not a stigma associated with the words like they are in the States. One of the courses was about my internship, which allowed us to talk about our individual experiences in our respective placements and the different things we were learning and involved in each week. My second course was on developmental psychology, focusing specifically on child development. Overall, both courses were not taught significantly differently than the ones at the University of Pittsburgh. The expectations were still the same and the workload was very comparable. 

Alexandria Martinez: #StudyAbroadBecause there is no better way to learn than experiencing it firsthand

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

This trip was one of the best experiences in my life. It opened up a cornucopia of knowledge and experiences that I can now add to my encyclopedia of life. I think I have also become worldlier. I have gained so many new friendships with people I would not have met and spoken to, even though we go to the same university. They are now my friends. I have learned academically that I can continue to challenge myself and know I will hit the mark each time. Professionally, I have gained tremendous knowledge about the NHS system in the UK and the working of their emergency department compared to the US. I am truly excited all over again for my future career in the nursing field. Further this trip opened my eyes to the amazing place we call earth and made me realize how small it can be if we make it that way or how big it can be if we open our minds and embrace all that life has to offer. 

Alexandria Martinez: #StudyAbroadBecause there is no better way to learn than experiencing it firsthand

#StudyAbroadBecause there is no better way to learn than experiencing it firsthand


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 Alexandria Martinez