Student Intern Interview: Krista Kowalczyk
Krista Kowalczyk is a senior who is studying International Comparative Studies and French with a Global Health minor. This is her third (and final) year with Global Ed, so we wanted to talk to her about her time working at GEO and her study away experiences. Elizabeth Richardson sat down to chat with her.
ER: What made you want to work at GEO?
KK: I didn’t enjoy my job my first year, and wanted to work in an office that would excite me and that I could work with throughout my time at Duke. I had already done a study abroad in London, so when I got the email about the student intern position, I knew it was something I would be interested in.
ER: What about the office has made you stay here for so long? Do you have a favorite memory?
KK: I love being able to talk to students here and around campus about study abroad. When I hear friends bring it up, I am able to answer their questions. I love being able to go to the Global Ed Fair and Family Weekend to talk with prospective study abroad students and parents about all the options they have. As for memories, one that sticks with me was the card I got from everyone in the office before I left for my semester abroad. It was really thoughtful and showed me how caring the office is.
ER: Tell me about your summer experience.
KK: I did Duke in London Drama the summer after my first year. I debated between a program where I could use my French and the drama program, which wasn’t related to what I wanted to study. But I had done theatre in high school, and had never been to London, so I decided to just go for it. It was a great program! It was a lot of work academically–we had to write eight papers and do lots of blog posts–but we got to see so many live shows. I loved discussing the performances after. Even when we saw a production we didn’t like, we talked about what we would have changed to make it more successful. At that point, I hadn’t chosen a major yet, so I did consider something in the English realm. Ultimately, I chose ICS. There is a lot of freedom in that major, so I was able to use the courses I took in London.
Why did you choose to do a semester in Paris?
I really wanted to challenge my French, which I had been taking for years. Since French is my second major, that was important. Duke in France has a pretty intense application process. You have to interview with the professors so they can assess your level of French, and then if you’re accepted, they place you in classes according to your level.
ER: What were the immediate differences you noticed studying there?
KK: You take two courses at the University of Paris. The professors are very different than at Duke. There are no syllabi, so you aren’t always certain of their expectations and when assignments are due. Their style of teaching is very blunt! Sometimes the feedback they give you sounds insulting, but I realized that it wasn’t. For example, on an assignment, one of the professors wrote, “You’re capable of doing better than this”. I was a little offended at first, but I eventually realized that it was a compliment.
ER: How was your host family? Did you enjoy that experience?
KK: My host family was very kind and welcoming. They had two kids, one who was my age but left for university in Bordeaux after I arrived, and a 17 year old boy. Since I have a little brother at home around the same age, it was a fun dynamic. They have been hosting students for over ten years, and they treated me very well. They even hosted my parents when they came to visit me! They got me a birthday present and we would watch documentaries together some nights. The hard part about living with a host family was that it is very different from being at Duke, where all your friends are so close. With where my host family was located in the city, my closest friend was 25 minutes away, so I was lonely sometimes.
ER: You were in Paris during the attacks. Tells me about how that affected your time there.
KK: I was traveling in Rome with four other students from the program when we heard about the attacks. One of the other girls’ mom texted her, so we immediately started Googling the news. When we started to learn of the locations we were horrified. Many of our classmates lived near where the various attacks occurred, and one was very close to my host family. We started making calls. I first called my mom, and she told me to reach out to GEO to let them know I was ok. I talked with them and helped located my fellow students. A lot were traveling, but there were some that were harder to get in touch with, which was scary. We finally accounted for everyone, but we were all really emotional about the situation. It was really hard not being in Paris, and we were worried we might not be able to get back into the country.
After the attacks, I had a lot of negative emotions. Like everyone else, I didn’t know what the future held. At first, I wanted to go home, but eventually decided to stay. There were a lot of “what-ifs,” which is hard to deal with. Some of our excursions were tweaked or cancelled-we ended up not going to Brussels on a planned program excursion. All of us had a difficult time coping, and the French response was very different than ours. We were far from home and wanted to be comforted. There were bag searches every day to get into class, and I remember seeing the new Star Wars movie in the theatre and just being scared that something else might happen. It definitely affected my time on the program.
ER: What did you come away from that program learning?
KK: Obviously, my French got a lot better! Now that I have been home for a year I am able to look back on it more fondly than I did when the program ended. At the time, I was ready to be home, but now I miss Paris and want to go back. Aside from the attacks, there were a lot of fun things we did. The program organized some great excursions for us, and we got to learn about perfume making and French cooking. We did day trips with small groups, and went to places like Amiens and Dijon, where I would have never thought to go. I learned so much about the history and culture of Paris and France in general.
ER: What would you tell someone who wants to do a semester abroad?
KK: Make sure you have proper expectations. Things were very different than I expected, especially the social aspect. I would recommend getting to know the people in your group as much as you can before you go. Once you are there you will want to lean on them and share different experiences and feelings. Remember-things will go wrong and you’re not going to love every minute! For me, it was one of the first times that I didn’t have a job and extracurriculars, so I was able to have free reign to explore the city and do what I wanted. There will be amazing cultural immersion, you’ll do great things, and meet lots of new people.
Student Intern Interview: Briana Kleiner
Briana Kleiner is a sophomore Biology/Environmental double major who just started working as a student intern for the Global Education Office. In an effort to get to know our student interns better, Elizabeth sat down to chat with them about their time away and what took them down that path. Briana is up first!
ER: We’ve never had a Bio major work for GEO! Tell me how you got interested in that field.
BK: I grew up on the coast of Connecticut, in a small town that’s known as the submarine capital of the world. My grandpa and I would get Dairy Queen and go sit and watch the subs come in. That is definitely where my love of biology came from! I also attended a marine science magnet high school, which cultivated my interests as well. I was involved with local aquariums and youth conservation efforts.
ER: How did you end up at Duke?
BK: The Marine Lab was really what brought me to Duke. I visited 17 colleges and universities, and I immediately felt at home when I visited the campus, more than any of the other places I visited. I knew that Duke had a great reputation for everything I was interested in, and the Marine Lab sealed the deal.
ER: Have you had a chance to visit the Marine Lab yet?
BK: I did a weekend there for a class, but would love to go back for a longer period of time to do research!
ER: You did Duke in Australia this past summer. How did you decide what study away program you wanted to do?
BK: I’ve wanted to go to Australia since I was 10 years old! I was working in Washington DC for a student ambassador program, and they told me they had an opportunity in Australia. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford it at the time, but it was always in my mind. Once I heard Duke had an Australia program, I knew I had to go. I had also taken a class with Professor Alex Glass last fall, and when I heard he was leading the program, I knew I had to apply.
ER: I’d love to hear a little about your time in Australia.
BK: It was amazing! I was there for four weeks and we traveled from the Northern Territories to different parts of the coast. We also visited cities like Darwin and Sydney, as well as many national parks, so it was a mix of rural and urban. We took a biology class, so we were in a class setting, but we were traveling all over Australia. We stayed in hostels, we camped, stayed in residence halls…every day was different. We also had to do a research project and presentation on a biological element present in the Australian eco-system.
ER: What was the subject of your research for your project?
BK: I did research on the Crown of Thorns starfish, which is a poisonous starfish that is taking over some parts of the Reef. I was excited to learn that Professor Glass is considered an expert in the field when it comes to starfish, so I was able to work with him extensively and learned a lot from his experience.
ER: What is your most memorable experience from Australia?
BK: Definitely SCUBA diving on the Great Barrier Reef! I was already open water certified but over spring break I updated my certification so I could do advanced dives. The diversity of life at the Reef is amazing. People don’t realize how much diversity there is right there in the oceans. One of my favorite quotes is “We dive not to escape life, but for life not to escape us,” and this is the reason why I dive! I saw turtles, sharks, and rays during my dive. It was just an incredible experience and I want to go back!
ER: Is there an experience or a “lesson” you brought back with you from Australia?
BK: So the Wi-Fi in Australia is not great! However, I realized that because of this there were more in-person social interactions. I felt like the separation from technology was a good thing, because you can get a better immersive experience when you’re not distracted by your phone and other technology. Now that I’m back in the States I’m trying to be more “in the moment” with my friends and work on making memories, not just texting or messaging them.
ER: It sounds like you got a lot out of your time in Australia. Do you think you’ll go abroad again during your time at Duke?
BK: Yes! I’ve been looking at programs with a biology/environmental conservation focus, like Duke in Singapore and the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica. I’m also interested in Spanish and Latin American studies, and would love to do Duke in Madrid or Duke in Costa Rica. I think I could easily use Spanish and tie it into my studies. Duke has so many opportunities and I want to take advantage of as many as possible.
ER: What would you tell a Duke student that is hesitant about study away?
BK: Do it, or you’ll miss out! There’s so much out there you can learn and apply to your interests. You’ll gain a new perspective that will help you get so much more out of your classes when you are back at Duke. You’ll become friends with people that will challenge your ideals and build character.
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