Alumni Spotlight: Kasondra Grillo


Kasondra graduated from Cal Poly in 2017 with a degree in Business Administration-Accounting. Not wanting to finish her time at university without an adventure, she studied abroad in Thailand in the fall of her senior year. It was one of the best decisions she ever made.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose USAC-Chiang Mai initially because it was the most affordable option for a study abroad program. I had looked into studying in Europe and I couldn't believe how expensive it was; sometimes over 4x the amount I was paying at Cal Poly. Once I looked into the USAC program I was absolutely amazed at what I was getting for the price I was paying. A good number of field trips were included and I was able to take classes that filled my GE requirements and a Business economics requirement as well.

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

USAC arranged the housing for all the students in the program. We all stayed in university style dorms called Uniloft, which were right down the street from Chiang Mai University. It's a prime location with two rooms, a living space, and a bathroom in one apartment. There was a communal kitchen, little restaurants, a pool, and a small fitness center in the compound as well. USAC also arranged an orientation dinner, uniform shopping, and 3-5 field trips with transportation.

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

I feel like some people in western societies view Southeast Asia as incredibly rural and 3rd world with dirt streets and massive poverty. The most surprising thing to me was how far from the truth this was. Outside the city there are parts where this still rings true, but globalization has hugely impacted Thailand. If I was craving Greek yogurt and muesli, a European grocery store right down the road had it. I never wanted for anything and I really appreciated how Chiang Mai has retained its' Thai culture amidst a surge in globalization.

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

An average week for me included: Monday-Wednesday class and Thursday-Sunday travel time. I took four classes and was able to stack them on consecutive days, which I highly recommend. Broken down it was about 3-5 hours of class M-W and about a 2 hours dedicated to homework. On Thursday morning my roommate and I would fly to Bangkok to catch a flight to one of the surrounding countries, take a bus north to explore northern Thailand, or stay in Chiang Mai. By the end of our 4.5 months we knew the city like the back of our hand.

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

My biggest fear was that I would return to the U.S. the exact same person I was when I left and my time there wouldn't be profitable. To truly initiate a change in myself I did more than just the touristy things like play with elephants and go to the night markets. I challenged myself and explored places off the beaten path. I made Thailand my home. I learned that some of the happiest people are those who have just enough, but to a westerner, it looks like so little. Don't be afraid to be uncomfortable and confront that uneasiness you have, it'll lead you to the most incredible experiences.

Was it difficult to communicate because you didn't know the language?

Not at all! Many Thais know basic English and love to practice their English skills with you. Through USAC, I took Thai Communication, which I highly recommend. About 4 weeks into the program I was able to order food in Thai and barter with a red truck driver (Chiang Mai's taxis).

Was there anything you would have done differently?

Yep, I would have stayed for two semesters instead of one. I felt like 4.5 months was too short and I was just starting to get the hang of things and then I had to leave. If I had known that through USAC a 1 year study abroad option was available I would have chosen that.