Alumni Spotlight: Kimberly Gaskill


Kimberly is a New Jersey native and a third-year student at The Pennsylvania State University. She is studying Nutritional Sciences while minoring in Business and plans on continuing her studies post grad to obtain a Ph.D. in Dietetics.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program to build experience and knowledge of cultures other parts of the world. This opportunity has allowed me to expand my horizons in ways I didn't think were possible.

Not only have I had the pleasure of exploring and learning everyday activities of Aussies, but I was able to gain an understanding of their nutritional lifestyle. For that alone, it has been an experience that simply could not be understood through a text book.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Through CIEE I was given an immense amount of support and guidance. Without them, my time abroad would not be nearly as great as it has been. From the start, the program showed us the ropes, took us on weekend trips, and was there for any academic or personal questions.

CIEE made the transition into a new country the smoothest process. They also gave us a great amount of freedom and time to travel wherever we wanted. We would catch up through dinner and coffee throughout the semester to see how everyone was doing.

Aside from a few trips, I really didn't need to organize much on my own. This allowed the entire experience to be stress-free.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

The biggest piece of advice to anyone going abroad is to not get caught in that "American bubble" (or whichever your home country may be). By only making friends with people from the same country as you, you miss out on learning about those from all over the world.

The first week I arrived in Australia I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world; such as Iceland, Holland, Netherlands, Austria, and of course Australia. I thought it was the coolest thing.

Growing up, I've only ever known people from New Jersey and surrounding states. Becoming friends with natives allows your experience to be that much better. You truly get a sense of the lifestyle and culture. By the end, you have an entire network of friends from all over the world.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

During the week I would head off to Uni (University of Wollongong) for classes. I found university was probably one of the biggest things I needed to get used to here. Every class has a tutorial and lecture each week with about only four assessments throughout the semester.

Unlike at home where you're likely to have an exam every two weeks; here you would have a midterm, final, and two papers or group presentations as well. Projects build up, so this experience really helps to plan out your time to avoid last minute work (especially with all the traveling).

On the weekends, it was time to explore. One of the greatest things about going abroad through the CIEE program is that there's always an adventure coming up. We got to hike up an aboriginal mountain to see their teaching schools, climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge, abseil the Blue Mountains, along with others.

When there wasn't a weekend trip already planned, some friends and I would head to Sydney for the weekend, find various hikes/ beaches to explore or fly to a different part of the country.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

One of my biggest fears about being abroad was experiencing culture shock. From never leaving the country to studying abroad for a semester, I truly had no idea what to expect. Being enrolled in Uni and getting to live in a dorm where everyone was going through the same thing really helped.

At the beginning of the semester, we got to go on various trips with our dorm mates; allowing us to get to know each other. As different as the country may seem, there were plenty of times I had to remind myself I was on the other side of the world.

Looking at the big picture, Australia is not far fetched from the US. When scaling it down, however, you will find how everyday activities (transportation, university, meals) tend to be quite different. I learned to embrace and adapt to the uniqueness of the country, which allowed me to get everything out of this once in a life time opportunity.

How do you feel studying abroad has benefitted your studies?

Studying abroad has allowed me to gain knowledge in ways a lecture hall could never do. As a nutrition major, the food atmosphere is what fascinated me the most. From the moment I arrived to campus I could already see the difference.

I always remember sitting in class at Penn State and having exchange students state how blown away they are by the portion sizes. Sure you can look up comparisons on the internet, but you truly do not get the understanding unless you're living in a country for an entire semester.

Study abroad allows the opportunity to gain experience inside and outside of the classroom. It broadens your perspective to more than just your home country; giving you a beneficial background.

The knowledge I have gained here is something I will carry with me throughout my entire life. I feel as though I have a kickstart to my career and I cannot wait to see where this experience will take me.