UB alumni share, firsthand, how studying abroad changed their
lives and helped them choose careers.
Why I went: My study abroad experience was actually a research trip funded by the UB Honors College Research and Creative Activities Fund. I went to study agricultural development, but ended up finding water issues more interesting and relevant to my own life (coming from the North American Great Lakes Region).
Water issues I worked on while I was there: I helped set up a co-op that provided farmers with emissions-free water pumps for watering fields.
Why water caught my attention: I remember — I can still see it — a very small, makeshift dam the farmers were using. It was made of sticks and leaves and just a trickle of water was coming through. Seeing all the livestock and people trying to get water from this limited source got me interested in the politics of water: who gets it, how to distribute it.
Another thing that fascinated me about Tanzania: I was amazed by the emergence of mobile communication technologies in even remote villages. Since 2007, mobile has been transforming economic and human development across Africa.
What I’m doing now: My first trip to Tanzania included an eight-hour layover in London. This gave me the chance to take a peek at the city, which inspired me to apply to British universities for grad school.
I'm finishing up a PhD at Oxford now. My dissertation looks at how mobile payment options influence water provision in urban areas. I've been back to East Africa at least five or six times for research and work.
On Buffalo and Tanzania: Going abroad has given me a new perspective on almost every issue we face in Western New York. I'm hoping to apply mobile innovations from East Africa and ideas from leading Oxford thinkers to challenges in Buffalo. The world holds the solutions to Buffalo’s 21st-century problems. We just have to go out and find them.
Connect with me: You can find me on Twitter at @AKrolikowski.
Why I went: Going into undergrad, I knew that studying abroad would be one of my main goals. I grew up in Buffalo and went to school in Buffalo, so I wanted to see another part of the world.
Choosing France: I went to France because UB had this really good exchange program at a school called ENSEA — you literally take all the same classes you would be taking at UB, so you can study abroad without getting behind.
The classes were in English. I didn't know any French going in, but I made French friends and took French after coming back to UB.
The art of life: I loved experiencing another culture and lifestyle. People there really value what they call the "art of life," which means that you work hard, but that it's also important to have time to relax.
I felt it was very different from the American lifestyle, which is all about work.
People used to ask me, "What do you do for fun?" and I had to think about it. I was always busy with homework and clubs. Now, in grad school, I prioritize free time. I go for a walk or to a café. I think it's important to have balance because you can be more productive if you're a happier person.
Summer in Paris: I lived in Paris for a couple of months the summer after I graduated.
It was pure vacation — I went with my best friend and we had just finished college and were going to grad school, so it was our congratulations trip. I introduced her to a friend in France, and they're still dating.
What I'm doing now: My research at UC Berkeley deals with solution-processable light-emitting diodes (LEDs). I'm making LEDs out of polymers — flexible materials. I did research in Israel last summer as part of my degree program.
The decision to study abroad was one of the best I made in my life. When you're in a new place, you're unfamiliar with everything and you learn to find your own way. I gained another level of self-confidence, and the ability to feel comfortable in new situations.
Why I went: Studying abroad changed my entire life. It was amazing to experience new cultures, and to compare and contrast life in other countries to life here in the United States. It was just such a beautiful experience — something you can’t just get in class.
Witnessing poverty: In Mexico, a lot of indigenous women were moving from rural cities to bigger cities to make money. They would sell bracelets and purses, and they faced a lot of discrimination. There were language barriers, gender issues, and also classism and racism.
Seeing the inequality really reinforced what I always knew I wanted to do, which was to help people. Here were these women, coming from poor villages to better their lives. Not everything is perfect, but people really try to make things work for them regardless of what system they’re living in.
In the classroom: I had some of the best professors. Not only were they brilliant, but they were so down-to-earth and willing to help students.
I took classes associated with the Caribbean and Mexican culture, including archaeology, Caribbean literature and history. For my thesis project, I made a film about Cuba and the social impact that tourism had on the island from the 1980s to 2005.
It was just so fun and so interesting, and added so much to the experience of living abroad.
Living in a convent: There are programs from other universities where students stay in hotels, but we stayed in regular neighborhoods. In Cuba, we stayed in an old convent, and in Mexico, I stayed with a host family and then rented an apartment with friends. People in both countries welcomed me with open arms. They were very nurturing, happy people.
What I’m doing now: My experiences abroad confirmed my passion for international development work and empowering underserved communities.
Since 2005, I have been working in New York City, managing
programs focused on workforce development, education, housing and
financial education, while volunteering for organizations that
focus on immigration issues. I am also an adjunct instructor at a
local college, where I have taught Puerto Rican and American
Why I went: I was a French major and wanted to develop my proficiency.
Living in the French-speaking world: My study abroad experience was great because I got to learn about several cultures. They speak French in Quebec, and they’re really in tune with the Francophone world. Many of my friends were from French-speaking countries in West Africa.
Seeing the world from new perspectives: I was in Quebec on Sept. 11, 2001, and took part in a peace march to the U.S. Consulate. During the march, I started to understand certain things that people were saying. That’s when I understood that it wasn’t only a march for peace, but also a march against American aggression.
I was stunned by this unexpected revelation. It didn’t necessarily change my own views of the attacks, but it did make me at least consider how others with different experiences may have seen them.
Living abroad teaches you to look at situations in different ways, to stand back and think about how others see things. That helps me relate to people personally and at work.
Landing a Fulbright Scholarship: I was a Fulbrighter who was largely influenced by study abroad. I had great professors at UB who could tell I had an interest in learning about other cultures, and they encouraged me to apply. I returned to Quebec for my Fulbright.
The art of translation: After the Fulbright, I worked as a program manager for a translation company. Part of the job involved advising clients on how to be sensitive to marketing in other cultures. One thing that comes to mind immediately: A deck company wanted to use the phrase, “Are you all decked out?” This is a great play on words in English, but it loses its meaning once translated.
What I’m doing today: Studying abroad gives you self-confidence — the ability to trust in yourself to figure things out. These are useful skills in any field. At Unilever, I work on business cases for innovations. When the company develops a new product, I analyze its viability and justify why we would want to launch it.
Why I went: The transition to an Asian-focused global economy is an important factor to consider for my future. I sought to prepare myself by gaining exposure through a short experience beginning with Singapore.
On living in another country: The mere experience of being in another country in another region was the best part. Sharing classes with Singaporean students helped our group learn about different cultures while collaborating on projects. Outside of class, we were fortunate enough to also meet and experience people of very diverse backgrounds.
My inspiration at UB: Paul Yong helped guide me to Singapore. I’ve known him for several years and every group he has taken to Singapore has only gotten better. His dedication to his students and the quality of the Singapore program is unmatched.
How study abroad influenced my future: My Singapore experience reinforced my reasoning for pursuing a career focusing on Asia, especially China. Being that Singapore is an international trade and finance hub, I realized the importance of Chinese and China in the future economy. Immediately after graduation in 2010, I went to Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, to learn Mandarin. I worked at a communications consultancy for two years afterward, finally returning to New York City in 2012.
A global focus: Whatever they decide to pursue, UB students should realize that their future endeavors are no longer contained within U.S. borders. Study abroad programs are truly invaluable experiences that will open eyes and expose students to ideas, people and cultures that will only further their understanding of the world. I believe UB study abroad programs help add a perspective to students’ lives that will help better shape their choices, with the world in mind.
Why do study abroad?: Studying abroad with UB allows many students to take their first step toward their understanding of another part of the world. The mix of education and fun gives students a well-rounded experience that, I feel, they’ll keep with them for the rest of their lives.
Why I went: My freshman year, I watched the film "Hotel Rwanda" as part of the United Nations Student Alliance. It dealt with the genocide in Rwanda. The fact that such an atrocity took place while I was alive and I knew nothing of it was the catalyst for studying in Tanzania, where I was able to observe the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.
After that first program, I was hooked. I went to the Study Abroad office expressing interest in spending my junior year abroad. My study abroad adviser helped coordinate back-to-back programs in Oxford and Prague, where I was able to study colonization and democratization movements, respectively.
I thought it would be an opportunity for me to learn about a different country, but I learned just as much about myself.
Thinking beyond America: We spend much of our adolescence being taught who we are as Americans and what that means in terms of our responsibility to our country. Study abroad introduced me to a broader layer of citizenship, invoking a sense of responsibility to a global citizenry.
I changed my intended major to anthropology and international studies. About half of my degree program took place abroad. I’m just so appreciative of UB — other universities don’t make it as easy to integrate education abroad into students’ degrees.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, going to Harvard: I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro at 19, visited 22 countries before my 22nd birthday and took classes at Oxford University.
I come from a blue-collar family, and these experiences gave me the confidence to say, "You know, I’m going to do my master’s at Harvard." I got into the international education policy program and graduated summa cum laude in 2011.
The State Department and beyond: When I came back from studying abroad, I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else but helping other students experience the world. After Harvard, I held a short-term assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Swaziland, promoting exchanges between students from Swaziland and the U.S.
Now, I coordinate African, Middle Eastern and French study abroad programs at the University of South Florida.
Why I went: I went at the end of my senior year, and extended my stay for close to three months or thereabouts. For me, it was an opportunity to experience, live, study and learn in another culture. The history of architecture in Barcelona was extraordinary.
Provocative design: One thing that comes to mind often in Barcelona are the works of Antoni Gaudí, the famous Spanish architect, who employed geometric patterning heavily in his designs in a lucid and organic manner. Even though I appreciated his design sensibility in terms of the spatial qualities and interesting lines, I was able to understand his work much more in depth by actually having been there.
Seeing such distinctive designs in person makes you a bit more in tune with your own work — helping you understand your own sensibilities and be a little more provocative in some sense.
A lasting influence on design: The great works I saw in Barcelona have traveled with me through my professional experience in the sense that they affect the way that I view things when it comes to design and culture.
My office has just completed the NYU-DC academic building in Washington, D.C., and while most of the building profile is very orthogonal, the main façade has a series of undulating glass fins that add much fluidity to the façade from varying points of view.
Obviously, while not a close comparison to any of Gaudí’s work, the underlying precept was of engaging a thoughtful, rigorous geometric system that allowed itself to be experienced from multiple vantage points.
Study abroad advice: I would encourage every student, whether it’s in architecture or in another department, to study abroad because it really elevates your way of thinking, and your understanding of other cultures.
To experience the culture and art of any foreign country that one goes to is an amazing experience. When you see it firsthand, you feel it, and it really drives the fire or passion within you in terms of what it is that you are studying.
For me, Barcelona was a good place to do that. There are many other options, depending on what your interests are.
Why I went: I was studying the Japanese language at UB and translating the autobiography of a famous Japanese boxer. So I got the idea that I wanted to live there. I was awarded the Monbukagakusho Scholarship, which made it possible.
In Japanese gyms: For my dissertation at UB, I collected the life stories of boxers. I had trained with and interviewed boxers in Buffalo and Brooklyn, and began doing the same in Japan. I found it very interesting to compare Japanese and American boxers, to find out how they found meaning in their lives through boxing.
In America, it was easy to get boxers to tell me their stories, even if I didn’t know them. But in Japan, it was harder. Over there, a gym is like a club or family — when you go to the gym, you join it and belong to it for your whole career. Boxers rarely change gyms. To gain access to the stories, I had to join the family, so I spent a lot of time at the gym. After some years, I became a trainer and, eventually, a judge.
A long time away: I liked being in another world, another culture. I found it inspiring and exciting — I had never lived in another country or gotten around in another language.
I ended up staying for seven years, earning a degree from Kobe University before returning to UB.
Back to Asia: After I graduated from UB, I looked for jobs in Asia as well as America, which I probably would not have done if I hadn’t studied abroad. I received an offer from Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and have been teaching there ever since.
What I’m doing now: I teach creative writing, literature and film at Yonsei University’s Underwood International College.
Dream Writing: Three years ago I advised a student who wrote his thesis on birth dreams, or taemong. These occur when someone has a dream foretelling the birth of a child. Birth dreams are important in Korea; almost everyone has one. This reawakened a lifelong interest I had in dreams, so I started reading more about it. As a result, I recently started teaching a class called “Dream Writing.”
Why I went: Our master’s program required us to do two semesters in a foreign country. I chose Cuba for both. I also had the privilege of serving as a teaching assistant for a summer study abroad program there.
How Cuba inspired me: In Cuba, education is highly regarded. It’s not about getting a good job and making a lot of money, but about enriching the culture and the minds of the people. That helped me realize that I wanted to teach, to make a difference in people’s lives, whether there’s money involved or not.
My book: I have traveled more than ever as a result of studying abroad, visiting Europe and South America and traveling throughout the United States and Caribbean.
I’m writing a children's book that captures those experiences. It’s in the final stage of art and will be self-published.
The world through Jupu’s eyes of Jupu the puffin: The book is told from the perspective of a puffin named Jupu, a little bird from Maine, who swims and flies throughout the Western hemisphere.
The story teaches the geography of the Americas. Jupu meets birds from different countries and eats new fruits. He tries guanabana in Puerto Rico, mangoes in the Dominican Republic. A map illustrates where he has been.
Understanding that there are cultures outside of your own is the first step toward tolerance. The book teaches the reader the term "Usonian," which I learned while studying abroad. It refers to U.S. citizens, since the term "American" is for everyone in the western hemisphere (the Americas).
My full-time job: I am director of support programs for Mercy Home, a nonprofit agency in Brooklyn serving persons with developmental disabilities and their families.
In Cuba, resources for people with special needs were not at the forefront of people’s thinking when I was there. Wheelchair accessibility was lacking.
Everywhere I went, there would be staircases or narrow passageways leading to places like a beautiful hall where you would overlook the ocean, eat a wonderful meal. I just kept thinking how not everybody would have access to these spaces. Seeing these things inspired me to live a life of service. It’s why I chose my career.
Why I went: Adventure was a major driver. I was excited to get away from the United States for a while and see what life was like somewhere else.
New friends, new cultures: Once I was there, I was in an apartment complex with students from all over the world. We had Americans and Germans, and then just across the way there were students from Finland, South Africa, Israel and Asia.
I had the chance to bond with people of all these different nationalities. The experience opened my eyes.
A growing interest in Asia: I got to know some Malaysians and Chinese. Asia at the time was a big mystery to me. My grandma still pictures China during the Mao Zedong era, and I had no personal experience to balance that.
Meeting people who lived there helped me understand that we had a lot in common, and that there were opportunities there. It made me pay attention to Asia in the following years.
Moving to China: After college, I worked for AmeriCorps in Minnesota. I was taking business classes on the side, and some of my professors did work in Asia. At the same time, China was always popping up in the news, and I would read about it because I knew people there.
My wife and I began looking into how we could go to Asia and found that teaching English would be the easiest way.
We lived in Qingdao, China for two years. We ate everything the Chinese did. We learned the language and just really immersed ourselves in the experience. I worked for a Chinese biotech company, doing their online advertising. The knowledge of Chinese culture and business is something I’ll always carry with me and hope to use even more in the future.
What I’m doing now: M&T’s Executive Associate (EA) Program is a management development program where they train you to understand all areas of the bank. I work in the Marketing Analytics Department.
I definitely think my international experience helped set me apart from other EA candidates. They look at EAs as change agents, so they’re looking for somebody who has a diversity of experiences, who can approach problems with a fresh thought process.
Why I went: I studied abroad as an undergraduate, and felt that going abroad again in a graduate program would enhance my teaching.
Living abroad brings to life everything that you’re teaching, so that when you’re standing in front of a class, you have current, firsthand knowledge of the language, culture and political panorama of a particular country.
I remember attending the famous festival of Santiago de Compostela, which takes place in July. It’s a religious festival. You see so many people there, including foreigners who make the pilgrimage to see the shrine of St. James the Great.
Other memories include listening to the University of Salamanca La Tuna group. A tuna is a group of university students who play guitar and sing serenades.
‘An eye of your face’ and other idioms: I lived with a family in Salamanca, which is an invaluable opportunity because you are totally immersed in the language and culture.
Every language has idiomatic expressions. Until you are really immersed, you cannot pick up the nuances, the double-entendres. For example, we say in English that something will cost you "an arm and a leg," but in Spanish, it’s "an eye of your face."
Returning to Spain: In Salamanca, I met another graduate student from Buffalo. One or two summers later, we returned to Spain and rented a car and we drove the entire Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, for 30 days. We wanted to see everything.
Spain is a lifelong connection now. I have good friends in Spain, and I used to take students there for summer travel. We would go to Madrid, to Sevilla, Malaga, and yes, Salamanca, and Toledo.
I still cook Spanish recipes. There’s a Spanish sausage called chorizo, and, of course, paella, which I learned to make mainly from a family I lived with in Madrid during postgraduate studies.
What I’m doing now: I retired from teaching in 2010 after 30 years with the Horseheads Central School District. Throughout my career and schooling, I was exposed to museums and art history and different cultures. I now do my own drawing, painting and digital work. For me, art is language, and language is communication. Art is another way to communicate and connect.
Aaron Krolikowski saw Tanzania for the first time in the summer of 2007.
A UB undergraduate, he was there to study water and agriculture in rural villages. Fascinated by the sight of cellphones in remote locations, Krolikowski went on to research mobile technologies as a PhD student at Oxford University. The topic of his dissertation: How the proliferation of mobile devices is influencing water distribution in sub-Saharan Africa.
Hundreds of UB students study abroad each year, and for many, it’s an experience that changes not only their perspective of the world, but also what they do with their careers. Each dot on the map represents a UB graduate whose time abroad influenced his or her direction in life. Click to see their stories.
UB alumni share, firsthand, how studying abroad changed their
lives and helped them choose careers.