Meet Elena Betancourt

Program and Location

Spring, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore; Milan, Italy


International Studies and Spanish Language and Literature

Why did you choose to study abroad?

Studying abroad had been a dream of mine for years. I always knew that my junior year of college would be reserved for that experience, so when the time came to pick a location/prepare to apply, I knew that I wanted to challenge myself and take part in a unique program in a country which I had never been to, which spoke a language I was not familiar with.

What did you learn about yourself?

I learned how resourceful I am as not just a traveler in general, but an independent one as well. Planning trips, navigating new environments, keeping myself and my belongings safe, all while keeping up with my coursework quickly became second nature to me. My knowledge of different languages also aided me greatly, whether it be my German coming in handy when trying to buy a dirndl for Frühlingsfest in Munich, or utilizing my Spanish skills to travel throughout Spain completely solo during my Spring Break.

What was one of your favorite parts of your program?

Probably getting able to meet so many incredible people from all over the world, and having the opportunities to travel with them to other places both in and outside of Italy, yet also explore the city of Milan with them. I’m so grateful to still have friends in my life that are just a WhatsApp call away!

What advice do you have for future study abroad students?

Travel off the beaten path! Not only in your host city, but wherever you’re traveling. Sometimes foregoing waiting for the tourist-oriented attractions will lead you to incredibly beautiful, less-traveled spots. Also, never hesitate to travel solo. Especially as a young woman, some of my friends were skeptical whenever I would tell them that I’d be traveling on trains, buses, or planes completely by myself. As long as you stay aware of your surroundings and think responsibly, the opportunities are endless.

How were your classes abroad different than if you would have taken them at NC State? Did you take any field trips or do anything outside of the traditional classroom?

My classes were completely different from those at NC State, in fact, most of my classmates weren’t American students. As part of the international curriculum, I shared classes with students from countries such as Australia, France, Colombia, Finland, and Iran. One field trip that I went on through a Cultural Journalism and Publishing class I took was to the Vanity Fair magazine headquarters in Milan. Shaking hands with the Editor-In-Chief of Vanity Fair Italia and chatting with him in his office is an experience I never would have had without study abroad!

Would you do it again?

Oh of course, 5 months was not enough!