Alumni Reflections: Zipporah Sewell on the value of studying abroad

Zipporah Sewell is a PeerForward alumna and Public Relations major in Robert Morris University’s Class of 2023. Reflecting on her journey so far as a first-generation college student, Zipporah said, “PeerForward showed me that there is always opportunity all around me, so anything is possible. I used to limit my dreams because I didn’t have the money or didn’t know where to start. PeerForward showed me that I have a network of people willing to help me do whatever it is I aspire to do.”

Next summer, Zipporah is planning to realize her dream of studying abroad in a Spanish-speaking country. Read her reflection below to learn more about Zipporah’s resourcefulness in pursuing her goals as well as how study abroad can be a steppingstone to a meaningful career path.

Being a first-generation college student means a lot to me. Just graduating is not enough. I want to take away all that I can from this college experience by serving my community locally and globally. After I graduate from Robert Morris University with a degree in public relations and a minor in organizational leadership, I plan to use it to help others. For me, this looks like being a part of an organization, possibly a nonprofit, that helps the minority community through mentorship, financial literacy, education, and scholarship. I would also enjoy being a social worker who helps people to face life’s challenges and improve their well-being.

While studying abroad I plan to take a Spanish class and work on a service-learning project that will allow me to make a difference in a community and gain a global understanding of international issues and how we can work together to solve them. This will be a great foundation for being a social worker or collaborating with a nonprofit because I will be able to help more children that speak Spanish or English while also being able to have a broad understanding of ethics and civic engagement. I will continue my education and eventually earn a master’s degree in social work.

I know that I am academically prepared to be successful in my endeavors abroad due to being homeless for most of my middle and high school career. I can remember days when just making it to school was already a big accomplishment because I spent the night in a motel or car. I constantly pushed aside my home life worries in order to focus and participate in my classes that day. I was always able to complete my assignments and get As or Bs even with all that I had going on in my life. With my rocky home life, I have always been one to utilize all of my resources. This means that if I did not understand something I was in the tutoring center until I did.

Since I have been in college, I have learned that my strengths include creativity, insightfulness, resilience, and adaptability. These strengths will help me greatly abroad. I will not be scared to step outside of my comfort zone, try new things, or get to know new people. In a sense, my whole life I have been adapting to new environments, and abroad will be no different for me. Even when things don’t go as planned, I will be able to adapt and still make the most of my experience.

Some of the challenges students face when abroad include homesickness, language barriers, personal finance, and cultural differences. I have had many experiences in my life that have forced me to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. In middle school, my single mother was unemployed and there was not enough money to pay the rent, so we got evicted and were homeless for seven years before we found a stable home we could call our own. These experiences built my resilience and self-awareness, two skills that will help me confront cultural differences and language barriers. I am a determined, mature student in every environment.

During high school, I bounced around between different family members so I could be closer to my school. Even though I tried to make myself invisible in someone else’s home so I would not come off as a burden, I was able to make myself seen and heard in the classroom. But not seeing my mom every day, with an already absent father, took a toll on me and required me to grow and mature faster than the average 14-year-old. No one ever really knew all that I had going on in my life outside of school because I never used it as a crutch, only as motivation. Working during summers in high school so that I could contribute to the little money my mother had instead of going out with friends was something I did willingly.

The experiences I had in middle and high school really aided in developing my perseverance and financial savvy. I learned about money at a young age, and life taught me how to manage it. Being abroad and having to manage my finances will not be unfamiliar to me because I have been doing it since high school. All of the trials and tribulations that I have encountered brought me to this moment. My resiliency, adaptability, perseverance, and strength were built in the times that I felt alone and weak. The life skills I have developed during my hardships will be the very things that sustain me throughout the challenges I face in another country.

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