IES Abroad: As an undergraduate at Boston College, how did you decide to study abroad in Vienna, Austria? Did identity play a role when choosing your program?
Patricia Lopez (PL): If I am very honest, I actually did not intend to study abroad in Vienna. Austria was never really on my radar. I was completing a minor in German Studies and always knew I wanted to study abroad in Germany so I could further enhance my German language skills. Unfortunately, the program I wanted in Berlin was full and my college advisor proposed I look into Vienna instead. I knew very little about Vienna but as I started to inquire more, all I heard were positive reviews. I am so grateful I ended up there because I absolutely loved it.
IES Abroad: After study abroad you’ve worked between the United States, Europe, and South America and now live in London. While the intersections between identity and the exploration of new cultures can truly be transformative, how did you navigate your identity during your time(s) abroad?
PL: I grew up in Ecuador but attended an international school in which half of my classmates were not from Ecuador. Since a young age I have been exposed to different cultures and always found this fascinating. I found learning about other cultures and visiting other countries so interesting – not because I didn’t love my own country but because I felt I learnt so much each time I explored beyond what I knew.
This carried on through my undergraduate degree in Boston where I did a minor in International Politics and German, studied in Vienna through IES Abroad for a semester, and worked in Berlin for a summer internship. I then got a job in NYC where I was for five years and now have lived in London for the past seven years.
Whilst I feel deeply connected to my Ecuadorean roots—I feel I am also a citizen of the world. Living in different countries formed my identity rather than questioned it—I believe that it is when we leave our comfort zones that we grow and actually get to know who we are more deeply, and this was definitely the case for me. I simply remained open minded and did not attach myself to anything that I “knew” to be true.
IES Abroad: Do you have any recommendations for students leaving study abroad who may want to go back to live or work abroad?
PL: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Visas are tricky (I have had my fair share of visa stories!) so naturally working in a country where you need a visa isn’t always straightforward. My advice is to not let the visa factor get in the way and to truly put yourself out there.
As I was looking for employers who would grant me a visa in the United States—I must have sent messages to people working in companies I was interested in almost daily for a year. Most of the messages I sent were to Boston College (BC) alumni or to other professionals in my network, but they weren’t people I actually knew.
In my message I mentioned I wanted to learn more about their company—that I was keen to follow their career path and would love to know more about their experience. To my surprise, so many people got back to me.
Through those conversations I was introduced to someone hiring and got an interview. In my interview I made sure the interviewer knew how passionate I was for the role—how committed I was to learning and delivering—and ultimately made the visa seem like a no brainer. I was able to get the job and the visa!
IES Abroad: As a trendsetter and trailblazer (one who has paved the way for the future of an ever-expanding world) you’ve won Media Week's 2017 "30 under 30" and now are a co-founder of your own company. What are some reflections and advice you would give to someone going out into the world after study abroad?
PL: Beyond the above, around putting yourself “out there” I also think a big part of the process is about trusting. I “knocked on many doors" so to speak, but sometimes the doors that I wanted to open didn’t open, yet another one did. At the time I was upset but looking back I 100% see how the door that opened was the right one for me. A big part of the journey “out into the world” is equal parts being committed to what you want to achieve and surrendering to how life is unfolding through you. And most importantly—always listen to your heart and intuition. You will never go wrong.
IES Abroad: Now in London, you have your own company. What was the process to start up Academy Healing Nutrition | Holistic Health & Cooking School? What were some of the challenges that you encountered and how did you work through them?
PL: Opening a business, especially in a country that is new to you—I had been in the UK for one year when I opened Academy—can be very challenging. I had to go through learning the logistics (such as the registration process) that were unique to the UK— but then also market the offering in a country that I did not have a big network in—and build the business without having all the resources to hire staff.
To support myself through that process, I worked with a business coach that was an expert in wellness brands in the UK. She was incredible in guiding me through the steps and strategies to launch a business in London. I then attended events in the wellness industry almost weekly and met some incredible people/brands that I went on to partner with. Lastly, I had to fully let go of perfection. I was a "one-man band" for some time and I had to learn to get it done vs. get it done perfectly. I launched with a less than ideal website, marketing strategy, etc.—but I launched. And I haven’t looked back since!
IES Abroad: You graciously have created an internship position currently available at your company in London, and you’ve talked to our IES Abroad London students about leveraging your time abroad. Why is providing this opportunity for someone to go abroad important to you?
PL: As I said before, leaving your comfort zone and exploring a new country, culture, cuisine, etc. is an incredible learning experience. You learn so much about yourself, the world, and gain a unique outlook and perspective. Exploring the world has been a gift to me and I would be honored to support someone to experience the same.
Learn more about studying abroad in Vienna or our current Internships Abroad and check out all of our Alumni Spotlights and Alum of the Month profiles to see real examples of how study abroad changed the lives and careers of our past students.