Diaries from Abroad

NDSU benefactor John Wold '66 had the opportunity to travel abroad, and it changed his career trajectory. Now, he and his wife, Susan, are investing in current NDSU students through the John and Susan Wold International Study Endowment.

Edited by Nicole Thom-Arens | Illustrations by Leah Ecklund | June 16, 2022

From the diary of Katrina Dietz ’22, ’24 (Spanish and Civil Engineering) | Costa Rica, Spring Semester 2022

Choosing to study in Costa Rica during the spring 2022 semester was the best decision I have ever made. I learned so much about the language and culture of the country while at the same time growing into a person I would have never known if it weren’t for this experience. During those three months, I met some of the most amazing people from across the United States and Costa Rica. My host family was so incredibly welcoming, loving, and hilarious, and they really helped me get the most out of my stay. Whether that included my host mom’s delicious homemade meals every night, learning Costa Rican dances from my host sister, Spanish lessons from my host dad, or playing Uno every night after dinner with the whole family, everyday they did their best to make me feel like their country was my home.

Me with my host family and the friends I met while studying abroad. I’m the one in the pink tie dye t-shirt.

The friends I made during the semester are people I hope will be in my life forever. They made everyday exciting and never passed up the opportunity for a weekend trip or adventure. We made so many memories together that I will cherish for a lifetime.

Every weekend we left San Jose to explore everything the beautiful country had to offer. We took road trips to gorgeous beaches, hiked through the cloud forest, swam under waterfalls, went bungee jumping, learned to surf, went snorkeling, and relaxed in volcanic hot springs — just to name a few of my favorite adventures. These things are what make studying abroad so much more than just studying. They make it easy to step outside your comfort zone and try something you would have never been able to do at home.

Of course, along with that is the actual studying, which definitely taught me the importance of a perfect work/life balance. I originally decided to study abroad to complete my Spanish major. While this was definitely a more relaxed semester than my normal engineering course load, I was still able to learn and grow more in 14 weeks than I would have during a traditional semester at home.

I took 13 credits of Spanish courses during my time abroad. I was able to take classes not offered at NDSU that were valuable to learning a second language such as phonetics and translation with classes all taught by native speakers. The university I studied at, Veritas, had very small class sizes which helped students and professors get more comfortable with each other and encouraged discussion. Throughout the course of the semester, I could feel great improvements in my speaking, listening, and overall confidence with Spanish. 

I was glad to learn in the first week that the university is a project-based college with no exams. This made the semester a lot less stressful and allowed students to demonstrate what they’ve learned in more creative and beneficial ways. This helped me improve my public speaking and presenting abilities since this is not something I normally do in my regular STEM classes.

Because the majority of our grades were based on in class participation and presentations, it allowed students time outside of scheduled classes to explore the country. In my time off from class, I did service learning at a low-income daycare sponsored by the Red Cross. Each week my roommate and I would spend five to 10 hours working on projects and playing with the kids. It was like learning a while new language when talking with 2- to 5-year-olds compared to listening to my professors all day.

I spent the weekdays in classes and volunteering in San Jose.

Every time I told people in engineering that I was taking a semester to finish my Spanish major in Costa Rica, I got one of two responses: “How do you plan to use Spanish with engineering?” or “Have a good vacation!”

I see so much benefit to learning a second language especially one that is very commonly spoken in the United States. Whether I have the opportunity to be the traveling representative for a company, help bridge a language barrier with clients or employees, or even just in my personal travels, I know that my knowledge of Spanish will be used.

Aside from the language itself, this was much more than a vacation. I learned skills that cannot be taught in a classroom. I learned to relate with people who at first glance I seemed to have nothing in common with — people from different U.S. states, family dynamics, financial situations, religions, ethnicities, majors, interests, and in general, completely different walks of life. This is something that I could not have learned by surrounding myself only with fellow undergraduate STEM students in engineering, who come mostly from North Dakota and Minnesota.

The most valuable skill I learned is to be completely comfortable with being uncomfortable. That it’s OK to not have control over a situation or not be surrounded by things you have known for 20 years. I learned that you cannot grow in a situation where you are comfortable; we need to try new things and take chances even when it seems intimidating because otherwise, we’ll leave a world left unexplored and potentially miss out on becoming the best versions of ourselves.

From the diary of Katlyn Balstad ’23 (Management Communication and Crop and Weed Sciences) | France, Summer Semester 2022

Whenever I’m about to embark on something new, I always take a moment to wonder how the experience will change me. Studying abroad in France was no exception to this practice of reflection, but when I think about sitting in the Fargo airport, contemplating where I’d be in a month, I couldn’t have imagined the memories I’d come home with.

I spent the month of June studying in Angers, France, with a sustainable agriculture program at the École supérieure d’agricultures.

I attended École supérieure d’agricultures in Angers, France, during the month of June.

After 60+ hours of classroom instruction, 10 French agriculture company visits, and many conversations with other program participants, instructors, and my host family, I can soundly say that my views on the importance of agriculture and its global impact have broadened. My education at NDSU prepared me with an arsenal of science-based information that allowed me to hold educated conversations with my new friends and my professors. It was the one-on-one conversations or small, seemingly insignificant comments that created the most impact for me.

A big focus of this program was the environment and transforming agriculture from something that can take a lot away from the land — soil nutrients, natural landscapes — into efficient operations that can feed the world quality food while helping build up the environment for future generations to benefit from. Because of this program, my interest in sustainability and appreciation for the hard work of producers was strengthened. Our class lectures on biodiversity and ecology showed me that agriculture can be part of the solution for reversing climate change. What an exciting and inspiring thought! I’ve already started conversations and am learning from my dad who farms about what our farm is doing to preserve the land for future use.

The people I met in France brought to life the environmental concerns facing our society and will stick with me far longer than any textbook information would. My host mom used a special hair dye because she said it was better for the environment. One producer said he was experimenting with a Spanish grape variety because it was getting too hot for the traditional French varieties. A Canadian classmate talked about how he has seen a decrease in bugs hitting his windshield and pondered the effects of pesticide overuse. It’s the people that make the issues real.

My experience wasn’t all classroom learning. We traveled to Normandy and Brittany to see the American landing beaches of WWII. We traveled back a thousand years at Mont Saint Michel, an island-like monastery. My friends and I went swimming in the Atlantic in a town famous for its old pirate stories. I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, took in the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower, ate baguettes in Parisian parks, and learned about the ancient Roman influence on the architecture and culture of France.

One highlight of my time abroad was the weekend our group spent in the Loire Valley. The Loire Valley is famous for its wines and castles, according to my host family. So, we spent our weekend exploring Chenonceau, a castle on the river, Amboise Castle, and Clos du Luce, the home where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years. One of my favorite parts of touring castles was learning about the people who lived in these places. All over France, I was walking in the same hallways that figures like Marie Antoinette and Leonardo da Vinci walked. There was also a market in Amboise City that was full of fresh produce, baked goods, and locally made products. I couldn’t help but think about how Fargo’s Red River Market is similar to this French Saturday morning market. We have differences in our cultures, yes, but we also have a great deal of similarities.

This experience truly changed my perspectives on global issues. Studying abroad is an investment, and I had the privilege of receiving one of the Wold Study Abroad scholarships, which helped me turn my goal of travel and study into an item crossed off my bucket list. I also had the joy of meeting John and Susan Wold this past spring at a donor event. John sent me a few emails while in France offering a restaurant suggestion and words of encouragement, and I can’t stress enough how much that meant to me. The fact that there are people who invest in NDSU so students like me can have life-changing experiences is humbling.

The generosity and support I received from NDSU and the Wolds, the patience and joy my host family shared with me, the friendships I built with other students, and the mind-stretching perspectives shared with me allowed for more confidence in myself and a curiosity for how other cultures thrive. The last moment I’ll share comes from one of my last days in Paris. I was wandering the streets of Montmartre, an area of Paris, and I heard someone play La Vie en Rose. I smiled to myself knowing they were playing it for the tourists, but I didn’t care. It was a special moment that I will carry with me for a lifetime.