Alumni Spotlight: Tess Brieva


Tess is a junior studying psychology and sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose to study at Victoria University of Wellington for two central reasons. One is that New Zealand is a country I have been curious to visit for quite some time. I was looking for a change of pace and a chance to be surrounded by beautiful landscape.

Secondly, I chose VUW for the chance to live in the city of Wellington. As the country's capital, the city intrigued me because although it is relatively small, it offers many activities and possesses a unique culture.

What did your university assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My abroad program was organized primarily through a third party university, Arcadia. Arcadia facilitated virtually the entire exchange process, from ensuring that I had my student visa to organizing a smooth transition with its orientation.

Arcadia helped me with most all of my pre-departure requirements such as accommodation, flights, and classes. Arcadia has been quite hands-off during my time here in New Zealand, although they continue to coordinate program events, such as weekend kayaking and hiking trips.

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

I would tell them to embrace the change. Studying abroad is a daunting experience, however, this intimidation holds a lot of power. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and see yourself grow.

I would recommend anyone going on this program to take advantage of this time to reflect on yourself. I have found that New Zealand especially has fostered a wonderful environment for reflection, with its magnificent nature and general slower pace of life.

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

I personally live in international student housing, with two other international students and a kiwi-mate. During the school week, I attend classes and cook for myself. Friends and I will go to town at night to grab a bite to eat or to explore the nightlife. I enjoy going on walks near my flat where there are many forest preserves.

On the weekend, I like to take advantage of Wellington's food scene, at their Night Market and their Sunday Farmer's Market on the waterfront. I also have been able to travel to other places in NZ by renting a car for a weekend at a time. Furthermore, it is fun to take the bus to places just outside Wellington for a day trip.

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

I grew up in the same town as my home university so I have always had a certain level of comfort even with the college transition. Therefore, my biggest fear was being away from home. I found that although I do miss my family, I have overcome this fear much easier than I thought I would.

Exploring a new place has brought me so much happiness and excitement.

Thus, the positive experiences I have had due to being away from home has outweighed any negative feeling I may have had about being out of my comfort zone.

What has been a challenge while being abroad?

For me, alone time has posed as a challenge for me. While abroad, I have much more free time to spend than I do at home due to less extracurricular activities.

At the beginning of my time abroad, I did not know how to properly spend free time. I would go on my phone or computer and laze away. However, I realized that I could not spend my entire semester wasting time.

I now understand my alone time to be extremely important. I enjoy reading books, going on walks, journaling, attending events on campus, and other activities that stimulate my thought process. I've found that I do not have to constantly strive to fill my schedule with mandatory activities to be productive.

Embracing alone time has probably been the most transformative experience I have had while being abroad.