Episode 25 │ Don't Weigh It (MEXICO/FRANCE/ITALY)
Updated: Sep 22
"He was like, 'Do not take pictures unless you know what it is, [and] the only way you'll know what it is, is if you ask questions. Don't just be here to be here. Be here to experience it, to learn the history.' " (Leticia, Episode 25)
We're at episode 25! My 2018 goal for Young, Gifted and Abroad has been met! But today's not about me, it's about Leticia! Leticia Gittens and I both went to Michigan State University around the same time and are acquainted online, but I don't recall ever meeting her in person. I first heard about her in 2014 when I saw her GoFundMe floating around on Facebook, seeking support for her upcoming study abroad program in Paris. Our programs overlapped and we actually were in Paris during the same summer, but again, we didn't meet in person. Cut to a month ago, Facebook came into play again when Leticia posted a status reflecting on how much life has changed for the better since she was a frustrated college freshman begging her mom to drop out. Her college and career journey have proved to be more successful than she'd imagined, and her various successes included studying abroad three times.
Being a first-generation college student who had never left the U.S. before, Leticia was fortunate to have her older sister lead by example, going away to college and studying abroad before her. As a freshman Leticia struggled to find where she fit on campus, and she figured that if she was going to stick it out (her mom would NOT allow her to drop out, no surprise there), then she wanted to study abroad at some point to make the most out of her college experience. Her chance came during spring break that year when she went to Campeche, Mexico. This trip was an extension of a class she was taking on international engagement, and it also involved volunteering at a local orphanage while in Mexico. She credits this program with opening up her awareness of the world, putting into perspective how much opportunity was available to her back home, and making her feel even more motivated to work on herself as a person. Plus, she wanted to explore more and was encouraged by how impressed people seemed to be by her participating in the Mexico program, so she decided she wanted to study abroad again!
Next came Paris, France, where she went to study organizational communication. Contrary to what most may assume about being young and going to Paris for the first time (especially during the summer), Leticia didn't enjoy her experience nearly as much as she'd hoped she would. In fact, it was the least favorite of her three experiences, and afterwards she practically swore off studying abroad again. For starters, she feels like her choosing that program was more about doing what she thought would make her look better professionally later on, rather than doing what she genuinely wanted to do. On top of that, as a self-proclaimed geek who used to study for fun, she wasn't satisfied with her professor and didn't think the course was challenging enough for her. And occasionally she had to go her own way when her fellow classmates wanted to do something she wasn't interested in, like frequently getting drunk. She didn't take enough time to enjoy the moment while in Paris because she was so focused on her studies, but then her studies turned out to be a disappointment as well. And whereas now she can appreciate the life lessons and the things she was able to do (Paris was her first time "abroad-abroad", plus she got to go to Brussels), at the time Leticia honestly felt like it had been a waste of money, and didn't want to waste more time and money by going abroad again.
But then came Rome, Italy. After picking up a minor in junior year, Leticia needed to take summer classes to catch up, and at the time the only ones available were in Italy. Though she may have been apprehensive due to Paris being a letdown, she wound up loving everything about her two months in Italy, and this third and last study abroad experience proved to be her favorite. That program was focused on sales, leadership, and marketing, and she greatly admired how knowledgeable her professor was and that he challenged her cohort to think critically. In addition to Rome, Leticia got to learn about the press operations within Vatican City (her professor used to work at the Vatican), and visit places like the Blue Grotto (Amalfi Coast) and Nice, France. Having learned from her previous excursions, she'd saved up enough money and made an effort to consciously disconnect from her life back home so that she could LIVE and truly enjoy herself while in Italy, not just engaging with her studies but also immersing herself in her surroundings.
"I'm at least gonna ask and let them tell me no, instead of not asking."
During our conversation, Leticia admits that she was a first-gen student who didn't really know what she was doing. She wasn't a business major, she wasn't a world traveler (yet); she just kept falling into opportunities that sounded cool and made it work as she went. If it was interesting and could meet or substitute her academic requirements, she went for it. She didn't have the money to fund her journeys when she started out, but she arduously applied for scholarships because she knew the money was out there. In very matter-of-fact terms, "I was like, 'Once I graduate, no one is ever gonna offer to pay to send me abroad just out of the goodness of their heart... I'm at least gonna ask and let them tell me no, instead of not asking.' " Rich people want to give their money away, and someone was going to get that money, so why not her? And because of her flexibility and willingness to ask, she got to go to three different countries, learning things that had nothing to do with her major and accumulating intangibly valuable lessons and memories which she still cherishes today.
Leticia now lives in Seattle and works for Microsoft. She hopes to get back to releasing new videos on her YouTube channel "LNGtime", where she shares her opinions on being a young professional, relationships, and religion. She can also be contacted on Instagram (@lngtime) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Don't Weight It (MEXICO/FRANCE/ITALY)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Leticia N. Gittens/"LNGtime" (Leticia's YouTube channel)
Made in Italy (MSU study abroad program)
Made in Italy (MSU sales leadership minor info)
my sentiments exactly (Leticia's old blog)