Five Years After Study Abroad: IES Abroad Alum Mallory Rotondo, Speech-Language Pathologist

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While studying abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand, Mallory Rotondo (IES Abroad Christchurch, Spring 2014 | Purdue University) took coursework related to her professional interests and returned home with a passion for travel and global health. Fast forward five years later, Mallory is an early intervention speech-language pathologist in Washington, D.C., where she works with children of all backgrounds aged 0-3.

We caught up with Mallory to hear how this IES Abroad Scholarship recipient’s study abroad experience gave her the skills necessary to be a more understanding clinician.

IES Abroad: As a student at the Purdue University, what led you to study abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand?

Mallory Rotondo (MR): I have had wanderlust for as long as I can remember, always wanting to explore new and unfamiliar places. It was a goal of mine to study abroad before I even landed on Purdue’s campus. When I started looking for programs, I wanted an experience that would allow me to take courses related to my field and explore the outdoors. I remember picking up the brochure for IES Abroad Christchurch. The cover photo was a student perched on top of the Southern Alps with arms outstretched and a beaming smile. My decision was pretty easy from there.

IES Abroad: What impact did the IES Abroad Scholarship have on your career path and journey to where you are today?

MR: The IES Abroad Scholarship made studying abroad possible for me. With that financial support, I was able to afford the travel expenses of getting and being abroad. I am so grateful for the scholarship as it made my desire to study abroad a reality. Being a student in New Zealand ignited a passion for travel and global health within me. In my career, I have sought opportunities to work with people from diverse backgrounds. Moving forward, I would love to work internationally or become involved in global efforts to improve early childhood development across the world. After immersing myself completely in another culture, I began to harvest this overwhelming curiosity in how the world around me operates. I think that curiosity will lead me in interesting directions, and I am thankful for the IES Abroad Scholarship for allowing that interest to unfold.

IES Abroad: Tell us about your current role as a pediatric speech-language pathologist. What is a typical day like for you?

MR: I currently work in Washington, D.C., as an early intervention speech-language pathologist. I evaluate and treat babies (0-3 years of age) with speech, language, and feeding challenges through DC Strong Start, a government-funded early intervention program.

A typical day for me involves hopping in my car and driving throughout D.C. to provide therapy services in a natural environment (typically in the child’s home or child development center). I help kids with developmental delays learn to communicate, play, and eat! D.C. is a hugely diverse city, so I get to work with families from various cultural, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. I love navigating the city all day, as it keeps me outdoors and has helped me to learn more about my community. After work, I fill my free time with reading, art classes, writing my blog, and riding my bike.

IES Abroad: How did studying abroad in Christchurch help prepare you for your career?

MR: Wow, there are so many ways I could answer this question. Most notably, I developed an appreciation and greater respect for other ways of life. As a speech-language pathologist, I work closely with people from all types of backgrounds. Especially in my current position, I am entering their homes, participating in their routines, and becoming a resource in their lives. It is extremely important for me to be culturally aware, respectful, and comfortable in my work. The experience of being an “outsider” in New Zealand helped me to better appreciate what that feels like and helped me to become a more understanding clinician.

Also, I was also lucky enough to get involved with coursework and activities related to my profession while at UC Canterbury. At Purdue, I was a research assistant in a Motor Speech Lab, and it was one of my favorite parts of my academic career. When I got to Christchurch, I wanted to explore the research happening there. It turned out that there was a researcher, Dr. Megan McAuliffe, who was exploring similar work to what I was investigating in Indiana. In fact, she knew my Purdue professor, and they had networked at several conferences. I reached out, and she let me join their lab meetings each week while I was abroad. This experience taught me just how connected the world can be and fueled my passion for research. Connecting with research is so important as a speech pathologist and remains an important piece of my professional life today.

IES Abroad: What is one thing you learned while abroad that remains a constant in your life today?

MR: Since my time in New Zealand, I constantly remind myself how powerful it is to get out of my comfort zone. The theme of my time abroad was embracing the uncomfortable—from living with five strangers from five different countries, to backpacking along challenging, intense treks, to leading road trips across the island while driving on the opposite side of the road…my comfort zone was a foreign concept. It was exhausting, exhilarating, and, at times, really challenging. Yet, I grew and learned so much through those uncomfortable experiences. In the moments where nothing felt familiar, I had to trust myself, my intuition, and the journey to lead me where I needed to go. When I moved to D.C. after graduate school, I experienced a resurgence of that uncomfortable challenge. Knowing next to nobody, reconstructing a sense of routine, adapting to a new job, and navigating an unfamiliar city was so beyond my comfort zone. Yet, I was able to reflect back on my time abroad and remember: I am capable of this. I have done this before. I can handle this. This will help me grow.

When things start to feel comfortable (at work, in my free time, in relationships), I challenge myself to do something more, start something new, and seek the unfamiliar. I believe that’s where we grow and learn the most.

IES Abroad: Do you have any advice for students who are thinking of studying or interning abroad?

MR: First of all, do it! Any reason you can think of to opt out, reconsider. It can be scary and overwhelming when you are first applying and organizing your materials, but it is so worth it. Further, once you are there, keep a journal. Write it all down—from the exciting moments of meeting new friends or visiting amazing landscapes to the quiet days when you go for a solo run through your new city. Keeping a journal was one of the best decisions I made while abroad. It helped me to process the experience and later reflect on what I learned and how I changed.

The “Five Years After Study Abroad” series features alumni who received an IES Abroad scholarship, and explores how studying abroad shaped their life and career. How will study abroad shape your career? Explore more benefits of studying abroad.

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