Around the world in eight experiences

UC student breaks record for individual study abroad excursions during undergraduate career

Canada. Mexico. Canada again. Italy. Hong Kong. South Korea. India. Chile. And, if not for the cancellation of study abroad programs due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Ghana.

Though her ninth study tour was cancelled, University of Cincinnati Lindner College of Business student Kalea Lucas still broke the known university record by going on eight unique experiences during her career. As she graduates with her degree in Marketing and International Business and a minor in Fashion Design from the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, she credits her many, varied international experiences as the real-world value of a diploma from UC.

And that’s a major reason she came to UC in the first place. Originally from the Columbus, Ohio area, Lucas paid attention to universities who not only offered travel opportunities, but had study abroad woven into the curriculum. For her, the Lindner College of Business just made sense — from her very first tour, it was obvious that the college emphasized the value of going abroad.

“Once I found out that Lindner had its own study abroad office, I was like, it’s over. Period,” Lucas recalled. “This is where I needed to be, because clearly there were going to be a lot of opportunities that I would have at my disposal.”

More than any other student, Lucas utilized the resources available to her and truly made the world her classroom. She chose her experiences carefully, examining how each one would contribute to her knowledge and personal growth. Among her peers, Lucas stands out.

 “Kalea’s warm, curious and upbeat personality make her the model ambassador both abroad and at home,” said Lee Armstrong, director of international programs in the Lindner College of Business. “I’ve enjoyed watching her select her international experiences over the past five years to continuously be challenged and to expand her cultural adaptability. Kalea personifies the global Bearcat, experiencing the world through UC’s diverse partnerships.”

The travel bug

Kalea Lucas sits in a giant Q in Queretaro, Mexico.

Kalea Lucas during her faculty-led program to Queretaro, Mexico.

Lucas’ first international experience was with the Lindner Business Fellows, a program within the college designed to empower historically underrepresented students with peer mentorship, dedicated academic resources and its own faculty-led study abroad program to Toronto, Canada. As a student in the program, she had the opportunity to go abroad in her very first semester at UC.

To support unique study abroad programs like these, LCB has its own dedicated staff. Not surprisingly, the college is responsible for the highest number of students who go abroad — 681 in the 2018-19 academic year — which represents almost 40% of all the UC students who study or work abroad every year.

From that very experience in her first year, Lucas was inspired to travel as much as possible. Her next three study abroad journeys were faculty-led programs, meaning that she could take a class with her regular coursework, and then spend scheduled breaks with a group of other UC students exploring their lessons overseas.

During tours in Mexico and excursions in Italy, she and her peers were able to see business concepts first-hand. Taking the classroom to another country is just one reason why faculty-led programs remain the most popular for UC students. The convenient scheduling and built-in support help, too.

Making a change

I think the whole point of being outside of your comfort zone is to grow. There's that saying that nothing changes if nothing changes.

Kalea Lucas

Kalea Lucas wears traditional Korean dress in front of a temple in Seoul.

Kalea Lucas wears traditional Korean dress during her study abroad experience.

By the end of her second year, Lucas was ready to make a change. Having spent her previous four experiences in more popular destinations, she knew it was time to step outside her comfort zone.

“The reason I wanted to go to Asia for that first summer school was to be completely immersed in something that was completely different than anything I had ever experienced,” said Lucas. “I think the whole point of being out of your comfort zone is to grow. There’s that saying that nothing changes if nothing changes.”

After a short summer school at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Lucas stayed on for an exchange semester at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea. She notes that experience as one of the most impactful, because a longer stay naturally meant more immersion into the country’s culture — and more opportunities to learn.

One of the lessons Lucas gained from the experience was clear communication skills. While courses were in English, local students would frequently group up and work together in Korean. In order to contribute to the team, Lucas had to stick up for herself and try harder to engage with her group members. With a little persistence, she was able to work through the cultural challenges to have a successful semester.

She also learned a more startling lesson about the value of material goods. After a scorching summer in Hong Kong, Lucas had unneeded clothes for her upcoming fall in Korea. She decided to ship them back to the United States by sea, which was slower but much cheaper than by air.

When Lucas arrived back home that December, she opened the box to find that thieves had replaced all but three pieces of clothing with rocks.

“I was just so flabbergasted,” she recalled. But now, removed from the situation, Lucas just laughs about the box of rocks. “Even if you lose material items, it’s unfortunate, but those things are replaceable. It’s not as bad as it seems, and you end up with really funny stories.”

Staying involved

Kalea Lucas stands in front of a vibrantly colored wall with a passport over her heart.

In her Miss Kuamka bid, Kalea Lucas features her passport.

Despite being abroad for so much of her college career, Lucas was still able to connect with her family and classmates regularly.

“This isn’t the age of messenger pigeons and such. A good FaceTime goes a long way,” said Lucas. “Being abroad actually made me talk to my parents more, and I carried that over to the rest of my time in college.

“In terms of the campus community, I’d keep up with friends and social media to see what was going on. I wasn’t afraid of how studying abroad was going to take away from my impact on campus, like my leadership. If there’s something you want to do, you don’t have to let geographic barriers stop you from that.”

During her stint in Korea, Lucas kept up with her involvement with the African American Cultural Resource Center, messaging with other on-campus leaders and keeping up with group members. She also worked with the AACRC staff to run for the Miss Kuamka competition, which occurs during the beginning of the spring semester.

Lucas is also a member of multiple organizations in DAAP, including the Sustainable Fashion Initiative and DAAP:PUB, a digital media platform focusing on art, design and interdisciplinary practices run by students. During her international co-op experience in Chile in fall 2019, she continued editing for DAAP:PUB — she’d get stories sent over email, edit them and send them back for review.

In the summer of 2019, Lucas had the opportunity to work with a multi-national team as a member of UC International’s summer internship program. Focused on marketing and communications, the internship was an excellent marriage of Lucas’s skills in marketing and expertise with study abroad.

“Honestly, it was such a great experience,” said Lucas. “One of my favorite parts about studying abroad is when I’m coming back, and people asking where I’ve been, what it was like. I love sharing the resources. Getting to do that on a more legit professional level was cool.

“I also enjoyed working with the team, especially since I was preparing to do the international co-op. It got me prepared to work with a team of people from different backgrounds and helped me realize how cultural perspective plays a role into how you get your work done.”

One of the intern team’s final products was a commercial for study abroad, part of a campaign to encourage students who don’t traditionally go abroad to take steps outside of their comfort zone. Lucas is featured throughout the beginning sequence — in essence, the “face” of study abroad at UC. According to her, the quick minute-long video is inspiring future travelers.

“I get to see my face on the TUC wall whenever I walk by — that’s pretty cool,” she noted. “One of my coworkers saw me in the video and told me it helped her decide to go abroad. That was our whole purpose! Marketing at its finest.” 

Growth amid turmoil

Lucas, for her final experience abroad, completed an internship in the fall of 2019 through the Division of Experience-Based Learning and Career Education’s International Experience Program. Having taken courses in Spanish, she wanted to boost her language acquisition by working and living in a Spanish-speaking country. ELCE’s program in Santiago, Chile made for a perfect fit.

She points to Santiago as the place where she learned and grew the most, because she faced many challenges throughout the semester.

UC works with the Academic Internship Council to provide the International Experience Program, and AIC helps each student complete documents, secure an internship and find housing. Lucas was matched with a local Chilean for a homestay.

Shortly after arrival, Lucas’ host started breaking policies of the homestay contract — not allowing students to hang out in common areas or do laundry in the home. Luckily, AIC was able to find a new home for Lucas to move to and settle down for her internship at a marketing agency.

And then, massive protests began in the capital after a raise in public transportation fares. Suddenly, supermarkets had reduced hours, bus routes were changed and metro stations were closed. Lucas’s company allowed interns and employees to leave early to avoid disruptions from the protesters marching in the streets. The entire area was on curfew, too.

“It was emotional to see people out with their families and their pots and pans all chanting together,” said Lucas. “But I felt pride, even though it wasn’t my country, because I was proud of the people for uniting and using their voices.”

Kalea Lucas smiles in front of a rack of clothes at a bazaar in Santiago, Chile.

Kalea Lucas shows off her replaced cell phone at a local bazaar in Santiago, Chile.

As if her challenges hadn’t mounted enough, Lucas also had her phone stolen while working on projects at a coffee shop. Thankfully, she had insurance as required by UC International, but in order to receive a reimbursement, she had to file a police report — in Spanish.

“It was a new, unfortunate situation that I had to figure out how to navigate — that’s never happened to me before, even in the U.S.,” Lucas said. “It teaches you that you can survive something. If something ‘bad’ happens, you have to figure it out, and you’re going to figure it out. And once you do, you’re going to look back and go, ‘Oh, I figured it out.’”

The entire experience, challenges and all, offered not only opportunities to language learning, but for building resiliency and self-reflection. By the very next semester, Lucas was all signed up to study abroad again on one last faculty-led program to Ghana.

The course focused on microfinancing and the informal economy in the country. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the course would have traveled to several cities in Ghana, with multiple company visits, cultural excursions and a joint seminar with students from UC’s strategic partner, the University of Cape Coast.

And, as Lucas will tell you, she would have added the last continent to her impressive roster. 

How to study abroad like a pro

What advice would an eight-time study abroad pro give to students who want to go abroad? The first step, she says, is using the resources available, like UC International’s twice-weekly information sessions. She went in her very first semester of her first year to understand more about the process and who she needed to talk to along the way.

“Talk to your academic advisors. If you really want study abroad to be part of your undergrad career, just plan it like you would your other classes,” Lucas advised. “Originally, when I decided to go to Asia, I wanted to go to Japan. But the university that we partner with only had economics classes, and I needed marketing ones. I asked and an advisor was able to help me find something that would be better in Korea.”

Lucas also found the study abroad website to be a valuable resource while looking for new opportunities. Available programs are listed and searchable by subject area, country and type of experience. Each program brochure also includes the cost, which greatly helps with budgeting.

“Funding is so, so important,” said Lucas, who received scholarships for each of her study abroad experiences. In fact, 98% of students who study abroad receive some scholarship from UC International. 

“If you know you’re planning a study abroad at least one, hopefully two semesters in advance, you can already start looking in your college, within the university, and even externally to see what scholarships are available,” she noted. “That’s always where I start, and then I budget. I really think about what I plan on spending there — the cost of the program and the cost of being there — and work back from that.”

Many students hold back from study abroad due to concerns about finances, safety or fears of the unknown. And while she recognizes the pitfalls, Lucas has learned from experience that students have something to gain from the process.

“Fear can stop us from doing things. I’m personally someone who doesn’t like a lot of risk or change, but travel is one of the most risky, changing things you can do,” said Lucas. “But I would say you have to weigh out the risk and the fear versus what you could stand to gain and benefit from it. If you’re looking to grow in some way, you will most likely experience that if you study abroad.” 

After graduation this spring, Lucas had planned to go back to Korea. She applied to the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship program and received notification that she was a semi-finalist before the program’s cancellation due to COVID-19.

For now, she is ready and waiting for her next adventure.

Expand your world

Prepare yourself for a global future. Whatever your program or passion, UC offers study abroad and international work experiences that will take you where you want to go. Explore the possibilities.

Featured image at top: Kalea Lucas poses in a crowded street in Seoul, South Korea. All photos provided by Kalea Lucas.

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