Alumni Spotlight: Kathleen Blehl


Most people know me as Kat. I'm a student at Villanova University studying Marketing and English, but I've spent almost as much time abroad as I have at Villanova! I've participated in three study abroad programs to the Czech Republic, China, and Italy, and have traveled to 20+ countries. I love sharing my experiences and inspiring others to step outside their comfort zone. I also run a sustainable fashion, lifestyle, and travel blog.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose IES Abroad Milan based on three reasons: academics, internship opportunities, and housing options.

Foremost, I choose this program because I liked that the program offered classes which I couldn't take at Villanova, such as Luxury Fashion Management, and Photography. Additionally, I really liked that the program offered students the opportunity to take classes at local universities in addition to IES. Through this, I was able to take classes at both Bocconi and Cattolica.

Secondly, I chose this program because of the internship component. While abroad, I wanted to continue to develop my professional skills in a global setting and participating in a fashion internship in Milan allowed me to do just that.

Lastly, I chose this program because I really liked the wide variety of housing options. I was able to choose between an apartment, dorm, or host family. This was very important to me because my apartment placement greatly impacted my experience.

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

The IES Abroad staff in Milan was unbelievably supportive and eager to make Milan feel like home by setting up our housing arrangements, organizing cultural events, dinners, and trips, ensuring our classes aligned with the requirements from our home universities, and being there for us whenever we had a problem or just wanted to talk.

It is important to note that while IES abroad did organize 2-3 weekend trips, the students were responsible for organizing any other outside trips.

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

I think my best advice for someone going on this program would be to remember the importance of getting to know your host city. This important point is often overlooked as students are so eager to travel and explore other countries that they forget what's right in from of them.

You can always travel to other countries in the future, but you may only have one opportunity to truly live and immerse yourself in a foreign country for an extended period of time.

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

For me, there really was no "typical" day or week in Milan, aside from attending class and working at my internship.

I don't like routine, and therefore, was always trying new restaurants and exploring new places in Milan. At the beginning of each week, I would make a list of restaurants, bars, and cultural activities that I wanted to do that week. I did this because I didn't want to leave at the end of the program and say, "I wish I had done more".

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

Since I studied abroad in Milan for an entire academic year, my biggest fear was leaving my family for such a long time. This fear was even greater for me since my dad is 92-years-old (yes, you read that correctly).

Since I had never been away from them for so long, this was definitely an adjustment for me. Despite missing my family, I was able to overcome this fear by focusing on being in the present moment, surrounding myself with people who became my "family" while I was away, and reminding myself that my family back home was proud of me for following my dreams.

In the future, if and when I go on another similar adventure, I have confidence that I can overcome this fear and any others that may arise.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I really enjoyed working on my fashion blog during my free time as this encompassed observing trends, shopping at local boutiques, exploring new areas, and connecting with photographers. I say this encompassed so many tasks because it truly did!

Each morning before class, I would sit in a bar or at a park with my notebook, and observe styles and trends that I liked. The streets were like a personal runway, filled with inspiration at every corner. After I jotted down styles I liked, I would pick a different neighborhood in Milan and go shopping at the local boutiques there. I really don't like shopping at mass, fast fashion companies like H&M and Zara, so this allowed me to find unique pieces, and even practice my Italian by talking to local shop owners.

Additionally, by picking a new neighborhood to shop in, I was able to explore the many different areas of Milan and find hidden gems in each one. Lastly, and quite arguably my favorite part of this process, was connecting with photographers. Whenever I traveled with students from IES, I would see if anyone had a professional camera. I found two students who did, and we were able to collaborate and create content that we were both proud of.