Marlie Derstine

When and where did you study abroad?

I studied abroad in Barcelona during Summer 2016 with Klein GO. In Barcelona, I had an internship in the nonprofit sector working for Street Child, an NGO that raises funds for accessible and safe education throughout various parts of West Africa. I helped with their marketing, fundraising initiatives and volunteer recruitment.

Marlie on Montserrat!

How has studying abroad helped you in your professional life? Your personal life?

There’s no doubt that my experience studying abroad with Klein GO has helped to set me apart from my professional counterparts, especially the fact that I had an internship abroad. My experience interning abroad has been a talking point in every single interview I’ve had following my experience. I think employers really like to see this aspect on resumes because the world is becoming increasingly more globalized – therefore, workplaces are becoming more diverse. Knowing how to work well in a diverse work environment is essential for productive and effective teamwork leading to success in the workplace.

In my personal life, studying abroad has opened my mind in so many ways. It made me realize how small the world really is and how realistic exploring it is if you just set your mind to it. What studying abroad taught me about myself is that I am an adaptable person who is able to accommodate immense change and acclimate to other cultures/other ways of living. It gave me the confidence to travel solo, live abroad long term and travel to places I never dreamed of. It was like the baby step I needed to push me into the travel lifestyle I always dreamed of.

Marlie with her students in Tak, Thailand.

What are lessons you’d consider invaluable from your experience?

While living abroad, every single day is full of small challenges. Finding the right route on the metro, trying to communicate at a café where the staff doesn’t speak English, trying to find directions or answers to a question you have when no one understands you and so on. Personally, I lost my debit card and my new iPhone in the first two weeks in Barcelona. I had to find my way around the city without GPS while attempting to use the local language for directions, all while keeping my own safety in mind. When you’re abroad, your daily everyday tasks are more difficult, time consuming and sometimes frustrating. However, nothing beats the feeling of being in the last few weeks of your program and realizing you’ve done it. It teaches you how to be responsible and most of all how to be independent. When you finally reach the point where you have your bearings and you are able to live in the city a bit more comfortably and effortlessly, you realize how much you’ve really grown from the experience.

Marlie and her students in Tak, Thailand.

How has your experience guided your career path?

After my internship experience in Barcelona I fell in love with working in the nonprofit sector. I realized how much better my quality of work is when I am working for a cause that I genuinely care about and am passionate about. I genuinely cared about the kids that our funds were being raised for, therefore, I looked forward to working everyday and I didn’t mind working extra hours in the evenings/weekends when necessary because I cared about the mission and I was emotionally invested in it. Sometimes It can be hard to separate personal life from work when you’re emotionally invested in what you do, but for me, I fell in love with it.

Since then, I’ve continued to work either internationally or in the nonprofit sector. The following summer after Barcelona, I interned for the Anti-Human Trafficking Department at the Nationalities Services Center in Center City Philadelphia, which I loved just as much. Now I am currently working as a full-time English teacher at a High School in northern Thailand. I plan to continue working internationally in the future and possibly going to graduate school for international development to pursue my dream of working for the United Nations one day. In retrospect, it was the positive experience I had working internationally in Barcelona for a nonprofit organization that instilled this newfound love in me for working in the nonprofit sector/internationally.

Overlooking the Barcelona skyline.

Where are you now? What are your plans for the future?

I am currently living and working as a full-time paid English teacher in a small town in northern Thailand. I have been here teaching in this town for the past 8 months and I recently signed a contract to stay for another full semester. I teach at the secondary level for grades 7 through 11. I’m teaching various subjects such as basic English, English reading analysis, fundamental English for listening and speaking, creative writing and health. My experience here has been very different from my experience studying abroad because it is more long term and I actually don’t have any set plan regarding when I will return home or where I’ll go from here. Also, I am working full-time, paying my own bills and living in my own house that requires quite a bit of upkeep. Overall, my life here requires even more responsibility and independence than Barcelona did but I still feel as though my experience in Barcelona was a great stepping stone that prepared me for this experience. This town has become my home away from home and I have created a comfortable life for myself here. It’s amazing to see where traveling will lead you once you hop on the travel bug express.

I’m not exactly sure what my plans are for the future as of right now, but I have plenty of ideas that pretty much all still include traveling. For example, continuing to teach abroad either in Thailand or in another country, teaching English online while doing some aimless traveling, going to Australia/New Zealand on a working visa, volunteering for a nonprofit abroad either in Thailand or in another country, and ultimately I want to go to graduate school in  Europe for my Masters in International Development.

Advice for prospective students?

If you have any inkling of curiosity about studying abroad, my advice to you is to just do it. I’ve heard too many of my friends say that their biggest regret in college was not studying abroad. On the other hand, I’ve never heard anyone I know who studied abroad say that they regret it. Everyone always has such amazing things to say about their abroad experience. In the end, trying it will be better than wishing you did.

Advice for current students studying away?

Dive into your abroad experience headfirst. Culture shock isn’t something to be taken lightly, which I know from personal experience. There will be days where you feel overwhelmed, lonely, frustrated, intimidated, uncomfortable and exhausted. Work through those feelings. Don’t ignore them. Maybe journal about it or find a different outlet to deal with it that works for you. But after dealing with those feelings, conquer them. The best way to do that is to throw yourself completely out of your comfort zone. Ask coworkers to eat lunch with you, make friends with locals, order a new dish even if you have no idea what it is, and say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. My biggest regret in Barcelona was not separating enough from my friends in my program to interact with/make friends with locals.

If you have questions for Marlie about her experiences or want to connect with her, you can email her at mpderstine10@gmail.com or follow her on Instagram at @marliederstine.