Year and semester studied at Umbra: Spring 2008
Undergraduate institution: Elon University
Undergraduate major and minor: Corporate Communications
What have you been up to since attending Umbra?
My post graduate career has included a variety of experiences; and I can’t stress enough how grateful I am for taking spontaneous steps along the way. Each job that I’ve been a part of has provided me with different unique skills and learning opportunities to build on, which have contributed to making me a more well-rounded human being that I would’ve been otherwise. I’ve learned something from every boss and every experience that I’ve been a part of.
Upon graduation, in the heap of the 2009 financial crisis (sigh), I moved up to NYC with one of my friends and got a marketing and event planning internship with the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund in New York City. My next move was a half year contract position to do photography and aesthetic design for a historical real estate company where I got to get my creative juices flowing. Following that, I was ready for more adventure and moved out west to be a professional ski instructor at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. It was as wonderful as it sounds. Mountains. Snow. Being out of my comfort zone. Lifelong friends. Once in your life, move somewhere where you don’t know anyone (this could be when you study abroad). It’s incredibly developmental. Don’t get me wrong, it was exhausting, but it was exhilarating and one of the best times of my life.
I could’ve stayed in the mountains forever, but I was worried that if I stayed longer, my degree would become less significant. For that reason and to be closer to family, I moved back to NC and got a job as a Development Assistant in Duke University’s Major Gifts Office. This was a tough point in my life. I missed the fresh air and freedom that I had in the mountains and I did not like being in a cubicle where I worked on a computer all day long. It was not for me, but my boss was wonderful and I learned that I needed to be in a job where I interacted more with people. If it weren’t for this job, I would never have made the contacts that got me to my next one. It was through a random meeting over lunch one day that I found out about a position that seemed to have my name all over it. Passion sparked for me and I went through an intense interview process and ended up getting the job to serve as the Program Manager for the Enterprising Leadership Initiative (a branch of the Hart Leadership Program) at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy. I would be working with students who were engaging in real results work in the community— all in an attempt to enhance their sense of efficacy, agency, and identity as social change makers. After that, I was brought on for the position that I have now. I’m now working as Program Coordinator of Social Innovation at Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative.
How has studying abroad impacted your life both personally and professionally?
I’m literally sitting in my office right now waiting for a work event to begin. The sun is setting through my window and beaming onto two stunning photos of Perugia that are hanging to my left. Perugia was my first true home away from home (besides college) and holds a constant place in my heart. That little university town on top of a mountain taught me how to walk on my own without my mom and dad an hour away, how to navigate unfamiliar streets with an unfamiliar language, how to open up to other friends who would always share this common experience with me, but whom I might never see again. I grew close to staff members who I still keep in touch with to this day!
What are you doing now?
I’m responsible for the planning and coordination of educational and co-curricular student programming in social innovation and social entrepreneurship at Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative. Social Innovation is cause related innovation… as opposed to commercial innovation, which is about the bottom line of making money.
Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship is all about helping students bring ideas into action and helping them learn how they can apply the skills of innovation in any career path that they may choose. My job includes providing support to student organizations, our social entrepreneurship incubator, organizing events, connecting students to resources, keeping students updated on current opportunities, as well as managing the DukeEngage Detroit program focused on social innovation in the Motor City!
On the side, I love photography. You can check out some of my pichahhhs here: http://kblackphotography.tumblr.com/
Are you still in touch with the friends you made in Perugia?
I’m still in touch with so many of them! I’m about to be a bridesmaid in one of their weddings, currently live almost next door to one, had a phone call with one the other week, and randomly ran into another on the streets of New Orleans when I was there for work several months ago!
When studying abroad, people tend to navigate towards a core group. However, when I was in Perugia I wasn’t friends with one core group. I’m not sure if that was the right way to go or not, but I do know that I made an effort to get to know as many people as possible. I’ve always been like that (not wanting to limit myself to one group of friends). For instance, I went on a trip to Tuscany with one group of friends, Spring Break to Switzerland with another, skiing in the Italian mountains with another, and so on. Elon friends were sprinkled amongst many of those different groups. When I got back to campus, for the rest of my college career, and to this day, my Elon Perugia friends and I have a bond that will always be there. When I got back to Elon, I also established a deep friendship with a lot of girls who had been to Perugia the semester before me. A number of us actually went back to Perugia for spring break two years later. We were welcomed by our on the ground Umbra and Perugia family with open arms.
What is one piece of advice you would give to prospective students thinking of studying abroad?
Study abroad in a place where you can immerse yourself in that culture! When people study abroad in Italy, I often hear of folks going to Florence or Rome. However, I URGE you to study abroad in a place like Perugia- a city that is not Americanized and full of tourists speaking in English. Perugia was such a special place. In bakeries and sandwich shops, they challenged the students by speaking to us in Italian. I went to Italy speaking zero Italian, and left fairly conversational. That would not have happened if I had not been immersed in a little Italian town like Perugia!
What is one piece of advice you would give to students studying abroad (during or after their experience)?
DURING: Keep a journal and a record of all the places you went, but BE PRESENT. When I studied abroad, smart phones hadn’t made their way into all of our hand. We all had teeny little bricks that we carried around to keep in contact with one another, but not texting or any of that. We had cameras that weren’t connected to our phones. I’m actually so grateful for the simplicity of it. Make sure you are experiencing your new city through your eyes, and not JUST your iPhone lens. I feel like these days students feel like they have to show off what they’re doing so constantly and moment by moment through snapchat. My suggestion would be to stay present and document your journey in a way that will be meaningful to you when the semester ends. Studying abroad is about self-discovery, not self-display.