Semester Abroad A Fateful Day

February 15, 2021
By Kristyn Palmiotto, Penn Abroad Associate Director

Studying and living abroad is an experience shared by all of our Penn Abroad staff, and what motivates us to assist Penn students in doing the same. Our team members have reflected on their own global experiences to share key insights, takeaways, and advice for Penn students interested in studying/working abroad. Associate Director Kristyn Palmiotto tells the story of the decision that ultimately sparked her global career.

How my first passport stamp ended up on the last page of my passport…. 

Fifteen years on and I still remember the day so vividly – my parents were coming to visit, it was freshman year. While we were out to lunch I told them my academic plans were shifting. An English major wasn’t in the cards for me anymore. I was taking a really interesting history class on the Middle East. Being in middle school in NYC during 9/11 but never diving into history beyond American or European, this class was finally answering so many questions I had about a history and region I knew so little about. And there, at lunch, I let them know – I want to compliment this growing academic interest with a real understanding of the culture of the region. I am enrolling in Arabic next year and want to apply to study abroad in Morocco the following summer.  

My parents are wonderful people that offered my brothers and I many opportunities growing up for which I am forever grateful. One thing our family did not do, however, was travel outside of the U.S. When I went to college I didn’t have a passport. Nor did my mom, my dad, or my brothers. Thus, you can imagine how surprising a declaration to study Arabic and travel to Morocco was for them to hear. I still remember the look on their faces, a mixture of surprised and unsure. I expected this and was prepared then with follow-up information about the program, structure, regional information, and career paths for the future. When they finally spoke, my parents asked just one thing of me. They asked me to sit in on a few Arabic classes in the spring before shifting my academic focus fully the following year. If, after sitting in on some classes and speaking to others I still really wanted to pursue this interest, they were on board.  

One year later I was standing at passport control in Casablanca airport nervously handing my passport to the agent with several pre-prepared sentences in my best Arabic ready to go in my head. I am here on a student visa. I am taking classes at Al Akhawayn University. I am living in the student residence on campus. The agent took my passport, flipped it so it opened right-left (as is customary) and there – on the very last page of my passport – was my first passport stamp for entry to Morocco.  

My first passport stamp expanded my worldview and future professional trajectory in ways I could have never imagined when sitting at lunch with my parents so many years ago. By senior year, I was accepting a Fulbright award and preparing for a year abroad. My globally focused professional career has taken me from middle school classrooms in Jordan to tea ceremonies in Japan.  

When I meet with students today who are unsure about abroad because they are not well-traveled or don’t have a passport, I can’t help but think back to that fateful day at lunch with my parents. It takes courage to do something out of the norm for one’s self. But with courage and support, an abroad opportunity yields invaluable experiences that forever shape one’s trajectory for the future.   

Princess sitting in front of a rural landscape in Italy.
Semester Abroad, Global Correspondents
by Princess Rahman, CAS '22