Study Abroad is a Family Affair—Alumni Spotlight Emma and Kate Schaff

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Meet Emma and Kate Schaff (IES Abroad Berlin) sisters, who, after listening to their mom talk about Germany, decided to study abroad there themselves. Kate graduated from George Washington Univeristy in 2013 and  is currently Head of Support at Clever, an educational technology company and resides in the San Fransico Bay area. Emma studied abroad in the fall of 2014 and graduated from Georgetown University. She has worked in HR for Capital One and F. Schumacher & Co. In May, she started working for Backroads as a Trip Leader. In her free time, Kate loves traveling, hiking, yoga, and gardening and Emma loves running, biking, hiking, and spending time with family and friends outside and with good food.


IES Abroad: Please share a memorable ancedote from your time abroad.

Emma Schaff (ES): One of my favorite classes I took through IES Abroad was my German Theater class. We read 7-8 different plays and saw each play live in theater. I loved seeing the plays (even if I didn’t always understand them!). The class exposed me to the Berlin theater scene, which I would not have discovered on my own.

Kate Schaff (KS): I made an extremely close group of friends through my IES Abroad class. There was an Indian restaurant around the corner from the IES Abroad Berlin Center we frequented often in between classes. I have a lot of funny memories from eating there. Many of my favorite memories in Berlin were little moments exploring the city with my friends.

IES Abroad: What and/or who inspired you both to study abroad in Berlin?

KS: I always knew I wanted to study abroad. I was a German minor in college and it was obvious to me I would study abroad. [George Washington University] has a partnership with IES Abroad and I wanted to study abroad in Germany’s capital city.

ES: I was inspired by Kate! It was because of her that I started learning German in fifth grade and because of her experience that I wanted to study abroad in Berlin.

IES Abroad: What have you been up to since studying in Berlin?

KS: For the last five years, I have worked at Clever, a company that powers education technology in over 65% of K-12 schools in the United States. I currently manage our 50-person customer support team and love partnering with school districts. My partner (also a fellow Berlin IES Abroad'er from Spring 2011) and I moved to Berkeley in January, and are loving the delicious food, access to nature, and time outside with friends.

IES Abroad: Do skillsets learned while abroad support your current work today?

ES: Being abroad taught me flexibility and problem solving. You are constantly exposed to food, culture, signs, customs, public transport, etc. that you aren’t familiar with. And when traveling to other countries, it’s inevitable that things will go wrong and that you will have to solve problems. Keeping an open mind and learning how to pivot is something that has served me well in work, too.

KS: Absolutely! Studying abroad is a quick lesson in independence and resourcefulness. My study abroad experience made me more comfortable navigating travel and situations that I encountered.

IES Abroad: What are you each currently reading?

ES: I love historical fiction and am currently reading Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. It’s 1,000 pages and about the building of a cathedral in the 1100s. I am only 300 pages in and already recommend!

KS: I always have a book open. I just finished Andrew Sean Greer’s book Less and loved it. There is a chapter in the book in which the main character is in Berlin and I loved seeing the city through the character’s eyes.

IES Abroad: A little birdie told us you are planning on running in the 2021 Berlin Marathon. How did this idea come about?

ES: I am running the Berlin Marathon in September! I will be running with our other sister, Margaret, who coincidentally also studied abroad in Berlin through a different program in Fall 2013. I love running and am really excited to run a marathon in a city I love.

Learn more about studying abroad in Berlin, and check out all of our Alumni Spotlight and Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our past students. 

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