#StudyAbroadBecause... there are experiences out there that will totally change your life for the better

Stasia Lopez's picture

Emeka Ukaga is a junior dual-degree student pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in Architectural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. He grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota, but also has close ties with Nigeria because his parents are from there; Emeka’s a dual-citizen. He has a strong passion for global studies, and because of that is also pursuing a minor in French and certificates in International Engineering, Western European Studies, African Studies, and Global Studies. Emeka got to visit Florence this past May on a Study abroad program focusing on Engineering of the Renaissance: Florence. It was his first solo experience in Europe, and really opened his eyes to the possibilities of life abroad.

Emeka Ukaga: #StudyAbroadBecause... there are experiences out there that will totally change your life for the better

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

I always knew that I wanted to visit Europe. As a future architect, it is almost a rite of passage to visit Greece and Italy, and when I learned about the Engineering of the Renaissance program I knew it was right for me. Not only did it blend my engineering and architectural aspirations together, it did so in the city that birthed the renaissance and was home to so many geniuses of that time. Being able to visit the various museums that had Galileo’s telescopes or da Vinci’s old machine models really was inspiring, and learning about engineering, the construction of Il Duomo, or simply Florentine history in the region where these great feats of human achievement were done made it all the more interesting.

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

I really liked the weekend traveling opportunities. It was amazing living in Florence, and during the week classes and site visits took up the majority of our time, but on the weekends I visited Cinque Terre, Venice, Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Pisa, Sienna, and a number of other locations. My favorite experience had to be having my 20th birthday on the Amalfi Coast, as another one of my friends on the trip had his birthday the same day and almost the whole group went on the weekend trip with us.

What really challenged me when I traveled was managing my finances responsibly. Though it’s true you only get that kind of opportunity once in your life, I could have done a better job of managing my money instead of relying on my mom to help me out all the time.

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

I definitely came back home with a heightened sense of global awareness. It felt like many people abroad spoke 2 (if not 3 or 4) languages, and it was interesting at times that they sometimes knew more about American politics than some of the students from the States. I took this as more motivation to continue to learn more about the rest of the world and increase my cultural literacy. Along with that, this was the first time I had traveled outside the United States without my parents, and learning to deal with customs, traveling around Paris during my layovers, and managing my time, finances, and travel while in Italy was really a growing up experience. 

Emeka Ukaga: #StudyAbroadBecause... there are experiences out there that will totally change your life for the better

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

I recently secured a position as the University Center for International Studies Special Projects Intern. It is a really respectable position and I definitely feel that my global experiences, most notably Florence, helped make me a good candidate during the application and interviewing process. Along with that, I also have been able to speak on various panels and also to the University’s Board of Trustees about my experience abroad, and this has led me to even more opportunities I couldn’t have imagined a year ago.

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

Making a budget is definitely a good idea. Even if you don’t stick to it strictly, having a rough guideline will help you to spend money better and more responsibly. Also remember that you should spend money on experiences and not things you could easily do in the States. It’s important the understand you can have fun at a club anywhere, but a gondola ride or a tour of the Vatican are experiences you aren’t going to get every weekend of your life. Remembering that is really beneficial.

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

I definitely, now more than ever, see myself as a global citizen. Before going on the trip, I liked to learn about other cultures, and studied French since high school. Now I am continuing my Italian language study and am starting to learn Spanish, as well. Seeing how open those from other countries were to learning new languages and understanding other cultures has made me more concerned with understanding others and making sure I build on my international experiences as I continue to get older.

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

I am currently the COO and Co-Founder of an app called GLIMPSE which is striving to promote social-activism and global awareness. It is at http://Glimpse.Global and I encourage anyone who is interested in being a Global Citizen to check it out and download the app.

Emeka Ukaga: #StudyAbroadBecause... there are experiences out there that will totally change your life for the better


#StudyAbroadBecause... there are experiences out there that will totally change your life for the better


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 Emeka Ukaga