Alicia Arendt (FOX '08) would have never imagined that her study abroad experiences at Temple would prepare her for almost 14 years in the U.S Department of State. Having dreamt of traveling internationally since high school, Arendt committed to Temple mainly because of the countless study abroad programs.
While pursuing international business, finance, and Latin American studies majors, Arendt participated in the LASS (Latin American Studies Semester) program, which included a two-week immersive experience in Mérida, Mexico in the spring of 2006; spent a semester in Mexico City at Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) in the fall of 2006; and then completed the Temple Rome Spring Semester program in 2007.
She also participated in an independent summer Spanish program in Nicaragua to prepare for her semester at Mexico’s top business school. “I wanted to do all of the study abroad programs! So I squeezed as many as I could into four years,” Arendt said.
Arendt never imagined how much traveling really changes you until she experienced it first hand. “Studying abroad changed my life completely; when I came back from the LASS trip to Mérida, my best friend told me I returned a completely different person,” she said. “The experience changes you because you're forced out of your comfort zone constantly, you have problems to solve, and you meet new people, so it prepares you for life and work. Then your horizons are broadened, new ideas come to mind, and then everything feels possible.”
Arendt has incorporated these skills and lessons in her professional and personal life. For example, in her professional life, Arendt regularly relocates to new countries and says her study abroad experiences have made her more resourceful and open minded: “It makes me think outside the box, see things from others' perspectives, and forces me to adapt and network in new countries, which can be difficult at first.” She also shared that working at US embassies requires resilience as there are always a variety of challenges to overcome.
Traveling and living abroad also gave her the gift of meeting and marrying her husband, Rohan Ford, a Barbadian she met during her assignment at the U.S. Embassy in Barbados. Arendt says that meeting someone equally open minded and adventurous makes this lifestyle possible. “We are both very ambitious and are equally supportive of one another. He grew up traveling internationally and is currently able to work on his Barbados-based businesses remotely.” Her experiences studying abroad made adapting to expat life much easier and provided the foundation for this international career and marriage. She can remain flexible and rebalance depending on where they are or where they're going in life.
Having gained so many life skills studying abroad, Arendt encourages all students to make studying abroad happen. “The biggest regret college students usually have is not studying abroad. Really try to make it happen, make it work for you. I worked three jobs to save up for my time abroad. Yes, travel is more complicated with the pandemic; you just need to understand that the world is different now, take precautions and follow all the rules. Be an informed traveler. It's totally worth it,” she said.
She's also a big advocate for women dreaming big and creating opportunities for themselves in a world that doesn't yet afford them equal opportunities. “As a woman especially, you have to create your path as you go along. You don't need it all figured out in college or when you graduate. You don't need to know what exactly you want to do long term either. Have some goals that you work towards step by step and follow your interests. Life is an adventure and you don’t know where the journey might take you. Don't ever disqualify yourself from an opportunity by not trying or delaying and waiting for permission or perfect timing,” she said.
Although each of the countries she has lived in becomes home in some way, she says the U.S will always be home. Culture shock and reverse culture shock never really stop when you’re moving countries every couple of years; she has loved the thrill and challenge of living somewhere new but also enjoys the familiarity and comfort of home. “Life changes, but the adventure continues.”
- By Temi Oshadiya
With U.S. Ambassador to Peru Brian A. Nichols and his wife Geraldine Kam at the US Embassy Independence Day reception.
Group of participants preparing for the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) conference. Arendt shown 4th from the right.
Arendt representing the U.S. Embassy at a diplomatic event at the Embassy of Spain in Lima, Peru.
Arendt in 2006 at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM)
Arendt (left) poses with a friend in 2007, when she studied at Temple Rome.