Alumni Spotlight: Allison Kielhold

Allison Kielhold studied abroad with ISA Veritas in San José, Costa Rica in Fall 2011 and again in Winter 2 2012. Allison was an ISA Global Ambassador at California State University, Long Beach before graduating in Spring 2013. Allison has lived in Colombia since 2016 and is currently pursuing a Master’s in International Law and Peacebuilding at the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. We reached out to Allison to learn more about her story!

1.       What was the most memorable experience from your time abroad with ISA in San José, Costa Rica?

It is difficult to choose just one experience. Overall I would have to say that the family that I lived with is the most memorable part of my study abroad experience. I was the only student who stayed in Costa Rica for two semesters and because of this, I grew very close to my host family. Once my Spanish improved, most of my time outside of school was spent with Evelyn, her daughter and their extended family. I cannot think of an exact memory that stands out, it is more of the day-to-day interactions that I remember most. How every morning my roommate Janika and I were woken up with “Chicaaaaaas lindas y hermosas,” playing cards with the family and going on beach trips. I feel extremely lucky to have had the experience I did; it was so enriching because of my relationship with the Naranjo family. I was able to visit them again after my graduation, and we are still in touch to this day.

2. Tell us about your decision to pursue a double Master’s program in International Law and Peacebuilding at the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. 

I have lived in Colombia since 2016. I went to teach English through a program called Colombia Bilingüe with the intention of staying for six months, but ended up getting hired on as an English teacher at a private school at the end of my time with the program. After a few years of teaching English, I realized that I wanted to get back to my original field of study (my bachelor’s is in International Studies) and began to look for graduate programs in the U.S. and Colombia. 

I decided to study at Los Andes because I wanted to have a truly international education. My year abroad in Costa Rica opened my eyes to the biases and omissions, whether they are intentional or unintentional, in the U.S. education system. This is a phenomenon that is not unique to the U.S. and I believe every country doctors their history in some way or another. But, I knew my education would be different if I looked at global issues from another country’s point of view.  Our country dominates so much of the world’s politics, so I wanted to looks at things from a different angle.

3.   What are some of your professional goals?

I aspire to work in the field of peacebuilding. We often think of peace as the absence of violence, but there is so much more required if we want a peace that ensures justice for all. I am looking into jobs with state entities and non-profit organizations, but am also open to the private sector if there is a good fit. Overall, I do not have a specific position or country in mind and am open to different opportunities, but know that I want to be with an organization that works towards a more just global society.

4.   What’s something you’ve learned so far that you can’t stop thinking about?

Recently I have been studying some critics of international law and international human rights law. There are feminist critics and a branch of international law called Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) that point out the biases and structural inequalities in our international system of governance. While one might think that it is inhumane or counterintuitive to criticize something like human rights, our global system of governance and the instruments that it produces have been shaped by countries with economic and political power, and certain (western) values and cultural practices. It is important to recognize the way that these few countries have institutionalized their beliefs and essentially control global governance. 

Just as the United States has to come to terms with its past and the structural inequities of our social and political systems, we should also reflect on our influence in the global sphere and how our policies affect other countries and the international system.  Not everything is negative, as there have been many advances towards equity nationally and internationally, but we should always analyze and not assume that the way things are is the way they should be. Constructive criticism can be a mechanism for progress, but that involves examining our assumptions and prejudices and being open to dialogue and change.

5.       What advice do you have for any students hoping to move abroad after graduation?

I would say that you should expect some level of culture shock or discomfort since you will be living in a society/culture that you are not necessarily used to. Embrace it and be flexible. Every country has its advantages and disadvantages and if you are privileged enough to choose where you live, work or study after graduation, it will be an enriching experience. Instead of comparing things to “the way it is done in X,” try to understand why things are the way they are in this context and place. It will be difficult at times, but overall you will learn so much about yourself and about the world.

I would recommend going to events or activities where you can meet local people and make friends. Couchsurfing has always worked for me, and obviously you should use your discretion, but I have attended group events like picnics and languages exchanges as well as met up with people to get coffee and have had positive experiences. It is a great way to meet locals and other foreigners living/traveling abroad. Some of my closest friends I have made in Colombia came from using this app.

Inspired by Allison’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in an abroad experience? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

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