Your Story – Anastasia Rose-Diamantis Lopez ’08
HOMETOWN: Ambridge, Pa.
OCCUPATION: Career Educator and Advisor at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Mich.
RMU DEGREE: Business Administration, Hospitality and Tourism Management (Cum Laude)
First off, tell me about your global Christmas tree…
About two years ago, I started collecting international ornaments from different countries. I have over 25 ornaments from all over the world and I can’t wait to add to it every year. It’s a fun hobby because every Christmas I get to look at all the beautiful ornaments from countries like Japan, China, Australia, Switzerland, Greece, Mexico, and Egypt and think, wow—while we are all so very different, we still share so much together. When I was getting married, I had an “Around the World” bridal shower and it was showcased as part of the décor. People loved it. My husband, who’s Mexican, likes what the tree represents. For us it symbolizes how beautiful the cultures of this earth are, and we like to celebrate them all year round.
How did you develop your passion for international and study-abroad education?
It was a number of things, really. First of all, I grew up in a predominately Greek heritage household where we spoke Greek and ate Mediterranean food. My yiayia (grandmother), who was from Greece, lived with us and didn’t speak any English. So speaking Greek was a necessity. My family and I attended the Greek Orthodox Church, and I learned to Greek dance, attended Greek school, and learned everything I could about my heritage.
My sister married a man from Kenya, who had been an exchange student at our high school. He and I had actually been in French language class together, and I wanted to know as much as I could about his culture. One year our teacher had us participate in an international pen-pal program where the students were paired with a student abroad. I ended up getting a boy around my age from Northern Ireland. We wrote letters back and forth, and continued emailing and Skyping each other when we went off to college.
All of these things together helped to spark my interest in international experiences.
What was your first study abroad experience like?
One thing that was always a mystery to me was my Italian heritage; I wanted to know more about my roots. So when I got the chance to study abroad, I decided on Rome, Italy. I was working full-time at a hotel in Cranberry Township where I was a guest service representative for almost three years while attending RMU full time. I saved every nickel and dime I could for my study abroad experience—about $10K total–and I read travel guides and books to prepare me for my experience.
It was wonderful. I spent five months studying and living in Italy, taking long weekend trips to different countries like Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, and numerous others, totaling 12 countries. I navigated around international cities, budgeted foreign currency, and tried my best to speak in different languages to communicate with the locals. I took an Italian language and culture class while in Italy to help me transition better to my new environment and even met family abroad for the first time.
What impact did that experience have on you?
Seeing how other cultures live gave me a new perspective of my life in America. When I returned I completed three different internships related to my study abroad experience. One was at RMU’s Study Abroad office; another was with Colleagues International, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State; a third was with a website called Abroad Scout, where I managed their social media and publishing articles related to studying abroad. I learned so much, and it really changed my life.
What have you been doing with your career since graduating from RMU?
Not long after moving to Kalamazoo, I started working as a career educator and advisor graduate assistant at Western Michigan University while working towards my master’s degree in higher education and student affairs.
Still, I wanted to gain more experience, so I completed a 300-hour academic advising internship with the TRIO Student Success Program, a grant-funded program for first-generation college students. Then, another opportunity came up where I managed volunteers for an Asian Studies Conference that was held on WMU’s campus. I also started publishing articles and conducting a webinar called “The Importance of International Experiences for Wandering Educators”. More recently I was offered a position with Go Overseas to contribute as a writer for their Writing Corps Program.
Next semester I will be interning with WMU’s study abroad office and Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s International Programs and Midwest Institute. I’ve also attended five professional development conferences, four of which I received a grant for, and I was a presenter for the Michigan Association of College Admissions Counseling conference. In addition, I was invited to join a committee at WMU called the Intercultural Competence Committee, where I work with a team of people working on strategies to help our campus become interculturally competent.
Next June I’ll graduate with my master’s degree, and I can’t wait. I am so excited to start my career in the higher education and student affairs field, something that ignites my passions. I love working in career and student employment services, study abroad and international education, and academic advising, and I will be searching for positions in those fields. While I’m keeping an open mind of where I want to work, my husband and I would love to move back to the Pittsburgh area again.
How did you get nominated for the GoAbroad awards?
In January 2009 I started a group on Facebook called “The International Cultures Group“, where I advocate for my passion in international education and study abroad while educating others about issues, topics, and curiosities about it. I post about international events and holidays, international foods and desserts, international programs (academic, voluntary, etc.), and especially cultures and traditions from countries all around the globe. Each year GoAbroad hosts the GoAbroad Innovation Awards for outstanding contributions to the field of international education. Although I wasn’t a finalist this year, they recognized my work with my Facebook group and want to feature me on their blog in the coming months.
What first attracted you to RMU?
I transferred to RMU in the fall of 2005. My youngest brother was in preschool at the time, and one of the parents at the school was an RMU faculty member. She told me how RMU had a fantastic business school and a great reputation for what I wanted to do. So I went on a tour, met with a professor, and asked a lot of questions. I found out that RMU’s Hospitality and Tourism Program was one of the top 12 best programs in the country. I couldn’t pass it up. I applied, got in, and absolutely loved my time at RMU. Being a medium-sized private institution, RMU had a family-feel to it that I really enjoyed. Class sizes were small, and the care the faculty and staff showed me was incredible. I’m still very close with many of my old professors to this day. Some even came to my wedding!
What was your overall RMU experience like?
I transferred in as a Patriot Scholar and in my first semester of being at RMU, I was inducted into the National Society of Collegiate Scholars Honor Society, was vice president of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Association, and wrote for The Sentry newspaper as a feature writer. I had to work while going to school full time to survive, but I participated as much as I could. In December 2008 all my hard work paid off when I graduated cum laude. I really loved my RMU experience, and I’d love to be able to work there someday.
Interview by Valentine J. Brkich