#StudyAbroadBecause... it will be the best four months of your life!

Stasia Lopez's picture

Katie Stavros is a 2015 University of Pittsburgh graduate with a degree in Communication and Business and a minor in French. She lives in South Jersey, right outside of Philadelphia. She spends most of her summers at the Jersey Shore with her family and friends. She absolutely loves to travel and explore different cities. Katie spent a European semester abroad in Paris the spring semester of her junior year and it was the greatest experience of her life. 

Katie Stavros in Paris. #StudyAbroadBecause... it will be the best four months of your life!

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

Before I even came to Pitt I planned on studying abroad, and it was always going to be in Paris. I took French all four years of high school and knew I wanted to continue into college. I had never been to France but heard amazing things about it and knew a bunch of people who had gone. My family and Pitt were both really helpful and supportive in making it all happen. My favorite French teacher was incredibly enthusiastic about his students studying abroad, which just made the whole experience that much more exciting. I ended up going with one of my classmates and best friends!  

Katie Stavros at the John Lennon Wall, Prague. #StudyAbroadBecause... it will be the best four months of your life!

 At the John Lennon Wall, Prague

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

My experience abroad was near perfect. My friend Alice and I opted to live in the residence halls provided by our program, CEA, and it made the entire experience amazing. The place we lived was called AEPP and people from all over the world lived there as well. We made friends from France, Germany, Mexico, and even Iceland. When we weren’t at class, we were hanging out with our friends at AEPP, exploring the city of Paris, or travelling on the weekends to various European countries (which, as it turns out, is so incredibly easy to do). My favorite memory is from our first weekend travelling. My two best friends and I went to Interlaken, Switzerland—a beautiful little town surrounded by the Swiss Alps. We went Valentine’s Day weekend and I went skydiving! I had never done something that crazy before and I did it alone. It was so surreal and breathtaking to be able to see the Swiss Alps hanging that high up in the air. No one in my family knew until I posted pictures online, which was half the fun of it. 

The major challenges I ran into were cultural barriers. This occurred mostly when travelling on the weekends to countries that were completely foreign to me. Paris quickly felt like home, not only because of the close-knit group at AEPP, but because I practiced my French constantly and really strengthened it quickly. I felt like I really belonged. However, travelling to cities such as Prague and Berlin were more challenging because of the strict language barrier. Regardless, my friends and I always attempted to speak the native language of each place out of respect and pure interest in communicating in different languages. 

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

The biggest skills that I developed abroad were pushing my own limits, and becoming more understanding of other cultures. I left Paris a more patient and appreciative person, more curious to get to know people from all around the world. I owe these new attributes of mine almost entirely to the cultural melting pot of the residence hall in which I lived. Learning about and interacting with different cultures opened my eyes to many new things, but also showed me that I can find many similarities with someone who lives across the world and speaks a completely foreign language. I went into my semester abroad with an open mind and no prior judgment of any culture that was foreign to me. That being said, I still found myself learning to adapt to different communicative styles and ways of life and appreciate them for their uniqueness. I arrived home more certain than ever that I want to continue exploring various cities and various cultures. 

Katie Stavros, Interlaken, Switzerland. #StudyAbroadBecause... it will be the best four months of your life!

Interlaken, Switzerland

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

My experience abroad taught me how to be independent and adaptable. Thousands of miles, a six hour time difference, and spotty wifi kept me from reaching home, forcing me to overcome challenges I would typically be able to consult my parents for. Missing a flight and having to figure out alternatively how to get from A to B is just one example of how I learned to deal with major issues on my own. I was thrown into a city with a different lifestyle, different cultures, different food, and overall different ways of life, and I was the outsider. I had to adapt to the Parisian ways of life if I wanted to be respectful and fit in. My entire experience abroad was one big learning experience that helped me grow into a more mature, understanding, and independent person who can now more easily accept and adapt to change. 

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

Be realistic about how much you are going to spend, and save money for what is really the most important--TRAVELING! In my opinion, the 7 euro coffee every day is not worth skipping out on a weekend in Florence-so be smart and figure out what means the most to you. If you’d rather shop around the city you’re studying in, make that your priority! Just make sure you go into the semester with a plan, because it’s easy to forget about the exchange rate, but trust me it catches up to you. That being said, have a little fun. It’s a once in a lifetime experience. 

Florence, Italy. #StudyAbroadBecause... it will be the best four months of your life!

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

My program was composed of primarily American students, with a few French students in the mix. My classes were all taught in English (with the exception of my French class), however, I learned a lot about the French culture both by textbook and personal interactions. One distinct experience I learned from was when working on a project with another French student named Florine. Her work ethic was more intense and self-structured, perhaps because of the language barrier she had to deal with in class. Through this experience and just the general day-to-day with other similar French students, I learned that an education for them was more than what you learn in a textbook, but the cultural immersion process. This was something we ended up having in common, intrigued by each other’s differences. I learned that there are many different universities in the city of Paris, specializing in different areas of studies, and that students need only three years to complete a Bachelor’s degree. Conversing with the different French students was fun, and they all seemed very laid-back. Amongst these students, there was a clear difference in cultural background, and I definitely felt more American than ever. Nevertheless, the two different styles worked well together and maintained open minds. 

French Macarons. #StudyAbroadBecause... it will be the best four months of your life!

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

If you have the opportunity and means to go abroad, do not even think twice! Homesickness is not an issue, where you go feels like home instantly, and it will be an experience that will stay with you forever. Explore every inch of the city you’re in, and make a realistic list of places to travel to that you’ll never get back to. Hold no judgment of someone who is different than you, but embrace how cool it is to be living and traveling amongst people with such different ways of life, because this maybe the only chance you get. 


#StudyAbroadBecause... it will be the best four months of your life! 



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 Katie Stavros