Describe your post-graduate international experience(s) or program(s).
As a transfer student completing my Associate’s Degree at Wake Technical Community college and transitioning into my Bachelor’s Degree at North Carolina State University, I was worried I would not have the typical opportunity to study abroad. At that time, I’m not sure if I truly understood that study abroad was an option or that there were offices designed to support students during this journey. I knew I wanted to travel for an extended period of time abroad so I decided to become an Au Pair. An Au Pair is typically a young adult who travels to assist a host family with childcare needs and exposed the child to the native language and culture of the Au Pair. I was an Au Pair in Italy for eight months after I graduated from Wake Tech as I completed requirements for my Bachelor’s Degree distance ed. Additionally, after completing my degree at NC State I knew I still wanted to travel abroad. I’m currently on a goal of traveling to thirty countries by the age of thirty. Some of my favorite experiences have been Spain, Cuba, Ireland, Brazil and Slovenia. The global pandemic has slightly impacted my plans but I only have twelve countries left to visit to reach my goal.
How did you find out about this program or opportunity?
I’m the type of person who does my preliminary research online. It was the summer before my final semester at Wake Tech and I wanted to have something in place that I could look forward to. Like any college student, I opened my favorite search engine and typed in “how to travel abroad for free/cheap”. Options popped up like geoarbitrage and working in hostels but I knew I wanted something a bit more stable and consistent. I found out about being an Au Pair and uploaded my information to a global site that helps Au Pairs and hosts connect. My top choice was Spain so that I could use my Spanish language skills however, Spain has strict Au Pair regulations and it is a bit more difficult to manage the process. I decided to widen my scope to include Portugal and Italy hoping that since the languages were in the same romance language category it would be easier for me to pick-up. I eventually found an amazing host family in Italy and was excited to begin my journey. Originally, I was only supposed to be in Italy for three months to ensure I would only need a tourist visa. However, even before I arrived my host family asked if I would consider staying until the end of the year. I had just been accepted into NC State and knew that this would take some careful planning. But I couldn’t pass up the opportunity so I said yes! I worked with my advisor at NC State University to ensure I could complete my program even if I would have to do an entire semester distance education. I’m happy I landed on this opportunity and would not trade the experience for the world.
For my personal travel now, I go where the flight deals are. I’m not selective because my goal is to eventually visit everywhere. My friends and I put travel as a priority but recognize that we are young professionals with limited income. We find trips through email listserves, apps that catch flight glitches, and consistently checking places on our list. My roundtrip flight to Cuba was only $25 due to a flight glitch and me having an airline voucher for giving up my seat home on a previous flight (a few hours of inconvenience made that experience possible). I also make sure to travel light, stay in hostels (which may change depending on how COVID impacts us culturally), and sharing costs like transportation and food with travel companions.
What are some highlights of your experience abroad?
1. Watching my first ever joust in my host city of Arezzo, Italy. The Sarcen joust has been a part of their history and culture since the 16th century. Each of the four neighborhoods in the city are represented and the one who wins the joust gets to claim the bragging rights for the year. I can’t tell you who won that year. I can only say that the energy was electric and I still have my flag to represent my neighborhood.
2. Being able to build a relationship with my host family. I couldn’t have asked for better host. I was a part of a few Facebook groups for Au Pairs and Au Pairs in Italy and some did not have the greatest experience. I never had the same issues. The parents, the extended family, and neighborhood friends welcomed me with open arms. The three girls I cared for taught me a lot about patience but at the end of the day it was always love and laughter.
3. There is something about travel that connects you with others in a way that doesn’t always happen when you are home. At home, you are comfortable. You aren’t looking to make connections. You go through your routine and sometimes forget to look up. One of the perks of being abroad is there is always a chance to learn someone’s story. Whether it’s the woman on the train who has lived a full life, the businessperson on the plane who shares their advice, or friends who want to connect with one another as you drop into new cities they happen to be in. That connection is something that is so integral to the traveling abroad experience.
What advice do you have for NC State students considering going abroad after graduation?
Prioritization is key. It’s important to look at what you want. The more you understand that the more you will work to make it happen. Finances, time off from a new job, fear of traveling alone, and many more are all potential barriers from traveling abroad. Don’t let it stop you. Having trouble with finances? Figure out the budget for the experience you want and figure out how to make it happen even if it’s only $25 a month you can put aside. Want to go on a longer experience but can’t get time off from your employment? Try to see what holidays, office breaks, ect. you can bookend your trip around. I once got more time off from an employer because I offered to visit one of our corporate locations while I was in that city and work a half day from that office. Having doubts? Share that with individuals you feel you can trust. Either to just get it off your chest, to walk through it out loud, or to get advice.
How did you bring your “whole self” to your international experience(s)?
I have learned to be as upfront as possible during my international experiences (except in some cases where I feel it might affect my safety). As a queer Black woman who often travels alone, I don’t want to ever question if I am hiding a part of my identity. When things come up in conversation I’ll share those aspects of myself and let the other person(s) decide how they want to continue the interaction. I want to be my full self no matter where I am and if individuals who I cross paths with have issues well then #YouDoYouBoo.Submit your own “going abroad again” interview
- Going Abroad Again