Michaela Wentz, our November 2016 Ambassador of the Month, opens up about balancing work and exploration time abroad, learning to advocate for herself and others, and her tips for making a new place feel like home.
Michaela is a senior at the University of Rochester who left the rolling corn fields of her Minnesota hometown to study Chemical Engineering in a more urban environment. She spent Spring 2015 on the IES Abroad Dublin Direct Enrollment: Trinity College Dublin Program.
IES Abroad: What questions are commonly asked about your time abroad?
MW: I'm frequently asked how I balanced school work with travel. As an Engineering major, I spend a lot of my time in the United States studying. Classes and problem sets are all mentally demanding, so it's hard to imagine being able to keep up with classes while traveling every other weekend, but it's possible.
I cheated a little bit by not taking Engineering courses while I was abroad, but I still put in a lot of effort into my classes. The key is all in your mindset. Yes, coursework is important, but equally important is getting out and exploring this new country. I learned what I needed to know, but spent my remaining time outside, learning about the country and myself. When finals season rolled around, I stuck to the old adage, "Work hard, play hard," alternating days locked in the library with weekends completely free of studying.
IES Abroad: How has an element of your identity been affected by your study abroad experience?
MW: Studying abroad helped me learn how to advocate both for myself and for other people. Planning my study abroad forced me to talk to more administrators than I care to admit, but in talking to them I realized that they are real people, willing and able to have a conversation. With the realization that there are real faces behind all the paperwork I had to fill out came the realization that if something was wrong, I could talk to these people to try to fix it.
After studying abroad, I was more willing to speak out about changes I wished to see. After living in a different society, I knew that the status quo is arbitrary and that it is possible to operate under different standards than the one in place. I can use my experiences to support my desire for change, and if somebody disagrees with me, well what's the worst they can do? I've already lived six months as a foreigner.
IES Abroad: What tips would you give students to help them make their host country home?
MW: Making a place your home takes intention. When you first get to your new country, everything is exciting: the food, the streets, the language. The entire environment is completely unfamiliar, which is part of the draw of studying abroad.
But making this new place a home takes effort. You have to go off the beaten path, spend time alone, make new friends. Take a different route to and from school. Use your peanut butter money to buy a snack you've never heard of before. Look at posters and try something new. It's easy to cross off the tourist stuff from your list. Making a new country your home means walking the streets that aren't cleaned every morning.
IES Abroad: What have you gained from being an IES Abroad Ambassador?
MW: Ireland will always hold a special place in my heart (despite or maybe because of its lack of Minnesotan cornfields), but I jump at any chance to visit a new place in person or through somebody else's stories. Being an IES Abroad Ambassador has been a great experience for me to continue traveling. Not literally, but figuratively. I get to relive my experiences whenever somebody asks me for advice and I also get to live new experiences when I talk to other Ambassadors and students about their experiences. I love hearing about new places and seeing pictures or memories light up faces. Hearing stories about new places, I'm continually amazed at how big this world is and how strong people are. As an IES Abroad Ambassador, I love being able to help other people live or relive their adventures.
IES Abroad: What does study abroad mean to you?
MW: Studying abroad means putting aside time to learn who you are without your support system. It means leaving behind a familiar society and discovering all the things you take for granted. Studying abroad means growing beyond your comfort zone to become stronger.
Thank you, Michaela!
The IES Abroad Ambassador Program connects our future students with our past students. If you’re interested in learning more about our Ambassador Program or have a question for a past IES Abroad student, visit our IES Abroad Ambassadors page.