Stories that Shaped Us: Professional Development and Lifelong Learning
Erica Mittenzwei is an ISA Athens alumna and former ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador at Rowan University whose experience abroad during Spring 2020 led her to explore her cultural interests, career aspirations, and intellectual pursuits through the perspective of the ancient country of Greece.
We reached out to learn more about why she chose to go abroad with ISA Greece and how her experience abroad has impacted her long-term. Check out her unique story below and hear her advice for others wanting to follow a similar path!
When did your passion for travel and exploring other cultures begin?
EM: I’ve had an interest in other cultures from a very young age. My family on my mother’s side is from the Philippines and they moved to the United States when she was a young girl. Their story of coming to this country and our connections to our Filipino roots has always been an integral part of who I am and having that has kept me interested in learning about other cultures as well. I would say that I really started thinking about study abroad specifically as an option in high school when my cousin was doing a semester of her own in France and I solidified that going abroad was something I was absolutely going to do when I finally visited the Philippines for the first time my sophomore year of college. It was my first time being that far away from America and experiencing real culture shock. I knew that I wanted to be exposed to other ways of living as much as I could and that my best opportunity to do that would be through study abroad.
What inspired you to study abroad in Athens, Greece?
EM: I knew that I wanted to study abroad in Europe and had a short list of countries that I was interested in, Greece being one of them. I came to my university as a transfer student and took most of my general education courses at my prior institution, so I had very specific high-level business/finance courses that I needed to take abroad in order to graduate on time. This made finding a program a little more challenging but still entirely possible so long as I did my homework. Through extensive research I found that Greece was the best of both worlds for me in that it was a country I had always been interested in traveling to as well as having a top-notch business school that offered all the courses that I needed.
What did you learn about yourself through these experiences and how did your time abroad impact your understanding of the world?
EM: One thing I have always struggled with growing up has been being a pretty introverted individual which lead to one of my biggest fears prior to departing to Greece being that I wouldn’t be able to connect with my peers in such a short amount of time. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone and learn pretty quickly how to open up to others. This helped me to really build a confidence in myself that wasn’t there before and that I have tried to carry even after my semester was over.
In terms of my understanding of the world, I think I found a greater appreciation in how different backgrounds could shape people as well as bring them together. I was able to find commonality and differences with my classmates and friends from Greece, from America and from other parts of the world. Our vast backgrounds led to more dynamic conversations in the classroom as well as strong friendships outside. Additionally, I learned the true heart and kindness of people. Going to a foreign country by yourself can be very intimidating and while you learn independence through it, you also learn how to lean on others when you need to. I found that fully embracing the experience and treating people with kindness brought me to some truly extraordinary people who helped me along the way.
What is one of your memories or stories from your time abroad?
EM: One of my favorite memories from study abroad was visiting the Acropolis/Parthenon. With it being the most iconic landmark in Athens, I thought it would have been one of the first places I went. However, we kept running into obstacles getting there until it became a running joke between my friends and roommates if we would ever actually make it. After about two and a half months, we took a couple of days to finally explore all the places in Athens that we hadn’t yet with the Acropolis being the first stop. This was a true bonding experience for my roommates and I as we would typically travel in smaller groups but with the trip being more local it was something all of us could to together. Additionally, it was one of those days where I had a “this doesn’t feel like real life” moment.
We spent most of the day up at the Acropolis taking in all of the ancient structures as well as the incredible views of the entire city. Although it wasn’t the first ancient ruin that we saw in our semester, it really felt like one of the ones with the most significance likely due to the notoriety of the landmark. After the Acropolis, we spent some time downtown shopping in the market where we bought some rings to representative of Greece. My friends Jolina, Diane and I got matching meander rings, which is the Greek infinity symbol as well as a symbol of friendship. I also got an olive leaves ring which symbolizes peace as well as being a symbol of great honor from the ancient Olympic games. We wrapped up our night trying out a restaurant close by our apartment where there was a live band. This is one of my favorite memories because it was a reminder to all of us why we wanted to travel abroad and why we chose Greece as our second home.
What are you up to now? How did your experience abroad play a part in this?
EM: I am currently a financial analyst at Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group (MUFG) which is a Japanese Corporate Bank. A lot of my courses in Greece where focused on international rather than domestic business and I believe this had major impact on my decision to work for an international organization. Not only did study abroad have an impact on how I wanted to pursue my career, it also helped me to adapt to the working world and the constructs that come with it. One thing I had to learn how to deal with while studying abroad is communication with others in different time zones. While I was abroad, I had to work around the time zones at home of my family and friends and when I returned home, I had to adjust the same to communicate with my professors and other friends from study abroad that don’t live near me. This has been a great transferable skill at my organization as I work with colleagues across the country. Additionally, one of the top interests of many of my coworkers is travel, especially global travel. I have found my experiences from my study abroad semester have provided me with great talking points not only in interviews but also just in bonding and connecting with my colleagues in general.
In my personal life, I have been able to start up a hobby of mine that I had put on the back burner but study abroad helped me pick back up. When I was younger, I had a passion for filmmaking/editing but once I got to college, I had less time to pursue those interests. However, going abroad gave me an excuse to start filming and editing again through making travel videos of my different weekend trips and adventures. Creating those videos was one of the things from abroad that gave me the most joy because it brought me back to my roots and reminded me of something I loved. After coming home, I have been determined to keep up with this hobby in whatever way I can and have made many more videos of my travel experiences since then.
Any advice for students interested in going abroad?
EM: I would say come to this experience with an open mind and an open heart. Some of my favorite memories from my study abroad semester came from trips I didn’t expect to go on or days where we just had spontaneous adventures. Being open to anything will provide you with once in a lifetime opportunities. Additionally, the Greek people are so kindhearted and welcoming. Make sure to take time to get to know both your classmates and the locals as they will greatly enhance your experience and appreciation for the culture.
Inspired by Erica’s journey and want to discover your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!