Alumni Spotlight: Katelyn Olsen


Katelyn is junior at Syracuse University with a double major in Biology and Political Science. Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Katelyn spent fall of 2014 in Central Europe in a themed program that was based on the Culture and Politics of Reconciliation in the region. When Katelyn isn't traveling the world, she spends her free time playing the baritone in the marching and pep bands at SU.

Why did you pick this program?

Katelyn: I chose this program because it was unique. While many traditional study abroad programs are set up so that you are essentially attending a foreign school (living either with a host family or in a dorm) with weekends free to yourself, this program worked a little differently.

First of all, our semester began with a two week traveling seminar. This seminar took us from Vilnius, Lithuania, down the Eastern border of Poland, and then to Warsaw before finally reaching our home city of Wroclaw, Poland. In addition to this initial traveling, we also took 3 weekend trips as a class to Prague/Dresden, Krakow, and Berlin.

The large amount of traveling included in this program in addition to its fascinating topic, led me to believe that this would be the best program for me. And, not for nothing, this study abroad program was significantly cheaper than every other study abroad program I have seen out there.

What is the most important thing you learned abroad?

Katelyn: I believe the most important thing I learned when I went abroad was how capable we all are at both adapting and rising to the challenge. From a personal standpoint, I learned how to confidently walk through foreign cities by myself, despite language barriers or cultural differences, and embrace every challenge I faced.

In a broader sense, I learned of all of the challenges faced in Central Europe in the 20th century, between two World Wars and the rise and fall of communism, the people of Central Europe found a way to survive and thrive through difficult times. I learned of spiritual resistance in ghettos during World War II and the Orange Alternative movement during communist times in Wroclaw, Poland.

People are incredibly strong and capable, and continuously prove to the world that they can take on more than thought possible. More than anything else, I learned that each individual is truly capable of anything they put their mind to.

What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?

Katelyn: DO IT. Seriously. Every time one of my friends mentions their interest in going abroad, I have a bad tendency of just (playfully) yelling "DO IT" at them in the hopes that they go. I think everyone should go abroad if they get the opportunity because it is an experience you definitely will not regret.

Even if you have doubts about living in a new culture or trying to survive a new language, the challenges presented by these experiences will help you to grow and mature as a person in ways you could never predict. I also like to remind my friends that there are few times in life when you can drop everything and go travel for months at a time, so if the opportunity arises, you should take it and see where it takes you.

What was the hardest part about going abroad?

Katelyn: Ironically, I would say the hardest part of going abroad for me was coming home. I loved every aspect of being abroad and each challenge it presented me with. Therefore, coming home was actually very difficult for me. I had a hard time at first readjusting to being home and not traveling to foreign countries every other weekend.

It sounds silly to say that my biggest struggle when going abroad was coming home, but reverse culture shock can be a real thing. However, I would not let the idea of reverse culture shock keep me from going abroad again. If anything, it makes me want to go back abroad even more.

What made this trip meaningful to you, or how did this trip change your perceptions, future path?

Katelyn: Going on this program really opened my eyes to the world of action research and the difference a single person can make. Before attending this program, I was set on receiving my degree in biology, going to grad school to receive my PhD in biology and leading a quiet life of lab-based research.

After attending this program, I added a degree in political science and have started to research different job and grad school opportunities related to the field of political science. While conducting research in a lab is a great future path, after seeing all of the work that can be done outside of the lab and with other people, I knew that a life in the lab was no longer for me. I never would have considered a future path in political science if it had not been for this program.