OmanFor many students, the decision to study abroad is complex. Unknown languages, foreign environments, additional educational costs, and thoughts of being far away from home for an extended period of time can be intimidating.

As a first-generation student from a lower income family, Winona State University student Kathreen Smith worried particularly about the cost when she began to explore the opportunity to study abroad in Muscat, Oman for a semester in 2015.

However, Smith worked multiple jobs, won scholarships, and with the help of financial aid, was able to make the experience a reality.

“My parents were very nervous about me traveling, especially to the Middle East – but it was worth it,” Smith said.

In addition to the academic curriculum, Smith said she gained considerable cultural knowledge and engaged in a lot of self-discovery. Traveling to Oman inspired Smith to reconsider her future career as a public administrator.

“This trip helped me become more motivated and self-driven in ways I never expected and helped me reflect on and rethink my future career,” said Smith. “I am now looking into law school to become an immigration lawyer and hopefully get my graduate degree in Middle Eastern studies.”

During her time in Oman, Smith met mentors and professional leaders doing work in various fields in the Middle East, and has even stayed in touch with Issam Khoury, the study abroad director who inspired her to reconsider her goals and challenged her thinking.

“I think studying abroad is important because it allows you to really see how big the world is. You learn things you can’t put on a resume but will change your life forever,” explained Smith.

For Smith, the study abroad experience was so transformative that she spent spring semester working as a peer advisor in WSU’s International Programs office, encouraging other WSU students to spend a semester studying abroad.

Carolyn O’Grady, Assistant Vice President for International Programs and Services, named Smith as a key member of the International Programs staff.

“Kathreen is often the first contact students have with our office, and she has played a vital role in helping us develop better materials and improve our outreach efforts. Her enthusiasm and commitment have been contagious. The peer advisor position was new this year, and we were so lucky that Kathreen was the first one!”

For more information, call the WSU Communications Office at 507-457-5024.

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