College is a time for students to get out of their comfort zones and immerse themselves in cultures different from their own.

Justine Anderson, born in Colombia and raised in St. Cloud, Minn., was not about to miss this opportunity.

Early on in her college career, Anderson believed that attending a smaller school might not present as many opportunities as attending a larger school. As a senior, however, her thoughts have completely changed.

“That’s absolute blasphemy,” she said. “(I’ve discovered) it’s completely up to you to seize every advantageous moment; no other place or person is held responsible.”

Anderson took the initiative to pursue many different opportunities during her time at WSU, including attending the Power in Diversity Leadership Conference, connecting with professionals in her areas of interest, acquiring a new language, and even working for real-life clients like Anytime Fitness and ProVision Security in her Public Relations Capstone course.

“The list goes on,” she added. “Winona has not limited me in the least. Rather, it’s encouraged me to move out of my comfort zone.”

“I’ve always wanted to travel outside of the U.S., particularly to a country where Spanish is the primary language,” she said. “While I’ve traveled to South America and loved it, I wanted to immerse myself in a different part of the world, so I selected Spain.”

Anderson’s advisor, Spanish professors and the International Programs & Services provided encouragement, support and international programs to help get her to Spain and take the next step in her education.

“Everyone consistently emphasized how studying abroad is the experience of a lifetime,” Anderson said. “They really want you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and enjoy it.”

From living with a host family and experiencing new meals and traditions, to taking classes in a completely different language, Anderson was introduced to a whole new way of living.

“Was it easy the first couple weeks? Of course not, but I loved nearly every minute of it,” she said. “Studying abroad taught me a lot about myself, and I learned to have an open mind.”

As a double major in Spanish and Mass Communication: Public Relations, Anderson appreciated the diversity of the international education setting and how studying abroad helped her strengthen the foundations of her Spanish degree.

“Experiencing a fast-paced innovative environment made me more academically driven and influenced me to make changes and take more risks,” Anderson added.

After returning from Granada, she applied for and was named a finalist for the Fulbright grant, a very competitive grant program that supports intercultural exchange. The 10-month study abroad experience would’ve represented an opportunity for Anderson, who is adopted, to return to the country where she was born.

While ultimately she didn’t receive the award, the experience was another life lesson about what a person can learn through exploring opportunities and taking chances.

“Although I did not receive the grant, it was an honor to be involved, and I’m proud of how far I advanced,” she said.

Anderson will graduate this spring with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Mass Communication: Public Relations. As she looks back at her college career, she recognizes the value of being part of a community that empowered her to step out of her comfort zone.

“Try new things constantly – you think you know Winona after a year perhaps, but there are always more people to meet, more activities to try, and new places to experience,” she said.

WSU Spring Commencement Ceremonies will take place Friday, May 4, in McCown Gymnasium on the Winona campus. The 9 a.m. ceremony will feature the College of Business and College of Science and Engineering. The 12:30 p.m. ceremony will feature the College of Education and the College of Liberal Arts. The 4 p.m. ceremony will feature the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

For more information, visit winona.edu/graduation or call University Communications at 507-457-5024.

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Brian Waldbillig

Brian is a Public Relations major and Communication Studies minor from Farmington, MN. His hobbies include photography, hiking and going to concerts.