Alumni Spotlight: Alison Schroeder


After graduation, Alison knew she wanted to travel before applying for full-time work back home in the US so she found a scholarship to fund her for a masters degree in New Zealand. Now she has memories that will last a lifetime and an education that while an appeal to future employers.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose the research masters of engineering at the University of Auckland (UoA) because of their affiliation with the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI). The biomedical engineering department at my university in New Jersey had previously collaborated with ABI by sending them a couple of masters students who had been awarded a national fellowship. I decided to also try for this national fellowship and asked for the ABI to support my application. Thankfully, I was awarded the fellowship and ABI provided me with a research project in my desired field of study. The reputation of ABI and the opportunity to pursue higher education at a fraction of the cost influenced my decision to leave America and attend the University of Auckland.

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

As an international student, and not a study abroad or exchange student, I did not have any help with the application process or the visa process but the information available to me from UoA's website was sufficient to accomplish everything. Once admitted to the university I was made aware of international student orientation dates as well as the housing options available to me.

I decided I did not want to live on-campus and therefore finding a flat in Auckland was left up to me. To get settled into the city and meet people I lived in an Airbnb for the first month which allowed me to view potential flats and get my university advisors' advice on neighborhoods and commuting routes. Even though I made all my decisions on my own the people I worked with at ABI were always available to help me and provide advice.

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

My advice is to put yourself out there early on. It's scary going to events where you don't know anyone and it's easy to stay home watching Netflix with a glass of wine but if you don't make an effort to meet people you'll never be in a situation to make friends. The first stages of friendship can be awkward and take effort but a few weeks down the road you will have fellow weekend warriors and road trip buddies!

My advice on living in Auckland is that it is what you make it. Growing up next to NYC made Auckland feel small (and honestly, a little boring) but once I found the quirky places in the city that I enjoyed I felt like I was at home. The city itself is quiet on the weekdays, which is nice for getting a good night sleep, and then lively on the weekends. Overall Auckland is also very safe so single female travelers can be a little more at ease.

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

Working on a research masters means that you have no classes. I came in every day to my desk and worked for the day as if I had a job. That being said since you are a student you can come and go as you please. Want to play pick-up soccer? leave early. A little hungover? come in late. Want to socialize? hang out at the espresso machine. At the end of the day, a research master falls on your shoulders; the work you put in is what you get out. As long as you accomplish your objectives you have the flexibility to do what you want when you want.

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

Going into my year in New Zealand I had a few apprehensions. Would I make friends? Would I find a permanent place to live? Am I smart enough for my degree program? How will I live for a year away from my friends, family, boyfriend, and dog?

The key to overcoming any fears about traveling is to acknowledge that its normal and okay to feel this way. I met my close friends at international orientation and then made more friends when I moved into a shared flat.

My fear of not finding a permanent place to live took longer because I moved 3 times in 6 weeks. I found two flats that were not the right fit and subsequently moved out. Finally, on my third attempt, I got it right.
My fear of not being smart enough to complete my degree was overcome with positive thoughts and confidence.
My fear of being alone in a foreign country was overcome by new friendships and adventure. I would go on hiking MeetUps and ask my new university friends to hang out. There were hard days and weeks but when those came I made sure to focus on myself. Sometimes I would go thrift shopping and other times I would watch my favorite movie with take-out.

Write and answer your own question.

After I completed my masters I decided to stay and travel for some time.
Everyone has different paths and timelines in life. While I was traveling most of my graduating class was landing full-time jobs, getting engaged, and buying puppies. When I came home I moved back in with my parents and am now looking for a job. I look at my friends and get envious of their secure income and ability to be independent but then I realize that they look at me with envy as well.

While most people started 'real life', I was bungy jumping into a canyon, hiking up mountains, exploring new cities, trying new foods, and walking on black sand beaches. Traveling is a privilege and I am lucky enough to have done some while I am young enough to enjoy it. I may 'be behind' by some people's standards but I would rather be rich in experience than rich with money!